The Rapa Nui islands in Chile, better known as the Easter islands, are renowned for the 887 monolithic statues. The human figures, carved by the native Polynesian inhabitants who resided on the islands during 700CE, are called ‘moai’. The island was granted the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Though most of the statues are concentrated in Rano Raraku quarry, one can find others scattered throughout the island. Historians believe many of the monuments might have been destroyed during the uprisings of 1700s. Researcher Martin Gray has explored the islands in depth and is of the opinion that, “To the people who erected and used them, they were actual repositories of sacred spirit. Carved stone and wooden objects in ancient Polynesian religions, when properly fashioned and ritually prepared, were believed to be charged by a magical spiritual essence called mana.”
The moai’s are huge in dimensions and the tallest of them towers at a height of 33 feet. Probably the fact that the monuments are mammoth-like in size was a reason that there have been no attempts to acquire them over the ages. However the general public came to know about the gigantic proportions of the statues only after recent archaeological excavations were undertaken in the region.
Historians though were well aware of the fact that these sculptures depicting human head, extended deep into the ground. There was much more to the picture than was actually visible.
American archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg is the director Easter Island Statue Project which conducts extensive research on the moai. The leading expert believes, “There are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues. This suggested to people who had not seen photos of (other unearthed statues) that they are heads only.”
Excavations in the region gathered quite a few eyeballs and as more information about the Moai materialized, traffic on the website for the project also increased. At one point of time as many as 3 million people visited the website, causing it to crash.
Though researchers have continued to explore the area for quite some time, this is probably the first time the findings have been shared with general public.
As excavation progresses, archaeologist are able to obtain petroglyphs (inscriptions made on rock structures) dating back to the monolithic age. Decoding these will provide a better insight to the lives of people in those ages.
Dutch explorers was the first ever Europeans to land on the coast of the Polynesian island in 1722. Since the day when the captain Jacob Roggeveen’s ship arrived on the island was an Easter Sunday, he named it as the Easter Islands.
Via: ArtNet News