The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Easter Island, South Pacific Ocean

Easter Island (Ahu-Akivi) Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Easter Island (Ahu-Akivi) Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Latitude: -27.1211919. Longitude: -109.3664237. A small Polynesian island in the south Pacific Ocean far away from any major land-mass is Easter Island, only discovered in the early 18th century, but it is a very extraordinary and mysterious island of giant stone statues and rock carvings, some perhaps dating back well-over 1,000 years. Also known as Rapa Nui, the “sacred” island of the mysterious tribe that are also called by the same name and who lived here, roughly, between 400-1700 AD.

There are said to be upto 1,000 small and large stone statues on the island, many are said to represent the gods or chiefs of the Rapa Nui tribes; and there are many superb petroglyphs or rock-carvings scattered about the island. The island is 10 miles across north to south and about 16 miles length-wise at the south-side; also at the south-side a line of three dormant volcanoes: Rano Kao, Punapau and Rano Raruku, while at the north another volcano called Rano Aroi; the island being made of sandstone and volcanic rock. Easter Island, sometimes called ‘the Navel of the World’ is 1,200 miles from any other island and roughly 2,360 miles from any major land-mass – in this case the west coast of Peru. It is 1,290 miles east of Pitcairn Island.

Easter Island by Hodges Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Easter Island by William Hodges 1775. Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

On Easter sunday in 1722 Dutch sailors, lead by the enthusiastic seafairing admiral Jacob Roggeveen, discovered the barren, treeless island quite by chance and named it Easter Island; they were almost certainly very surprised to see huge stone heads lying on the ground. After that in 1772 Spaniards re-discovered the island and, other interested parties (and some not so interested) came to the island in the late 19th century when archaeological excavations began. In more recent times (1956) the famous Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) sailed to the island on his balsa-log raft, Kon Tiki. Francis Hitching in his book ‘The World Atlas of Mysteries’ 1979, says of Heyerdahl’s expedition: “In 1956 the writer Thor Heyerdahl arranged an archaeological experiment with the mayor of Easter Island and six islanders. Using traditional methods, they carved out the contours of a new statue in three days using stone tools and gourds of water to soften the volcanic rock.”

Easter Island (Rano Raraku). Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

Easter Island (Rano Raraku). Photo Credit: Wikipedia.

The huge (colossal) statues carved from hardened volcanic ash are called ‘moai’ and they look stern-faced inwards away from the sea, seemingly to gaze towards the horizon for eternity, some stand on ceremonial rock platforms (ahu), especially those at Akivi on the island’s west coast and Nau Nau in Anakena Bay with between 7-15 figures, many having strange top-knots (pukao) on their heads, made from red tuff rock, their eye-sockets are made from coral and the irises from red scoria rock. In all there are nearly 900 statues (most having subtle differences in their appearences), including half-size ones and some that are unfinished, and some kneeling statues. They are said to represent the gods of the Rapa Nui. One of the statues, the ‘paro’ is 33 feet high (10 metres) and weighes in at 76 tonnes; another an unfinished statue is 69 feet high (21 metres), but there are some that are as tall as 24 metres, a staggering 78 feet! Many statues have fallen or been pushed over, maybe by the Rapa Nui tribes themselves as they knew that the end of their island culture was coming – due to a number of factors including abduction for the slave trade, war and disease – indeed by the 1870s only a hundred or so tribes-people remained, and in 1888 the island was finally annexed to Chile.

Author Justin Pollard in his excellent book ‘The Story of Archaeology In 50 Great Discoveries’ 2007, says that “By the 18th century Easter Island was almost devoid of trees and the destruction of the forest to provide wood for building and boats (and perhaps rollers for the moai) and to clear areas for agriculture led to a progressive impoverishment and erosion of the soil. These factors, together with the pressures caused by a growing population, meant that Easter Island society began to change rapidly.”

There are some amazing rock carvings on the island, in particular those in the Ana Kai Tangata cave at the south-west side of the island where there are depictions of the so-called ‘birdman’ (Tangata Manu) the supreme chief. The ‘birdman’ also features on a carved rock located above the Motu Nui islet; the cultus of the birdman was centred on the island village of Oronga where there are some well-preserved houses that were lived in by the Rapa Nui, from 1500 onwards. Thankfully the famous statues of Easter Island have been re-erected and now stare, perhaps rather less stern-faced towards ‘a new horizon.’ Today tourists and archaeologists visit Easter Island to stare and to study the huge statues and rock carvings and, at the island that is slowly ‘being lived on’ once again!


Hitching, Francis., The World Atlas Of Mysteries, Pan Books Ltd, London SW10, 1979.

Pollard, Justin., The Story Of Archaeology In 50 Great Discoveries, Quercus, London W1A, 2007.

Strange Worlds Amazing Places, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London W1X, 1994.

Photos Wikipedia:






Bardsey Island, Gwynedd, North Wales

NGR: SH 1209 2236. Bardsey Island (Ynys Enlli) or ‘the island of the currants’ lies 2 miles off the southern tip of the Lleyn Peninsula across Bardsey Sound, locally called ‘The Race of Bardsey’. Since the early 6th century AD the island has been a “Cradle of Celtic Christianity”. It apparently takes its name from Bardda, a Welsh prince, but in 516 St Cadfan came here from Brittany at the invitation of Einion, King of Lleyn, to establish a Celtic (clas) monastic college. Since that time the place has been called the holy island of Bardsey and, when 20,000

Bardsey Island Taken from Braich y Pwll - at t...

Bardsey Island Taken from Braich y Pwll – at the end of the Lleyn Peninsula (Photo credit: Martin Connolly).

saints were “supposedly” buried there, its place on the list of holy, sacred sites had been sealed and the island became a place of pilgrimage. Since medieval times three pilgrimages to Bardsey Island were equal to one pilgrimage to Rome, and many still visit the holy island even today. St Cadfan died and was buried on the island in 540 AD as were St Cybi and St Dubricius. Legend says that Merlin the Magician lies sleeping in an unidentified cave on Bardsey Island.

Unfortunately, there is no trace of the Celtic monastery, the scant ruins there now are, in fact, those of the Augustinian abbey of St Mary that was founded in 1240 and, the main part of that still surviving is a ruined tower (abbots lodging) and some foundations of the abbey church. The abbey did not survive the dissolution of the monasteries in 1537. In the ancient cemetery there are two modern Celtic crosses; the taller cross stands in memory of the third Baron Newborough and the other for the 20,000 saints who lie in unmarked graves on the island – 900 of these were monks who fled from the monastery of Bangor-is-Coed near Wrexham when it was besieged and burnt to the ground by King Ethelfrid of Northumbria in 607 AD.

To the east of St Mary’s Abbey at Ty Capel is the holy well. This now supplies the island with its drinking water. Just east of Plas Bach is the hermit’s cave and near here stands the famous 1,000-year-old ‘Afal Enlli’ the Bardsey apple tree. At the northern side of the island at Penryn Gogar there are traces of round hut dwellings that belong to the Neolithic age some 5,000 years ago. At Ty Newydd farm some graves from the 10th-11th century were discovered during an archaeological excavation in 1995 along with some skeletons, one of which had a silver coin in its mouth.

Photo (above) is of Bardsey Island taken from Braich-y-Pwll – at the end of the Lleyn Peninsula, by Martin Connolly (Geograph/Creative Commons).

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012 (updated 2023).