Unraveling the Mysteries of Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Class Dates

January 19, 2022 to February 23, 2022

Meeting Days

Wednesdays, 5-6:30 pm


Online Course



Course Instructor(s)

Course Description

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, has become widely known as a case study of human-induced environmental catastrophe resulting in cultural collapse.  The island’s alleged tragic history is offered as a cautionary tale of our own environmental recklessness and flirtation with catastrophe on a global scale.  However, a closer look at the actual archaeological and historical record for the island reveals that while an ecological transformation unfolded, the ancient Polynesians adapted, persisted. Indeed, the ancient people succeeded despite the odds.  

In this course, Dr. Terry Hunt, one of the world’s foremost experts on Rapa Nui (and current Dean of the W.A Franke Honors College at UArizona) will review the evidence for Polynesian migrations and ancient American connections.  We will examine Rapa Nui archaeology in detail, including how the massive statues were transported to every part of the island. And how did they place multi-ton “hats” (pukao) atop the giant statues? We go on to consider deforestation, climate, and the constraints ancient islanders faced. Our attention turns to the island’s resilience in ancient times, population, and community organization and adaptation.  Finally, we will take a look at Rapa Nui today and the issues confronting islanders.

In this course we assemble the evidence for the island’s astonishing prehistory and explore how and why this most isolated and remarkable culture adapted over prehistory before contact with the outside world.  Perhaps Rapa Nui has a lesson for us today, but it is not the one that has become so popular in recent years.

Course Format

Registered community members will meet with Professor Hunt for six live online sessions on the following Wednesdays from 5 to 6:30 PM: January 19, 26, February 2, 9, 16 and 23.


Attendance & Participation

This course will be delivered via the University of Arizona Zoom platform. All class sessions will be LIVE ONLINE and will be recorded. The recordings will be shared with registered students after each session to facilitate access for those who cannot make the live sessions. 


Online registration for this course opens on Monday, December 6, 2021, at 10 a.m. After registration, participants will receive instructions about how to access the course online.


Refunds are available and need to be requested before the second class meeting (January 26). To drop a class, please contact Stephanie Noriega at 520-626-0626 or sbs-communitymatters@email.arizona.edu.  A $25 administrative fee for each cancellation will apply.