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Moai Stone Statues

Updated on January 28, 2015

Where Are the Moai Statues?

The Moai statues were created by Polynesian inhabitants of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. The name Easter Island was adopted by outsiders since the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen encountered it on Easter Sunday in 1722. Also known as Isla de Pascua in Spanish, it is an island in the South Pacific Ocean belonging to Chile.

Rapa Nui is still inhabited primarily by Polynesians, although a significant proportion of Europeans make up its population of around 3,000. Much of the island is protected within the Rapa Nui National Park, a World Heritage Site. Due to the attraction of the Moai statues the main economy of the island is tourism.

Moai Statues Carved from Crater Walls, Easter Island, Chile by Geoff Renner

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Who Made the Moai Statues and Why Did they Stop?

The Polynesians inhabiting Rapa Nui carved hundreds of Moai, apparently to represent their chiefs and powerful deceased ancestors. They placed them on their stone platforms, ahu, all around the island. In most cases they faced inland, but one ahu at Ahu Akivi has seven Moai facing the ocean.

Seven Moai at Ahu Akivi
Seven Moai at Ahu Akivi | Source

The incredible statues still stood gazing across their lands when Europeans first visited the island. However, in the ensuing years almost all were knocked down. Most Moai were toppled forwards to have their faces hidden, and often fell in a way that broke their necks. Oral histories indicate that this occurred during deadly conflict among the islanders rather than by some natural cause.

DVD about Easter Island

Learn more about the inhabitants of Easter Island and how they built the amazing Moai. This DVD contains oral histories passed down through the centuries that give insight into these people. Scholars discuss the beliefs and lives of these people and what happened to them. Fascinating and informative!

Constructing the Moai Statues

Moai statues are monolithic human figures carved from rock. They have overly large heads, generally about three-fifths the size of their bodies. Taken together with the fact that many were buried up to their shoulders, for some time European discoverers thought that they were only heads, perhaps similar to the Olmec colossal heads found in Mesoamerica.

Rano Raraku

Easter Island, Rano Raraku
Easter Island, Rano Raraku | Source

The Moai statues were sculpted on Easter Island, known as Rapa Nui by the Polynesians inhabiting the island, between 1250 and 1500 CE. The stone used for the Moai is from a quarry at the extinct volcano Rano Raraku. Hundreds were transported from there and set on stone platforms called ahu around the perimeter of the island. Some still remain at the quarry.

Ahu Tongariki

Moai Along the Coast of Easter Island at Ahu Tongariki by Stephen Alvarez

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The Moai statues face inland, as if surveying their territory. With their startling coral eyes and black obsidian or red scoria pupils, wearing their large red Pukao or "crowns" on their huge heads they appear to be powerful chieftains of all the land they regard with great intensity.

Polynesian Girl with Huge Moai, Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Chile by Karen Su

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The Moai statues are really large, from 10 to 40 feet in height and weighing as much as 50 or 60 tons. Quite how their creators moved them from the quarry to locations all over the island is a matter of continued debate.

Map of Easter Island showing locations of ahu
Map of Easter Island showing locations of ahu | Source

How the Moai Walked

Some archaeologists have attempted to demonstrate how the moai could have been placed on wooden frames and then pulled to their final destinations. Legend has it that the statues walked to their appointed spots. Engineers, scientists and innovators have made creative efforts to construct mechanisms that would allow such enormous statues to "walk," using smaller statues weighing 5 to 10 tons, with varying success.

Here are some of the attempts by scientists to make their model moai walk.

Buy your own Moai Statue!

Design Toscano Easter Island Moai Monolith Sculpture in Stone
Design Toscano Easter Island Moai Monolith Sculpture in Stone

Cast in quality designer resin and finished to look like rough, chiseled stone, this replica Moai sculpture is an intriguing addition to your home or garden.

The sculpture weighs 5 lbs and is 9" in height.

 

Restoring Moai Statues

Although no standing Moai remained by the mid nineteenth century, many have now been re-erected on their ahus on the island; some have been taken to museums. Much restoration has taken place and is continuing.

Since the Moai were toppled, many had lost their red "crowns" or Pukao and this has been part of the restoration project. Also, of particular note is the restoration of their eyes after it was discovered that their deep elliptical eye sockets were designed to hold coral eyes with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils.

Ahu Ko Te Riku is the only moai on Easter Island that has had its eyes restored to how they probably originally appeared.
Ahu Ko Te Riku is the only moai on Easter Island that has had its eyes restored to how they probably originally appeared. | Source

With their restored crowns and eyes on their oversized heads featuring their heavy brows, elongated noses and ears and special thin pouting lips, standing again on their platforms, the Moai statues are a truly amazing sight. We can only imagine how hard their creators worked not only to carve them but also to bring them to all the different locations around the island. It seems they must have had a noble purpose, watching like guardians of the land perhaps.

Moai Statues in Art

As mysterious and wonderful as the Moai are, they have often inspired artists. Some have taken artistic photographs of actual Moai on Easter Island, with magnificent results.

Moai at the Tahai Ceremonial Complex at sunset
Moai at the Tahai Ceremonial Complex at sunset | Source

Moai Silhouette, Ahu Tongariki by Keren Su

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One of Easter Island's famous Moai, gazing at the Milky Way overhead. Taken at Ahu Tongariki. Photograph by Anne Dirkse.
One of Easter Island's famous Moai, gazing at the Milky Way overhead. Taken at Ahu Tongariki. Photograph by Anne Dirkse. | Source

Some artists have taken the notion of the Moai as "watchers" further, although what they are watching for is something only they know.


Moai on the Small Planet by Misticmedia at zazzle.com


Only they have the answers by Chris Wagner at zazzle.com

© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe

Have you seen the Moai Statues?

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    • jptanabe profile image
      Author

      Jennifer P Tanabe 2 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      Yes! They must have really enjoyed making them - or just been very hard workers!

    • savateuse profile image

      savateuse 2 years ago

      I didn't realise there were quite so many - interesting!

    • Cynthia Haltom profile image

      Cynthia Haltom 4 years ago from Diamondhead

      I have a concrete mold and made several of the type of statues for my garden. The mystery of their origin is what has always intrigue me.

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      Easter Island is part of Chile, and the country brought one of the statues to the mainland to be exhibited at a museum down by the coast. So I have seen a real Moai, but not on Easter Island!

    • SciTechEditorDave profile image

      David Gardner 5 years ago from San Francisco Bay Area, California

      Educational lens! I have linked to it from my lens on Tiki Culture. Congrats on a great job!

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      In the Kon Tiki museum in Oslo they have interesting films showing the theory how the statues "walked" across the island. The idea comes from old, traditional songs I think.

    • jptanabe profile image
      Author

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @michelleart: Thanks!

    • michelleart profile image

      Michelle Collins 6 years ago from Florida

      Just wanted to let you know I have featured your lens on my Memorial Day blessing lens here: https://hubpages.com/art/cool-sculptures

    • thesuccess2 profile image

      thesuccess2 6 years ago

      I didn't realize they were so big, visually stunning lens

    • sukkran trichy profile image

      sukkran trichy 6 years ago from Trichy/Tamil Nadu

      really amazing. already saw some moai statues' photos. thanks for the details and beautiful pictures. ~blessed~

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      I actually heard about these on facebook. As it turns out, the Moai statues are very interesting.

    • jptanabe profile image
      Author

      Jennifer P Tanabe 6 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      @WeirdStuff: Oh yes, I remember learning about Inukshuks when the winter Olympics were being held in Vancouver.

    • profile image

      WeirdStuff 6 years ago

      Great lens. Did you read Thor Heyerdahl's book about them?

      Here in Canada we have something similar, just much simpler - inukshuks

      http://www.squidoo.com/inukshuks

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Just got back from Rapa Nui! So amazing - and a bit sad to see it becoming a tourist attraction. But it's still remarkable that you can be out there all by yourself - and not see another person for hours!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      They are so cool! I love the art work as well. And the statues are just amazing in a good way.

    • profile image

      julieannbrady 7 years ago

      I just love this stone statues -- they are so evocative.

    • HorseAndPony LM profile image

      HorseAndPony LM 7 years ago

      I love these. I love the history and art work.

    • profile image

      jaye3000 7 years ago

      I've always loved hearing about these things~ this is a great lens :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      A most interesting topic!

    • jimmielanley profile image

      Jimmie Lanley 7 years ago from Memphis, TN, USA

      I find them most fascinating.

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