The Mystery of Easter Island and Its Statues

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About this sample


Words: 2209 |

Pages: 5|

12 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Words: 2209|Pages: 5|12 min read

Published: Feb 8, 2022

Hundreds of years ago a small group of Polynesians decided to row out across the vast ocean sea in their wooden canoes only with the knowledge of stars and ocean swells to help guide them. Why these people left their native home and for what reason still remains a mystery. Although, archaeologists still debate at about approximately around 400 A.D. is when they landed on an island what they come to call Rapa Nui. The island is one of the most remote places on earth, and for centuries people have been marveling about its mysteries. What we know clearly about the island is that these people made a small uninhabited place with lush palm trees and rolling hills their new home. When the Europeans later discovered the island in 1772 it was then named what we call today as Easter Island. Upon landing, what the Europeans discovered around the island were these monolithic statues, carving moai, made of volcanic stone. The mammoth blocks of stone statues on average weighed around 82 tons and 32 ft high. Who, why and how these statues were carved and moved is a remarkable mystery. Archeologist today, still question on how exactly such primitive people with primitive tools are able to accomplish such a feat that can only require several men and countless days to acquire. In the documentary, NOVA Mystery of Easter Island by PBS, archaeologists Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo, and Patrick Kirch with the help of scientists will attempt on finding out how these statues were actually moved, testing new experiments on a theory that have been puzzling people for centuries.

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Located off the west coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean, Rapa Nui’s majestic moai carved statues have been a big mystery since the Europeans first arrived on the island in the 1700s. When the explorers landed during this time what they found were massive megaliths on a deforested rock-strewn island with around 3,000 people. On the other hand, archaeologists proposed that the island was never like this. The island used to be filled with giant palm forest when the Polynesians first arrived earlier on an Easter Island once looked very different. Moreover, John Flenley a pollen expert, explains there is pollen evidence suggesting there use to be 25 various species of trees and shrubs that once grew there and reveals there was a dramatic change on the island as it was deforested. Furthermore, the pollen results strongly indicate that people had destroyed the forest. In fact, Lipo confirms why this island used to have a palm forest, it’s because of the preservation of the palm roots that tells us it was extensive across the island. Evidence of traces of black lines that indicate a path of the palms roots once made. But, some scientists believe that these trees were not cut down for building and moving, but for one simple reason, it was for farming. In addition, Kirch adds that these people were agriculturalists and they needed to clear land and the forest in a sense was kind of useless for them. It was gardening that would be more essential to them not palm trees they couldn’t eat. Archaeologist, Pat Kirch studies human impact on island ecology and has done a study of the Mangareva islands about 1600 miles away. They are the nearest island to Rapa Nui which had striking similarities. Both, Rapa Nui and Mangareva island were deforested and both had a large population of seabirds that once fertilized the soil. And, on both island people killed and ate nearly all the birds. The elimination of seabirds was the key factor that leads to the forest not regenerating. The people also slashed and burned down the trees which also puts the forest in jeopardy. Also, the rat species from Asia had a role in the deforestation. Wildlife biologist, William Pitt tells us when the rats were introduced to the island, they had no predators. In addition, with an abundance of resources, the rats exploded into millions consuming large amounts of food which were palm trees and palm seeds, Seeds that would spawn new forests. After examining, the Polynesians on the islands that are close to Easter Island, helped scientist unlock a mystery about the islands past. The forest was likely wiped out by human impact due to slashing and burning, the decimation of seabird populations, and the introduction of a rat population that exploded into millions devouring palms and their nuts.

The transportation of the statues is perhaps the most important contribution of this culture to humanity says Sergio Rapu Haoa, born and raised on Rapa Nui who was governor of the island for six years and also an archaeologist. He has long theorized the idea that the statues were moved in an upright position. Hunt and Lipo tested the hypothesis and based on their research, the movement in vertical walking explains a systematic variation in moai that were found on the ancient roadways, in the quarries and on the platforms called “ahu”. To test their proposition, the moai were moved vertically they precisely scaled a 5-ton road statue resembling the real one and showed experimentally how with relatively just a few people can achieve movement in a walking motion. This is a great example of how is experimental archaeology is used in research. Experimental archaeology is the scientific method to determine how artifacts or features were made and used. In addition, in the past modern experiments on moving the moai have begun earlier on, documents showing that they were moved on wood in a prone or supine position rolled over logs. Furthermore, to better understand how the multi-ton moai were moved remains important to the island’s prehistory. Prehistoric archaeology can be seen throughout the documentary. It’s the reconstruction of human behavior through the study of material remains alone with no documents involved. For example, like the sharp-edged obsidian that were found scattered across the island, some say these people used the tool for warfare and other things like for carving wood, hard material, and plant materials. But, they also found after studying 500 Rapa Nui remains that these obsidians have been implemented in the human skull and enough of the bones showed some kind of injury or trauma, significantly these people were in a place of constant conflict. Moreover, they found and studied the prehistoric roads constructed as paths for transporting the moai that can be seen visible with satellite imaging. Another type of archaeology can be seen when archaeologist studied the Polynesian people at the nearby island to recreate how the ancient Rapa Nui people might have lived. Ethnoarchaeology is what we call this kind of archaeology, the study of what living people leave behind and recreating ancient behaviors.

The statues traditions were brought by voyagers from Polynesia to Rapa Nui. Throughout Polynesia wooden carved statues and stone figures are common, but they are nothing like the moai on Rapa Nui. The moai statues were cut from volcanic tufts or porous stone made from volcanic ash. Almost all the moai were first carved inside a massive quarry inside one of the three extinct volcanoes. The way they carved the moai starts with the face and then, the body. To the people, it's like waking up the statues from a rock. Artist, Umi Kai shows how they carve the statues and to do so carvers used a very dense stone tool made from basalt. Furthermore, Umi explains that to cut a design you have to follow into the tuft and by using a replica of the same ancient tool, called a “Toki” he carves a small version of an eye socket into the tuft. After the moai is carved and complete, the back would still be attached with the mother rock with a keel. Then, the rock is perforated and the keel will eventually be removed and replaced by loose rock adding to the back of the moai so that it remains floating when they cut of the rock and release it from the mother rock. After completing this process, they then will slide it down and brace it at the foot of the hill and finish carving off the back. At this stage, the moai will be ready to be moved to a sacred platform that’s known to be a religious ritual called an “ahu”. According to several theories, the Islander’s used logs to move the moai. Although this may be true, the problem with the theory is that they do not draw on evidence seen on the statues themselves, on the moai, and the roads. In addition, the clues on the roads tell a different story. After Investigating the theory, they found that there are several roads that began at the quarry and across the center of the island, the roads were used to move the moai in every corner of the island. According to their oral traditions, moai were carved to represent the spirits of the islander's ancestors, they are the loving face of their ancestors. In order to look living, they inlaid eyes on the statues and some statues had a red stone hat or a topknot called a “pukao”.

The ancient Polynesians of Easter Island carved nearly 1000 massive moai statues from volcanic tuff bedrock and transported across the rugged landscapes along roads to monumental sites around the island. As a matter of fact, many methods were proposed in testing the movement of the moai. After looking at the prehistoric roads, they were constructed specifically for the transportation of the moai. The roads provided physical information involving statue movement. For example, Hunt and Lipo surveyed almost 20 miles of roads using satellite imagery and were able to see key features in how the statues were moved that may lie in the slopes. They measured confirming the results that the roads have a maximum of three-degrees rise as they go uphill, and a maximum of six-degrees as they go downhill which was a crucial clue on how they may have been moved. Ultimately, the evidence that can be found was actually on the statues themselves, they were engineered to be moved. Furthermore, in order for the moai to be walked, they had to test the theory. In doing so, they made the most precise replica of a moai that was ever made and collected data from moai and embedded them into thousands of photos and entered into a 3D modeling software. The replica statue was scaled down into a 10 ft tall and weighed 5 tons, the average of most of the moai on the island. Hunt and Lipo named the statue Hotu It, a tribute to the islands first legendary ruler.

The program shows a lot of work was done scientifically that fits into the steps of an archaeological project. Archaeologist created a research design in trying to prove how the monumental moai were moved. Explaining the transportation on open debate and speculation including their role in deforestation and their resource expenditures. With archaeological analysis and evidence of the moai variability, especially the ones that were abandoned along the ancient roads indicating the transportation of the statues were moved in a vertical position. Furthermore, to test their proposition they constructed a precise 3D model of a replica statue to demonstrate the statue walking forward in a side-by-side motion with a small number of individuals. In addition, with the help of numerous specialists to help with analyzing the project as it proceeds. In conclusion, walking the multi-ton statues didn't need timber wood, and can it can be done with a small group.

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There is a great amount of duty and importance in figuring out how the statues were moved because it can help cast light on the ancient peoples troubled past of the island. There are a wide understanding and idea of what happened on the island and stories told by the islanders that the clans had prolonged warfare. Moreover, skulls on the islands have confirmed that these people were at a constant battle of each other. According to oral legends, the many different clans on the island were competing with each other to build more-ever larger moai. In order to, they needed logs to move the statues, so they cut down the lush forest to keep up with their rivals. When the forest disappeared and resources on the island grew scarce, rivalry turned into violence. Some have to come described this case as ecocide, a culture bent on overexploiting its resources and spirals into disasters. Some have come to believe that the loss of large trees meant that they couldn't build canoes and leave the island. In one view, this was an environmental disaster that leads to cultural collapsing. Although this may true, Kirch thinks it was a society in distressed, they had a lot of problems, pushing their agricultural system very hard, signs that the warfare was periodic and epidemic. Due, to the arrivals of the Europeans they also might have brought diseases and ravaged by slavery, could have also plummeted their population. After all, whatever the oral history may be told, it's important to keep it in history and the importance of doing archaeology helps the last bits of information further future generations who want to study the island, and maybe one day solve its mysteries.

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Dr. Oliver Johnson

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The Mystery of Easter Island and Its Statues. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from
“The Mystery of Easter Island and Its Statues.” GradesFixer, 10 Feb. 2022,
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