Santiago (Chile), July 14 (ANI): A team of experts has discovered a six-kilometer-long lava cave system on Easter Island thought to have been used as a refuge by the island's inhabitants during the 16th century.
According to a report in The Santiago Times, the team confirmed that it is the largest cave on the island and the 11th-largest in the world in terms of area.
The expedition, which began in 2005 and focused on the Roiho sector in the east of the island, uncovered 45 caves with a host of archaeological finds, including arrowheads, spears, axes, utensils, petroglyphs (rock engravings), and some 30 human skeletons.
Cave experts, or speleologists, confirmed the caves were used by inhabitants of the island as refuge from tribal wars at a time when society was on the verge of collapse as a result of infighting, severe environmental degradation caused by deforestation, droughts, and famine.
"The most common use was in periods of tribal warfare, when the caves would turn into secret chambers where islanders would protect themselves," explained Claudio Cristino, an archaeologist from the Universidad de Chile, who took part in the expedition.
"They also would have been used as a site to collect water," he added.
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a Polynesian island located some 3,500 kilometers off the west coast of Chile. It was annexed by Chile in 1888, with its inhabitants given Chilean citizenship in 1966.
"It was our fourth expedition to Rapa Nui," explained Jabier Les, president of the Spanish Alfonso Antxia Society of Speleological Sciences, which led the expedition alongside a team of Italian experts and Chilean archaeologists.
"In each expedition we charted the island and its caverns, being surprised by a series of finds. But to find a system of natural galleries more than six kilometers long in such a small, distant island was astonishing," he added.
Prior to their exploration, the caves had aroused the interest of tour operators who told stories of islanders who continued to inhabit the caves to emulate the lives of their ancestors.
"It has been a revelation," said Enrique Tucki, administrator of the Rapa Nui National Park. "We knew these caves existed - they have been there for centuries - but we had not taken into account their variety, quantity, and peculiarity," he added.
The discovery will be featured in the TV show "Science Hunters," for which state-owned TV network TVN is negotiating the rights. (ANI)