html Easter Island (or Rapa Nui) is one of the world's great archaeological sites, and also one of the most remote. The nearest inhabited island is tiny Pitcairn, over 1200 miles to the west. Rapa Nui is almost 2500 miles from the coast of South America and, in the other direction; it is 2000 miles to Tahiti. Its isolation is one of the key factors affecting the culture that evolved here. .
From what is known of the culture, language, and customs, it seems that the original settlers came from either the Marquesas Islands or from Mangareva around AD 400-600. It is unknown but they may have stopped at other islands along the way. Finding this isolated island is said to be a miracle.
The Polynesians who found Easter Island came prepared to stay. They brought tools and food, and plants and animals to begin a new life. But the island they found was not typical for Polynesian life. It is out of the tropics, and has neither rivers nor protective reefs. Although Easter Island was small about 66 square miles, it had a forest of large palms, and other trees, and craters from volcanic activity held fresh water for drinking. Obsidian rock was available for tools and weapons as well as easily worked lapilli tuff, the perfect material for making statues.
The islanders, once settled, gradually spread across the island, occupying nearly all the areas available. In order to plant their crops, they resorted to cut and burn the forest. Eventually this caused topsoil to erode during storms and, overtime, the productivity of the land declined.
They built houses and shrines, and carved enormous statues (called moai), similar to statues Polynesians made on Ra'ivavae and the Marquesas Islands. The function of the statues was to stand on an ahu which was a shrine as representatives of sacred chiefs and gods. .
In the beginning, the Rapa Nui society was characteristically Polynesian in that power and mana which was spiritual power was focused in the ariki mau, or great chief.