Easter Island is one of the most remote, inhabited islands in the world, located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, more than 2,000 miles off the coast of South America. The island is famous for it these giant stone heads (called "moai"), carved by the indigenous Rapa Nui people more than 500 years ago.
Previously, scientists theorized that the Rapa Nui population collapsed before Europeans arrived, from felling of trees and vegetation, attendant topsoil loss and subsequent starvation of many of the people. Researchers of the island are finding evidence that the population of these people did not decline and endanger their survival until after Europeans arrived in 1722. There was even a population gain after Europeans, until diseases such as syphilis and smallpox and slavery decimated them.
The ancient Polynesian people who populated Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, were not as isolated as long believed. Scientists who conducted a genetic study, published in the journal Current Biology, found these ancient people had significant contact with Native American populations hundreds of years before the first Westerners reached the island in 1722.