If we told you to think of a statue, you’d probably picture the Statue of Liberty in New York, perhaps Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, or maybe The Little Mermaid in Denmark. What do these sculptures all have in common? They all show a pretty accurate representation of the human form. Let’s change things up a bit and examine the monolithic figures of Easter Island.
Why have people created such unique looking figures? And why is there so many of them? We guarantee you’ll be left totally astonished as we discover some hidden truths when attempting to answer these questions. If you think you know iconic statues, think again. We’re prepared to stun you with the facts you weren’t expecting to hear about these amazing figures.
The Origins of Creation
Let’s go on a journey, to the depths of the Southern Pacific Ocean. Existing in this location sits a secluded Chilean island which just screams ancient history. Looking around, this island may not be as remote as you think as it is covered by its large stone statues, named by many as the infamous Moai statues. They’re less formally known as Easter Island Heads, after their abnormally oversized noggins.
Who were the masterminds behind the swarm of big heads? That would be the Polynesian community known as Rapa Nui. It was estimated this group invented the statues way back in 1400-1650AD, now that is ancient. Back in their day, there existed over 900 of these figures. Archaeologists everywhere have been trying to come up with a solution as to why the statues were made, and finally settled on the idea that they pay tribute to the community’s ancestors.
Moai is a pretty unique name for a statue, that’s for sure. If we examine the meanings a little deeper, we learn that this exact name has been taken from the former inhabitant’s Polynesian language.
What does it mean? The official translation of “Moai” means head. Now looking at the statues, we don’t need to take to much time to learn exactly why they’ve been given this name. Take one wild guess.
A Healing Statue
Back in the day, there was a whole range of weird and wonderful theories about how to cure things. Could this be the strangest idea we’ve heard yet?
Dr. Anneliese Pontius has put forward the presumption that these statues were created to cure leprosy. Before you laugh this crazy idea off, hear this out. The deformities of several sufferers encouraged the idea to create a perfect exhibit, which would undo their damage. This potential cure may need to be taken with a pinch of salt for humans today.
We’re All Ears
Something you probably didn’t know about Easter Island, is that archaeologists have managed to find specific evidence, such as skeletal structures on their trips. These give a good indication of what civilians looked like back then.
The narrowness of the skulls found suggests the Rapa Nui community had ears that were longer than most humans. There is also evidence of a connection between long ears with ancient Peruvians, and short ears to be linked to Polynesian descendants.
The Rapa Nuis were clearly the sentimental type, as they deliberately faced the big heads towards the village, to create a feeling of having their ancestors watching over them. This is all fascinating stuff, but we need to get to the bottom of the sizing choice, why are they so big?
Apparently, big heads equal a hard-working community. Buying tribes would trade as much of their produce as possible for statues. A large statue, therefore, reflected how much a tribesman could afford. A common misconception of many statues is that the heads are so big there’s simply no room for any bodies to go underneath. That was what many believed until now…
Not Just a Pretty Face
Archaeologists are a brave group of people. Convinced that ahead wasn’t the limit for these statues, they dug deep, like really deep to discover something incredible.
Well, who would’ve guessed! Contrary to such popular opinion, it turns out the statues do have bodies after all, and pretty remarkable ones too. One of the excavated statues contained a body that looked almost three times the size of its head. All along, they were just hiding under eroded dirt. Who knew?
A Fascinating Discovery
Keen to explore if there was anything more they could dissect from the statues, the archaeologists looked further. They took a good examination of the newly-found bodies of these sculptures.
They looked, and they found. It was discovered that several of the statues’ bodies contained intricately detailed tattoos. Who knew an ancient archetype would be setting trends way back then?
It appears the tasks didn’t end there for the archaeologists. Their next project involved an investigation into the actual faces of the big heads.
Looking at these statues face on, it may be difficult to spot many detailed facial features. Situated around several Moai sites, however, archaeologists came into contact with broken parts of coral. What’s so special about that? Apparently, it was possible for the team to assort these fragments around to form eyes. That’s right; the statues have bodies and even eyes – you heard it here first!
Painting the Town Red
It turns out that the archaeologist’s excavation project served a dual purpose. The first, as we know, was to discover the hidden bodies of some statues. The second discovery may surprise you just as much.
Upon bringing up statues from the ground, the classicists found a large amount of red pigment. What could this be? Likely theories have arisen that this was paint, used on the statues at one point. Just imagine how much more incredible these statues would have looked in color.
Paying Their Respects
So, just how sentimental were the Rapa Nui people? One of the important statues remains to this day, to be the Tukuturi. This special structure is supposed to represent one of the ancient singers. But what makes it so unique?
Supposedly, the statue was made in a kneeling position to represent the celebratory stance at the Rui festival. This statue is a much smaller size to most. It is also made from an entirely different material: red Puna Puna stone.
A Masterpiece Taken
Sure, the Tukuturi was influential, but have you ever seen the Hoa Hakananai’a? This statue is by far the most iconic of all. In fact, it’s such an important sculpture that someone traveled a very long way to capture it.
A crew member from the British ship, HMS Tapaze made a huge effort to collect Hoa from the island. Today, the statue is part of the display at London’s British Museum. If you happen to be in the area, we recommend you take the trip to visit the masterpiece and archetype of Moai design.
Million Dollar Haircut
Have you ever gone to get your hair cut, and came out of the salon feeling like a better person? That was exactly the goal for the editors of the big head statues down at Ahu Tongariki.
Dating to possibly as late as the 16th century, specific additions were made to the Moai figures. “Pukao” or top-knot style features were added to the tops of the statues. But why? Apparently, the common Rapa Nui hairstyle indicated an expression of ‘mana’ which roughly translates to supernatural power.
Facing the Wrong Direction
What makes the western location statues in Ahu Akivi stand out from the crowd? We’ve already learned of the importance of Easter Heads to face their ancestors towards the villages, but not all big heads follow this rule.
If you ever find yourself traveling to the Ahu Akivi region, you might be surprised to find these Moai statues facing the wrong way. A theory has been put forward that these statues face the sea to guide travelers attempting to locate the island. Imagine that: a multi-purpose statue that acts as both a tribute and a navigation system.
A Deeper Meaning
While this theory about the Ahu Akivi is fascinating, a more historical tale has been linked to the statues here, to give further justification for their navigating role.
There are seven Moai statues which stand in Ahu Akivi. According to Rapa Nui tradition, each of the sculptures represents the seven protectors who were part of an interesting tale. In a dream, the protectors were required to wait for the King’s spirit, upon returning from a trip around the Pacific Ocean.
A Competitive Tribe
Ever wondered where the Egg and Spoon race originated from? There’s a good chance it was right here in the stone age, at Easter Island’s Rano Kau crater.
Every year, villagers took part in the Birdman competition; this involved climbing down the cliffs and swimming out to the Motu Nui island. Here, competitors collected an egg from the manutara bird and safely returned it to the starting point. If you returned with the egg intact, you not only won the game but achieved the title as King for a year.
You Guess the Answer
Over the years, a series of possible explanations as to how the Moai statues were moved across the land have been invented. Some say it was people using ropes to pull them across, others have suggested a slightly different, maybe a little more bizarre answer.
Some of the Moai statues weigh over 80 tons, so it seems hard to believe humans moved them anywhere, let alone across the entire island. This is where fiction comes to play. Believe it or not, some have put the movement down to the work of gods, or even aliens, granting the statues divine power to move. Each to their own we guess, and who are we to judge?
Larger Than Life
If you’re a sucker for a good view, be sure to check out the infamous sunrise at Tongariki. This is the largest platform on Easter Island, featuring the silhouette of 15 giant heads in a row. As the sun rises, it becomes possible to differentiate the individual personalities of each sculpture.
Sounds incredibly picturesque, right? Just imagine how much more spectacular it must have been for the Dutch explorers. They came to this island in 1722, with little, if any expectations. Safe to say, being met by this view would’ve taken their breath away.
A Godly Tribe
We’ve just mentioned the 1722 Dutch explorer’s visit to Easter Island, so let’s talk about it a little more. One explorer, in particular, Jacob Roggeveen, noticed one major thing the Rapa Nui all had in common, and that was their spirituality.
Apparently, members of the tribe were often seen by the traveler, falling at the face of their gods and idols. They tended to invoke these figures which stood along the seashore in time of need. We guess it turns out that modern-day worship and ancient worship aren’t all that different after all.
We seem to be focusing so much on the Moai statues lately, let’s take a look at another style. The Mo’ai Kavakava, or ‘ribs’ as it translates to, had a slightly slenderer figure compared to the statues we’ve previously been looking at.
Supposedly, the statues represented starving demons. What’s the purpose of these lanky sculptures? According to Easter Island ritual, the religious men would wear these statues as ornaments around their necks while taking part in community events.
The Napa Rui proved themselves to be quite the inventors. If we were to label one of their creations as the most distinctive archaeological features, the position would have to go to the ‘Mata.’
Manufactured out of volcanic glass, the ‘Mata’ served several different purposes. The tribe was able to construct the material into different shapes and sizes, but nearly every time it was made to feel sharp. They cut wood, fibers, and sometimes were used for self-defense as an effective method of weaponry.
Where Did They Go?
There seems to be a common theme when examining the Easter Island statues. While many crucial phenomenons have happened, it was so long ago that we could only guess the answer. In terms of the sudden disappearance of various statues, people have come up with a variety of theories.
Whether you believe this assumption or not, anthropologists have generated an answer which seems pretty legitimate. They believe a riot started in Easter Island within the 18th century against the leaders of the community. One thing led to another, and battles arose. This caused several statues to be torn down on the way.
We’ve looked at the numerous different explanations for certain features of Easter Island. One thing we can be certain on though is that this place looks completely different today to what it once was, during its inhabitation.
At one point in time, the sentiment of Moai statues was of great importance to the Rapa Nui tribe. Over time, however, deforestation came into effect. This came after speculation that the natives actually burnt down the trees in Easter Island to give way to extra land, and several of the Moai statues were transported elsewhere.
What’s one of the most commonly held theories anyone with interest in this area has? That sadly, it was the actions of the inhabitants themselves that caused the destruction of their beloved island.
This may seem a little far-fetched, but these opinions make a lot of sense. Some believe that the Easter Island inhabitants simply thought the trees would grow back after they burnt them down, which of course they didn’t. Others reckon the population simply became too great for the island to manage.
It Could All Be Over for Easter Island Soon
While many have stated that the entirety of Easter Island is a volcano, within the island, exist three smaller volcanos. There has always been a threatening possibility that one of these could erupt at any minute.
The tallest volcano on the island stands at a staggering 1674 feet, an impressive yet slightly terrifying fact. It turns out that the main volcano is located in Rano Kau. This is the same place that the ceremonial egg race took place between villagers. Talk about bravery!