Episode 158: Easter Island: The Mystery of the Moai

This episode is brought to you by El Yucateco

On this Sofa King Podcast, we look at the history of the mysterious Easter Island, it’s massive stone statues, and the people who lived and died on the remote island. The island got its Western name from the fact that it was “discovered” by the Dutch on Easter Sunday (not very original, I know…), but many people call it Rapa Nui after Tahitian sailors gave it the name in the 1800’s. This island is 1600 miles from the Marquesa Islands and over 2000 from any other body of land, so the fact that it was settled back in Castle Times is a pretty amazing feat.

The date range of when it was first settled by the natives is a topic of much debate, as are most dates and facts about this enigmatic island. Archaeologists disagree on about every fact you can imagine since the nature of the island and it’s dark history has all but erased every marker typically used to date the passing of time.

What was so dark about the island’s history? Well, for one, it was plagued by the typical ills that came from the European influence on indigenous peoples—diseases, missionaires, and slavery wiping out the culture and the peoples. But before the Europeans had a chance to do this, they did it to themselves. They natives of Rapa Nui stripped the island bare of trees by building boats, houses, and moving the famous statues. This led to the loss of top soil, massive erosion, and a starvation and isolation unlike anywhere else on earth.

And of course, what discussion of Easter Island is complete without a look at the Moai—the stone megaliths that are all over the landscape. With almost 900 of these ominous figures watching the ocean and the land, the place is filled with wonder. These statues are feats of engineering, masonry, and artistry, and theories of how they were build range from the simple to the complex and, of course, to theories of ancient aliens.

Why did the natives spend so much of their time and resources devoted to these statutes? What was discovered when the bodies of the statue heads were unearthed? How did they move the statutes, and what makes the native folklore say they walked themselves into place? What exactly is the Birdman religion, and how was it celebrated by the hardcore people living on this bleak island? Listen, laugh, learn.

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