Moais at Easter Island, Chile

The mystery of the Easter Island moai

With their heavy brows, long straight noses and strong chins, the moai statues of Easter Island have long held a fascination for many.

Moais at Easter Island, Chile

© MvanKessel,Shutterstock

The tall, proud sentinels of Rapa Nui

How were they made? Who made them? How did they get here? What were they for?  We can but speculate as there is no written account. Whilst we might not be able to give definitive answers, hopefully we can shed a little light on this, or at least put forward a theory or two for you to ponder.

These huge statues are impressive, the average height of a moai is around 4 metres (some are as tall as 9 metres) and they usually weigh around 12.5 tonnes.  Whilst many refer to them as the Easter Island Heads, they do in fact all have bodies, some partially covered by soil.  The bodies are small and not in proportion to the heads.

It is thought that they were crafted between 1400 and 1650AD by island natives, though it is not actually known by which group. Was it the distinguished professional carvers who where held in high esteem, or was it members of each clan of islanders who were responsible? The former is the most popular theory.

  • See these unique statues in their rightful setting
  • Explore the rugged landscapes of Easter Island
  • Discover the folklore surrounding the moai
  • Watch the sunrise at Tongariki
  • Cycle around the island
  • Stargazing with little or no light pollution

 

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There are nearly 900 moai statues on Easter Island. Probably the most photographed is the row of 15 known as Ahu Tongariki, this is the largest ahu (shrine) on the island.

Easter Island, Chile © TJucys,Shutterstock

What was the purpose of the moai?

Moai statues were built to honour important people who had passed away. The different facial characteristics are said to reflect the appearance of the relevant person. The taller the statue, the higher the price. It is thought that the tribe ‘buying’ the statue would pay in whatever commodity they had, be it bananas, chickens, tools etc. The bigger the statue therefore, the more powerful and important the tribe as they had the means to pay the price.

How did they move these gigantic stone statues?

There are several theories relating to the transporting of the moais to their final position on the islands. How did they transport these huge, heavy statues across hilly terrain? It’s worth noting that the further away from the quarry Rano Raraku the statues are found, the smaller they are – it’s no mean feat to move one of these giant megaliths. The two most popular theories are:

Theory 1

The most popular theory is that the statues were transported upright and rolled on logs. Though labour intensive and a huge amount of brute force was required, this was a safe way to relocate the statues. The bigger the statue, the more lumber was required which could be why there are few trees on the island.

Theory 2

Moving the moais by rocking or walking them to their destination is another theory. The statues would be rocked from side to side with ropes. Wood would not be required. The flaws with this method are that the moai could quite easily fall and it’s a very time consuming method of moving these giant carvings.