The island's native name is "Rapa Nui", but was given its common name by Dutch Admiral Jacob Roggeveen as the island was discovered on Easter Sunday 1722.
The statues were carved during a relatively short and intense burst of creative activity in the megalithic period. According to recent research, 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections. All of the statues consist of a head and torso, however many of the statues have been buried up to the neck by soil.
The mystery surrounding the Moai is that how did a stone age society ever make, move and raise them? Some of the Moai weigh in excess of 80 tonnes (twice that of the larger stones at Stonehenge) and have been transported over 15km from the quarry.
Aliens on Easter Island?
In his book, Gods from Outer Space, Erich von DÃ¤nkien suggests that the Easter Islanders did not carve the statues at all. Instead, he believes that they were created by ancient astronauts in order "to leave the natives a lasting memory of their stay" "They made stone giants which they set up on stone pedestals along the coast so that they were visible from afar."
A More Realistic Explanation
It was Resident Archaeologist, Sergio Rapu, which helped to unlock the reason for their construction. He matched coral fragments with a traditional name for the moai (living face of our ancestors) and realised that the figures had once had eyes. He believes the statues were part of a Polynesian tradition of ancestor worship, on a scale not seen anywhere else. Each Moai was different in order to immortalise a particular chief, halfway between the living and the gods. With their backs to the sea, they could inspire and protect the Islanders.