Easter Island, an island in the eastern part of the Pacific, lat. 27° 6' S., Ion. 109° 17' W., distant about 2,300 m. from the coast of South America. From its solitary position it has been but seldom visited. It was discovered in 1722 by Roggeween, a Dutch navigator, and was visited in 1774 and described by Cook. It is about 11m. long and 6 broad, and contains three extinct volcanoes of large size, rising to the height of 1,200 ft. above the sea. The land in the valleys is fertile and well cultivated; but the island is deficient in water. The natives, who number about 1,000, are tall and robust, with regular features and dark complexion. They belong to the Polynesian race, and until lately were fiercely hostile to the whites. In 1865 some French missionaries landed among them, and, though at first treated with great rudeness, finally succeeded in converting them to Christianity, which is now professed by the entire population. - The remarkable feature of the island is that it contains several hundred gigantic stone statues, tolerably well chiselled. The largest of these are 40 ft. high, and measure 9 ft. across the shoulders. Many of them stand in the crater of the great volcano, while others are scattered about the island, generally prostrate.
They were cut from the common rock of the island, and many unfinished statues are yet to be seen in the quarries. Nothing is known of the origin of these statues. They were certainly not made by the present race of inhabitants, who have no tools adequate to their sculpture, nor any means of moving such huge masses. The native traditions about them are puerile, and seem to ascribe them to a supernatural origin. The conjecture has recently been advanced that the island is the remnant of a submerged continent, and that the statues were made by an extinct people who worshipped their idols in high places, and to whom the craters of volcanoes were peculiarly sacred.