Easter Island lies near the East Pacific Rise, which separates the Pacific Plate to the west from the Nazca Plate to the east. The island is the highest point of the Easter Fracture Zone, a series of ridges and trenches marking a transform fault running 3,650 miles (5,900 km) across the floor of the South Pacific, from the Peru–Chile Trench in the east to the Tuamotu Archipelago in the west.
Easter Island was named in 1722 by Dutch sailors, who came across it on Easter Sunday. It had been settled at least 1,000 years earlier by Polynesians, who today call the island Rapa Nui. The island is famous for its giant stone statues, which are known as moai, found in groups along the coast. About half of the 900 statues remain unfinished in the quarry—it seems statue-carving stopped abruptly about a century before the first European explorers arrived. It is thought that the island’s forests and soil became so depleted that the islanders’ society collapsed in a violent struggle over access to rapidly diminishing resources.