on the tiny island’s resources just when moai carving and, more significantly, transportation reached a climax. Over the next century or so, radical change occurred, heralding the collapse of the society. Some scholars lay most of the blame for decline on the compulsion to construct the colossal figures. The once abundant palm forests were cleared for housing and crop production and to provide tools and pathways for moving the moai. Deforestation allowed the erosion of topsoil, and crops failed. Soon, driven by territorial imperatives, the island clans descended into civil war and even cannibalism. All the coastal moai had their eyes smashed out and the statues were toppled and decapitated by the islanders themselves.

Contacts with the West from the beginning of the eighteenth century served only to make matters worse, and in 1862 Peruvian slavers and exotic diseases together ravaged the population, reducing it to little more than a hundred. The process was reversed after Rapa Nui was annexed by Chile in 1888, and in 1965 it received the same privileges as other Chilean provinces. The economy now depends on sheep ranching and tourism. The main attraction for tourists is the mysterious moai, whose uniqueness led to the island being inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1995, with the following description:

Rapa Nui … bears witness to a unique cultural phenomenon. A society of Polynesian origin … established a powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture, free from any external influence. From the tenth to the sixteenth centuries this society built shrines and erected enormous stone figures, moai, which created an unrivalled cultural landscape and which today continue to fascinate the entire world.

Further reading

Heyerdahl, Thor. 1975. The Art of Easter Island. Baarn, the Netherlands: De Boekerij.

McCall, Grant. 1994. Rapanui: Tradition and Survival on Easter Island. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Orliac, Catherine, and Michel Orliac. 1995. Easter Island: Mystery of the Stone Giants. New York: Abrams.

Tilburg, Jo Anne van, et al. 1995. Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology, and Culture. Washington. DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.



The city of Mohenjo-Daro (“hill of the dead”) was the largest settlement of a culture that for more than 600 years from 2500 b.c. extended over 600,000 square miles (1.5 million square kilometers) of India and Pakistan—larger than western Europe. The city’s ruins, on the west bank of the Indus River about 200 miles (320 kilometers) north of Karachi, evidence careful urban design combined with a sophisticated infrastructure that was undreamed of in the contemporary river-valley civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. Although presented with undeniably nationalistic and political bias, recent archeological evidence from the subcontinent suggests that there, and not in Mesopotamia, was the cradle of civilization. Mohenjo-Daro has been chosen here as simply representative of a great achievement, the invention of city planning.

The first traces of the ancient cities were accidentally discovered on the Indus River floodplain in 1856. The occupying British, building the East Indian Railway between Lahore and Karachi, plundered hundreds of thousands of bricks from the site of Harappâ, a metropolis on the Ravi River, 400 miles (640 kilometers) northeast of Mohenjo-Daro. In 1920 Sir John Marshall, director general of archeology in India, initiated investigation of these “twin capitals,” and discoveries were made by Daya Ram Sahni (at Harappâ) and R. D. Banerji. Nani Gopal Majumdar worked in the Sindh region (now in southern Pakistan) from 1927 to 1931. About a decade later, Ernest Mackay discovered Chanu Daro, and Sir Aurel Stein found more sites in Baluchistan and Rajputana. From 1946 into the early 1950s, Sir Mortimer Wheeler continued excavations at Mohenjo-Daro and Harappâ.

The terms “Indus valley civilization” and “Harappân culture” spring from the collective work of all these men, but Hindu scholars in India and Pakistan recently have challenged that nomenclature. Some insist that the civilization was created by Vedic people. Hard evidence is displacing earlier speculative myths about origins. Since the early 1990s archeologists have uncovered several cities east of the Indus. The settlement known as the Dholavira