The statues seem to provide evidence of a complex civilisation. Yet when European explorers first set foot on the island they came across a relatively small population estimated to number no more than 3,000. The explorers were puzzled. Surely the civilisation that made these statues had to have been much larger?
The first expedition to reach Easter Island was led by Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen. It made land on Easter Day in 1722. Roggeveen had been searching for new trade routes, and alongside Easter Island he also came across Samoa and other Pacific lands.
This came at a time when the Dutch were looking to dominate the world stage. The Age of Discovery had begun in 1492 with Christopher Columbus’ first voyage. Bankrolled by the Spanish, all the wealth of the new discoveries had made Spain a powerful empire. By the 18th century, the British and the Dutch had also grown hungry for power and money. Consequently, they too had undertaken their own explorations.