The last of the lands

  • Giulio Magli

On some unknown date in the first half of the first millennium AD, a flotilla of Polynesian pirogues, probably coming from the Marquese Islands, landed on a very small island lost in the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, formed a million years earlier by volcanic eruptions and never before inhabited.

According to a legend the discoverers called the island Te-Pito-te-Henua: the last of the lands. (Today it is called Rapa Nui by its inhabitants.) Some 1300 years later, on Easter's Monday 1722, the Dutch captain Jacob Roggeveen was the first European to leave his footprint on that same island, which was therefore known, from then on, as Easter Island. It is a triangle of land 160 square kilometers large, spotted with dead volcanoes and incredibly far away from anything and anybody. The closest land (besides the Sala-y-Gomez rock; see below) on the west side is the Pitcairn Island, 2000 kilometers away (famous because it was the last destination of the Bounty mutineers); the Chile coast, on the east side, is 3600 kilometers away.

The history of the island was carefully reconstructed-not without difficulty–using local legends, archaeological data, and most of all genetic and paleobotanical analysis (Barthel 1978, Fisher 2002). On the island a form of writing called Rongo-Rongo was used, but unfortunately very few texts, written on small wooden tables, survived the destruction of the indigenous culture by the Europeans. In any case, all the linguistic, archaeological, botanical, and genetic data show that the Polynesians reached Easter Island, as said above, in the first centuries AD, probably around the fourth century.


Erect Position Indigenous Culture Stone Block Chile Coast Palm Wood 
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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Giulio Magli

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