Moai The Easter Island Giant

Easter Island is a remote dot of land in the South Pacific. Prehistoric setters of East Polynesian origins carved the moai – huge stone statues – over a period of around 500 years spanning 1000 AD to 1500 AD.

Hundreds of these statues were sculpted using stone picks, from a soft volcanic rock, known as tuff. While eight hundred and eighty (880) are presently known, the exact number of moai remains unknown, as dozens are likely hidden under sediments around the slopes of the quarry.

Typical Moai Structure

The statues are generally similar, however no two are identical in all ways. From the head to the abdomen, each moai is a human figure. The arms are tight at the sides, with long tapering fingers on each hand almost grazing the abdomen.

Beneath a brow extending outwards sits a long nose that is either concave or straight. The chin is prominent and pointed, with ear lobes that are often long. Most moai are male, based on the testimonies from islanders.

Who’s Really Who on Easter Island?

Over two hundred and thirty (230) of these stone figures were conveyed to stone platforms around the island, and elevated unto them with their backs to the sea. Then eyes of white coral were inserted into carved eye sockets in many cases.

Red stone cylindrical headdresses were placed on some moai. The true representation of these headdresses remains unknown, but English explorer James Cook and his crew heard the term ariki applied to several. “Ariki” is the word for “chief.” Others bear nicknames like Stinker, Tattooed One, and Twisted Neck. The statues stood for high-ranking ancestors and served the dual function of a memoriam and funeral monument.

On platforms (also known as ahu) around the coast, they served as a resilient wall between two worlds – “home” and “out there.” Perhaps, it was overwhelming being alone and cut off from the outside world.

How Big is Big?

Statues on platforms stand anywhere between 6 to 33 feet tall. The heaviest is a sturdy 82 tonnes. The largest statue ever carved on the island sits in the quarry. El Gigante is a 65-foot tall monster weighing up to 270 tonnes.

Assuming prehistoric islanders still had an ample supply of trees – necessary to make ropes, levers, and rollers for carving activities – chances are for all their ingenuity, they would not have been able to move El Gigante.

What’s the 411?

Easter island’s huge stone statues have enthralled researchers, explorers and enthusiasts for hundreds of years. Recently though, experts believe they have resolved a significant mystery – why the statutes exist where they are located, in the first place.

Having analysed the locations of the megalithic platforms on which moai sit, and scrutinising locations of the island’s resources, researchers are clear the platforms are typically close to sources of fresh water.

The finding supports the thinking that aspects of the construction of the platforms and statues, like their size for instance, could be linked to the quality and plenteous availability of such supplies.

The moai are indeed a timeless marvel.

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