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Most of the erected statues were carved in a single quarry and then somehow transported as far as six miles--despite heights as great as 33 feet and weights up to 82 tons.The abandoned statues, meanwhile, were as much as 65 feet tall and weighed up to 270 tons.The islanders Roggeveen met were totally isolated, unaware that other people existed.Investigators in all the years since his visit have discovered no trace of the islanders’ having any outside contacts: not a single Easter Island rock or product has turned up elsewhere, nor has anything been found on the island that could have been brought by anyone other than the original settlers or the Europeans.The stone platforms were equally gigantic: up to 500 feet long and 10 feet high, with facing slabs weighing up to 10 tons.Roggeveen himself quickly recognized the problem the statues posed: The stone images at first caused us to be struck with astonishment, he wrote, because we could not comprehend how it was possible that these people, who are devoid of heavy thick timber for making any machines, as well as strong ropes, nevertheless had been able to erect such images.Yet despite the Polynesians’ well-deserved fame as a great seafaring people, the Easter Islanders who came out to Roggeveen’s and Cook’s ships did so by swimming or paddling canoes that Roggeveen described as bad and frail. The canoes, only ten feet long, held at most two people, and only three or four canoes were observed on the entire island.
Modern botanists have identified only 47 species of higher plants native to Easter, most of them grasses, sedges, and ferns.The island derives its name from its discovery by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, on Easter (April 5) in 1722.Roggeveen’s first impression was not of a paradise but of a wasteland: We originally, from a further distance, have considered the said Easter Island as sandy; the reason for that is this, that we counted as sand the withered grass, hay, or other scorched and burnt vegetation, because its wasted appearance could give no other impression than of a singular poverty and barrenness.Their native animals included nothing larger than insects, not even a single species of native bat, land bird, land snail, or lizard. European visitors throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries estimated Easter’s human population at about 2,000, a modest number considering the island’s fertility.As Captain James Cook recognized during his brief visit in 1774, the islanders were Polynesians (a Tahitian man accompanying Cook was able to converse with them). But as they lack the knowledge and particularly the materials for caulking and making tight the great number of seams of the canoes, these are accordingly very leaky, for which reason they are compelled to spend half the time in bailing.