Today was our first day of sightseeing on Easter Island (Rapa Nui in the local language). We were escorted by Edmundo Edwards today and throughout our stay here. Edmundo is extremely knowledgeable about the people, customs, past and present cultures of Near Oceania and Polynesia, and is considered one of the major experts on Easter Island and Eastern Polynesian history and culture. He worked as an archeologist here since the 1960s and was involved in some of the first academic reasearch on the island.
The principal sights on the island are moai, the famous large, carved stone heads. Wikipedia has a good writeup of these at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moai. They are thought to have been carved beginning in about 1000 AD until around 1600 AD, when the society on Easter Island began to collapse. The heads probably represent ancestors and were erected on altars (called ahu) to represent powerful chiefs. The heads vary in size from 2-3 meters up to an unfinished one which would have been 21 meters tall.
We started the day at the Taha archeological zone, which gave us our first look at some restored moai. We also saw the stone remains of the houses built by the pre-European islanders, which were stone foundations in the shape of a canoe, which would then have had wood arches to form a roof. The original residents of the island are now thought to have come from polyneisa, thousands of miles away, in an open canoe. After a visit to the small anthropological museum, we drove across the island to Puna Pau, which is a quary in a volcanic cone where the hats for the statues were carved. These hats were placed on top of the heads of the statues; a few of the restored statues have the hats in place. We next visited Ahu Akivi, one of the best-restored and most-photographed of the various ahu/moai complexes. Edmundo pointed out to us the remains of a "kitchen" behind the ahu, which bore the signs of canibalism, including human dental remains which he picked up off the ground. He indicated that his research showed that every one of the ahu (altars) he excavated bore signs of canibalism, probably of a ritual nature.
We stopped briefly at a lava tube, which we could walk through and which bore the signs of being inhabited, and then we went to the ceremonial center of Ahu Tepeu, which had several more moai. In the evening, we had dinner at Edmundo's home, with his wife and his best friend joining us for dinner.