Easter Island is an island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. It’s a special territory of Chile. In 1995, UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage Site. It has an area of 63.2 sq mi (163.6 km2). As for the last census made in 2017, the island had a population of 7,750 inhabitants.
What makes this tiny remote island so special though? Well, it is home to the Moais. A Moai is a human-figured statue located all around Easter Island. Moais has drawn attention to plenty of tourists, especially Historians and Archaeologists, for there’s a huge mystery surrounding them.
Today, there are more questions than answers about Moais. Many myths and theories surround these colossal stone statues. So, why don’t we take a look at the known facts about these mysterious sculptures…
Mo’ai is Rapa Nui -an Eastern Polynesian language- for “statue”. It is presumed that Moais were made by the Rapa Nui People, an indigenous Polynesian tribe that inhabited Easter Island and collapsed mysteriously. In fact, 60% of the current island’s population are descendants of the original Rapa Nui tribe.
Moais are human figures carved in a monolith, a type of stone used in prehistory as architecture and art material. It is presumed they were made sometime between 1250 and 1500. There are around 1,000 statues lying on the island.
But that’s not all. Some Moais reach over 30 feet (9 meters) high and weigh around 82 tonnes. As a matter of fact, the tallest moai erected is called Paro and it is 33 feet (10 meters) tall. The heaviest moai erected is located at Ahu Tongariki, weighing 86 tonnes. There is one that wasn’t completed, but if they would have finished it, it would have reached 69 feet (21 meters) tall and would have weighed 145-165 tons.
Moais were revealed to western society in the late 18th century when Europeans visited the island for the first time. And there the mystery began. To start with, how did the Rapa Nui transport the statues, or how did they put the pukao -a hat-like structure made out of light-red volcanic scoria placed on top of some moais?
A study made by the Binghamton University suggests the Rapa Nui people might have used a type of ramp to roll the pukao by applying the parbuckling technique.
As for the tribe’s disappearance, there are many theories. One suggests that the construction of the statues might have caused soil erosion that ultimately made the island inhospitable to life and farming. It is true though that European arrival increased the tribe’s dwindling. “…The Europeans brought smallpox with them that further decimated Easter Island’s population, and by 1877, only 111 inhabitants remained.”
This is the main reason why it is so difficult to unravel the mysteries of Moais. A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science insinuates that “Ancient Rapa Nui carvers worked at the behest of the elite ruling class to carve nearly 1,000 Moai because they, and the community at large, believed the statues capable of producing agricultural fertility and thereby critical food supplies”.
However, the mystery continues as scientists continue to work on other studies that hopefully will unravel what’s behind the Moais and the Rapa Nui tribe.