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.
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.
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.
Guardians or Guides
Most moais are carved from volcanic rock found in the Rano Raraku quarry, in fact more than half of the statues are still on site in the quarry itself. The rock consists of tuff (compressed volcanic ash, to you and me). It’s easy to carve which was important as the islanders used only stone tools. The moai would be carved and then transported to its final location on the island, more on that in moment. Once in situ, then the eyeholes would be carved. Sometimes a ‘hat’ of red scoria stone would be added to the head of the statue at a later date. This represented a top knot of long hair which was a sign of mental power. The eyes would be added in coral and the moai would be complete, destined to watch over the tribe and bring good fortune.
Almost all of the statues on the island have been placed with their backs to the sea, perhaps watching over the island, only a handful face the ocean, perhaps to guide visitors to the shores – we will never know the true meaning……
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:
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.
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.