Easter Island Revealed

Photo of moai by Ian Sewell - - Easter Island, CC BY 2.5,

I learned, like many of you, about the iconic stone heads on Easter Island in school when I was a child. You've at least seen photographs of these heads sitting on the island and if you know anything about Easter Island, it is probably the statues, called moai, that were created by the early Rapa Nui people.

Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is a Chilean island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeasternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. The name "Easter Island" was given by the island's first recorded European visitor, the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who encountered it on Easter Sunday (5 April) in 1722, while searching for Davis or David's island. Roggeveen named it Paasch-Eyland (18th-century Dutch for "Easter Island") and the island's official Spanish name, Isla de Pascua, also means "Easter Island".

But in recent years,  the Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) has undertaken efforts to excavate and study some of the Moai, and revealed previously hidden portions of the statues.

Because they were set deep into the ground, their bodies have been obscured over time. The archeologists dug around the statues and discovered that the torsos of the statues are covered in undecipherable ancient writings. And there are more statues than just the famous heads - more than 900 monolithic human figures carved from rock.

The production and transportation of the moai are remarkable creative and physical feats. The tallest moai erected, called Paro, was almost 10 metres (33 ft) high and weighed 82 tons. The heaviest erected was a shorter but squatter moai at Ahu Tongariki, weighing 86 tons.

Many of the moai toppled after European contact when islander traditions radically changed. Though moai are whole-body statues, they are often erroneously referred to as "Easter Island heads." This is partly because of the disproportionate size of most moai heads and partly because, many of the iconic images for the island showing upright moai on the island are the statues on the slopes of Rano Raraku, many of which are buried to their shoulders. Some of the "heads" at Rano Raraku have been excavated and their bodies seen, and observed to have markings that had been protected from erosion by their burial.

All but 53 of the more than 900 moai known to date were carved from tuff (a compressed volcanic ash). There are also 13 moai carved from basalt, 22 from trachyte and 17 from fragile red scoria. At the end of carving, the builders would rub the statue with pumice.

Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater located on the lower slopes of Terevaka in the Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island. It was a quarry for about 500 years until the early eighteenth century, and supplied the stone from which about 95% of the island's moai were carved.

What did they symbolize to their builders? According to Wikipedia:
Many archaeologists suggest that "[the] statues were thus symbols of authority and power, both religious and political. But they were not only symbols. To the people who erected and used them, they were actual repositories of sacred spirit. Carved stone and wooden objects in ancient Polynesian religions, when properly fashioned and ritually prepared, were believed to be charged by a magical spiritual essence called mana." Archaeologists believe that the statues were a representation of the ancient Polynesians' ancestors. The moai statues face away from the ocean and towards the villages as if to watch over the people. The exception is the seven Ahu Akivi which face out to sea to help travelers find the island. There is a legend that says there were seven men who waited for their king to arrive.
The Rano Raraku area is in the protected World Heritage Site of Rapa Nui National Park.

No comments:

Post a Comment