The Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture

Easter Island - The Statues and Rock Art of Rapa Nui

Page 2/3

Using basalt stone picks, the Easter Island Moai were carved from the solidified volcanic ash of Rano Raraku volcano. They are all monolithic the carvings are created in one piece and an average weight of 20 tons and measuring 20 feet tall or more. One unfinished statue is 69 feet tall, estimated to weigh 270 tons. But why was this Moai, representing the pinnacle so far of the statue culture, unfinished? Was it simply too large to move? Had ambition over-taken reality? Or had something else happened? Once completed, the statues were then moved from the quarry to their intended site and erected on an 'ahu'.

easter island pukau red stone crowns
Pukau red stone crowns
Many of the Moai on Easter Island had red stone crowns pukau placed on their heads. These topknots were carvings from a quarry known as Puna Pau. It appears that the pukau indicated special status, red being a sacred color in Polynesia. The Moai that were placed upon their ahu platform were activated by having their eyes opened. In the cavities, they added inlaid eyes made of coral and red scoria stone pupils. Significantly, all statues placed on their ahu faced inland, looking over the ceremonial area.

The first moai carved were small, round headed statues, with large circular eye-sockets and arms across the chest. Some of these have been found fairly recently in the rubble of ahu being reconstructed. This 'style' is virtually identical to those found on Pitcairn, and other Polynesian islands including Tahiti. Over time, the statues became larger and the heads more in proportion to the torsos. By the last phase, they had become very tall and slender figures.

The larger the statue placed upon an ahu, the more mana the chief who commissioned it had. This would have been seen by another chief, who would have ordered an even larger one, to show he had more power and status.

Many Moai are still standing on the slopes of Rano Raraku volcano. These statues were still under construction. They were carved on three sides, then lowered onto the slopes below where they were stood upright. Then the backs of the statues could be completed. Once that was done, they were then ready to be moved to their intended ahu. But moving them was harder than carving them, and today many are still standing on the crater slopes.

moving the easter island statues
Moving the Statues
The logistics involved must have been staggering. The Moai were lowered to the ground by ropes in order for the carving to be completed. Thus we find, on the very peak of the volcano rim, round holes carved into the rock, five feet deep and over two feet in diameter. Into these, the islanders would have placed palm trunks to act as bollards, and by running ropes around them they could control the statues as they lowered them down the 45 degree slope. It is calculated that the ropes must have been about 600 feet long and at least three inches thick - a considerable amount of rope, and a considerable amount of tree bark from which to manufacture it.

Ropes were also used to move the Moai statues to the platforms. For this to work, the hauling ropes would have had to have been about 250 feet long, which at an inch thick would have weighed over a ton. Many people required to make the rope, many people required to pull. Some Moai were erected up to 15 miles from the quarry, and until recently it was assumed they would have been hauled along on wooden rollers. However, latest research by Professor Charles Love who has been excavating the moai roads, shows that rollers would not have worked because the road beds themselves were not level, but slightly concave. How they moved the Moai statues is still one of the great mysteries of Easter Island. Whatever means were employed, once a statue arrived at its intended ahu, it had to be levered upright. Then the red crowns, some weighing up to 11 tons, could be placed on top.

The style and sizes of the Moai statues evolved over time, just as one sees in archaic Greek statues that evolved into the perfect classic sculpture. And as their technique evolved, the islanders found they could make them larger and more stylized. Over time, the moai became larger and thinner, more elegant and sophisticated. As for the placing of inlaid eyes into a statue, by opening them, they activated the power inherent in the statue. Eye sockets were only carved after a statue was placed on its ahu platform. Then coral and stone eyes could be placed in the sockets. It is possible that the eyes were only placed in the sockets for special ceremonies.

Evidence therefore shows Easter Island's evolving culture, one not without its socio-political changes, but always with traditions carried out for the purpose of religion and status. But the island itself was at breaking point.

Easter Island Introduction
Sentinels in Stone - Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |
The Rock Art of Easter Island
The Birdman Cult / Motif of Easter Island
Sea & Marine Creatures in Easter Island Rock Art
Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings
Dr Georgia Lee - Publications on Easter Island
Moai Location Map & Islanders
Contemporary Easter Island Art
Easter Island Glossary
Easter Island Conclusion

bradshaw foundation donate help
Mailing List

Email Sign-Up
website updates


First Name

Last Name


bradshaw foundation podcast
bradshaw foundation ishop dvd
bradshaw foundation ishop tshirt
Homepage About the Foundation Contact Us Facebook News Articles Twitter List of Research Papers Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Bibliographic Database Travel Index About the Expeditions Forthcoming Expeditions Bespoke Expeditions Enquire Practical Information History of Exploration Welcome to the iShop Film Downloads DVD's Sculpture Prints Clothing Messenger Bag eBooks INORA Downloads About iLecture Films Shipping & Handling iLectures In Conversation Video Stories Travel Films Read the reviews Privacy Policy Bradshaw Foundation Facebook Friends of the Foundation Archive Index World's Oldest Rock Art Africa Documentary Films South Africa RARI Giraffe Carvings Niger Namibia Western Central Africa Africa Paintings Gallery Tanzania The Tuareg People Tuareg Salt Caravans Gilf Kebir Birnin Kudu Rock Art Center Archive Index San Rock Art Paintings San Bushman San Rock Art Film Origins Centre Johannesburg Archive Index Arizona Baja California Baja California Film Coso Range Talking Stone Film Nevada Oregon Territory Moab, Utah Clovis First Australia Archive Index Introduction Bradshaw Paintings Kimberley Region The Unambal Hugh Brown Leif Thiele Gallery Dan Clark Grahame Walsh Bradshaws / Gwion Gwion Archive Index Introduction Origins of the British Avebury Stonehenge Sounds of Stonehenge The British Museum British Isles Megaliths Gower Peninsula Rock Art Mendip Hills Prehistory Northumberland Rock Art Red Lady of Paviland Stone Age Mammoth Abattoir Archive Index Introduction Peterborough Petroglyphs Western Canadian Rock Art Writing-On-Stone Wuikinuxv Territory Dinosaur Provincial Park Archive Index Huashan Rock Art Yinchuan Museum Rock Art Festival Field Trip Gallery Itinerant Creeds Inner Mongolia & Ningxia Vanishing Civilization Life in Rock Art (PDF) Tibet Tibet Photographs Dazu Rock Carvings Tiger Motif Archive Index Chauvet Cave Lascaux Cave Niaux Cave Cosquer Cave Rouffignac Cave Portable Art Defining Rock Art Tuc d'Audoubert Bison Dr. Jean Clottes Index UNESCO World Heritage Introduction Cave Paintings Gallery Visiting the Chauvet Cave Return to Chauvet Cave Investigating the Cave Venus & Sorcerer Werner Herzog Film Chauvet Publications India Archive Index Rock Art Central India Pachmarhi Hills India Rock Art Gallery Preservation & Education Dr. V. S. Wakankar Articles on India Rock Art Contemporary Art Sri Lanka Archive Index Rock Paintings & Engravings Sri Lanka Rock Art Gallery Middle East Archive Index Middle East Inroduction Rock Art of Iran Rock Art of Saudi Arabia United Arab Emirates Rock Art Ancient Geometry Middle East Colonisation Scandinavian Rock Art Archive Scandinavian Introduction Alta Rock Art Norway Rock Art in Finland Tanum Rock Art Sweden Thor Heyerdahl Archive Index Introduction America's Oldest Art? Pedra Furada Bolivian Rock Art Campeche Island - Brazil Checta Petroglyphs - Peru Cueva de las Manos Santa Catarina Island - Brazil Rock Art in Britain Campeche Rock Art Petroglyphs El Salvador - Corinto Cave Hand Rock Art Paintings Tibetan Rock Art United Arab Emirates Uzbekistan Yinchuan Rock Art Museum Introduction Ice Age Art Gallery Claire Artemyz Jill Cook Interview Cycladic Introduction Cycladic Gallery A Cultural Memory Izzy Wisher Biography Deer-tooth necklace Cave Art Introduction Geometric Signs Chart Research Methodology Geometric Signs in France Sign Types/Countries/Regions Bibliography Ancient Symbols in Rock Art Newsletter Archive Download Issues Introduction Genetic Map Professor Stephen Oppenheimer Further Reading Origins of the British BBC Documentary Origins Index Origins Overview 13 Big Questions Stanley Ambrose Homo Floresiensis Herto Skulls Homo Dmanisi Liujiang Skull Introduction Sentinels in Stone Easter Island Rock Art Birdman Cult / Motif Sea & Marine Creatures Design & Motifs Dr Georgia Lee Easter Island Map Contemporary Art Glossary Conclusion Thor Heyerdahl Introduction When & Who Built It? How Was It Built? The Area Sounds of Stonehenge Meaning of a Pyramid Pyramid Studies Pyramid Superstructure Pyramid Substructure Pyramid Preparations Pyramid Building Saqqara Nabil Swelim Temples of Malta and Gozo Research in the Caucasus The Keselo Foundation Homo Dmanisi Ancient Toolmakers Index Introduction Descent into the Cave The Decorated Caves Shamanistic Experience Spring Initiation Rites Summary Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4 Professor John P. Miller Motif: Eternal Index Banksy Han Meilin Bruce Radke Christian Tuki Gordon Ellis-Brown Site Map Search the Website Glossary of Terms & Definition Podcast on iTunes Other Websites Contact the Foundation