Moai Stone Statues
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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!
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.
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 Silhouette, Ahu Tongariki by Keren Su
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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
More about Moai Statues
- Stone Giants
Secrets of Easter Island on the PBS NOVA website.
- Easter Island Statue Project
Website of the Easter Island Statue Project (EISP), which is a systematic mapping and descriptive study of all of the monolithic stone statues (moai) on the island and in museums and collections world-wide.
- Easter Island
Secrets of Lost Empires: Easter Island on PBS NOVA website.
Article on New World Encyclopedia
© 2009 Jennifer P Tanabe