On Easter Day 1722, Dutch explorers landed on Easter Island. A civilisation isolated by 4,000km of Pacific Ocean was about to meet the outside world for the first time in centuries. The strangers were about to find something very strange themselves - an island dotted with hundreds of huge stone statues and a society that was not as primitive as they expected. The first meeting was an immense clash of cultures. (Bloody too: the sailors killed ten natives within minutes of landing.) Where had the Islanders originally come from? Why and how had they built the figures? Modern science is piecing together the story, but it is far too late for the Easter Islanders themselves. They were virtually wiped out by a series of disasters - natural and man made - that brought a population of 12,000 down to just 111 in a few centuries. The Island's inhabitants today all have Chilean roots, making solving the mysteries even harder. There is no one to ask about the first people of Easter Island. Although fragmentary legends have been passed down, only science can hope to explain the rise and fall of this unusual civilisation.
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