Published on July 18, 2004 By Parvin In Ancient
The statues of Easter Island
Easter Island is renowned for the nine hundred massive carved statues known as Moai, some weighing more than fifty tons.

Located 2200 miles due west of Chili and 1200 miles east of Pitcairn Island, is a sixty-three square mile island formed eons ago by two volcanoes. Because a Dutch seaman, Jacob Roggeveen, came upon it on Easter Day, 1722, we know it on our maps as Easter Island. Polynesians know it as Rapa Nui.


By either name, Easter Island is renowned for the nine hundred massive carved statues known as

Moai, some weighing more than fifty tons, which were erected centuries before lookouts on the Dutch ship spotted this speck alone on the Pacific

horizon.


Modern DNA testing and carbon dating have answered many of the mysterious questions that

have swirled over the history of the islands early inhabitants and their seeming passion for

constructing stone statues, all fundamentally the same in appearance.


At that time the island was very hospitable. Fish and birds were plentiful, as was edible plant life. Much of the island was thickly forested, provided excellent habitat for the birds, as well as rich soil for the plant life. If anything, life on the island was too good. Moreover, it was finite. Rich as the natural resources were, over-population, probably, resulted in their substantial depletion. Pollen records indicate the forests were endangered by 800 AD and likely disappeared in the 1400's.


Most of the Moai were sculpted between 1000 and 1500 AD. The timber likely utilized to move

them from their quarries on specially built roads could have resulted in the exhaustion of the

forests. This may explain why almost half of the Moai were still in the quarries. Speculation also

suggests that those in the quarries were somehow imperfect, therefore simply abandoned.


The largest Moai, found incomplete in a quarry, was 72 feet long and estimated to weigh 165

tons. Interestingly, an early researcher put its size at 65 feet and its weight at 270 tons. Of the two hundred which were actually erected, the largest was about 33 feet tall and weighed

about 80 tons.


In 1722, the Dutch sailors were able to see the erect Moai. Many were concentrated near the

islands southeast coast and all faced inland. But in the same century, inhabitants began toppling each others Moai. An 1864 visitor noted in his journal that not a single Moai remained standing.


The significance of the Moai to the islanders remains conjectural. Statue cults were in existence throughout Polynesia in similar, though not such extreme, forms. The statues were representative of authority and position, and their pedestals, called "ahu", were ceremonial sites wherein resided a living spirit, mana. That all of the statues, except for height, had the same physiognomy suggests they had vested spiritual importance.


Polynesian oral history talks of clan violence on Rapa Nui, in part manifest by the toppling of

Moai, likely considered a supreme desecration. Given the depletion of resources on the island and

its profound isolation from other islands and people, internecine aggression would not be a

surprise.


No commentary about Easter Island would be complete without Thor Heyerdahls theory of its

population by ocean travelers from Peru. While DNA testing has generally disproved his theory,

some artifactual evidence found on Easter Island leaves some questions unanswered. These include items of similar design, even to the design and materials used in ocean-going canoes.


Easter Island today continues to attract visitors. Some of the Moai have been re-erected, mostly by the modern means of cranes and cables. Even those that remain, where they were toppled,

continue to be imposing; silent symbols, perhaps of an island paradise gone awry, or perhaps

something more.


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