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Moai - Statues of Easter Island

December 8th, 2005 / / Links: Google Earth, Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps, Virtual Earth / Nearest places
 
 

[Currently only low quality pictures available]

Moai are statues carved of compressed volcanic ash on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). The statues are all monolithic, that is, carved in one piece. However, less than about one-fifth of the statues that were moved to ceremonial sites and then erected once had red stone cylinders pukau placed on their heads. These "topknots," as they are often called, were carved in a single quarry known as Puna Pau. About 95% of the 887 moai known to date were carved out of compressed volcanic ash at Rano Raraku, where 394 moai still remain visible today. Recent GPS mapping in the interior will certainly add additional moai to that count. The quarries in Rano Raraku appear to have been abandoned abruptly, with many incomplete statues still in situ. However, the pattern of work is very complex and is still being studied. Practically all of the completed moai that were moved from Rano Raraku and erected upright on ceremonial platforms were subsequently toppled by native islanders in the period after construction ceased.

Although usually identified as "heads" only, the moai are actually one piece figures with heads and truncated torsos.

In recent years, toppled moai have been found untouched and face-down. This led to the discovery that the famous deep eye sockets of the moai were designed to hold coral eyes. Replica eyes have been constructed and placed in some statues for photographs, as can be seen in the Easter Island entry.

The most widely-accepted theory is that the statues were carved by the Polynesian colonizers of the island beginning by about A.D. 1000-1100. In addition to representing deceased ancestors, the moai, once they were erect on ceremonial sites, may also have been regarded as the embodiment of powerful living chiefs. They were also important lineage status symbols. The moai were carved by a distinguished class of professional carvers who were comparable in status to high-ranking members of other Polynesian craft guilds. The statues must have been extremely expensive to craft; not only would the actual carving of each statue require effort and resources, but the finished product was then hauled to its final location and erected. It is not known exactly how the moai were moved but the process almost certainly required human energy, ropes, wooden sledges and/or rollers. Another theory is that the moai may have been "walked" by rocking them forward. By the mid-1800s, all the moai outside of Rano Raraku and many within the quarry itself had been knocked over. Today, about 50 moai have been re-erected on their ceremonial sites.

Ancient island legends speak of a clan chief called Hotu Matu'a, who left his original home in search of a new one. The place he chose is now known to us as Easter Island. When he died, the island was divided between his six sons and then, later, sub-dividied among their descendants. The islanders may have believed that their statues would capture the chiefs' "mana" (supernatural powers). They may have believed that by concentrating mana on the island good things would result, rain would fall and crops would grow. The settlement legend is a fragment of what was surely a much more complicated and many-faceted, mythic sketch, and it has changed over time.

(Source: Wikipedia)

One Response to “Moai - Statues of Easter Island”

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