When you picture the massive stone heads on Easter Island (a tiny speck way out in the Pacific) you probably picture just that — heads. Yet these incredible sculptures are so much more.
The statues, called moai, were built between the years of 1250 and 1500 CE by the Rapa Nui people, who originally hailed from Polynesia. There are 887 of them in total on the island, and the tallest of them is 30 feet tall and weighs 82 tons. Despite their massive size, there’s evidence that many were moved around the island.
The carvings represent deified ancestors, and were originally positioned to gaze out over their ancestral lands.
This field is studded with moai heads, which have been here for hundreds of years.
Excavated statues at Ahu Tongariki.
Some of the more recently built moai have these topknots, called pukao, which represented the topknot worn by chieftains.
Most moai are on the coasts, and this excavated group is the most inland of all the moai.
Several digs have revealed the bodies below the surface.
The digs have also exposed the carvings on the statue’s backs. We don’t know what they mean yet.
Sometime around 1500, construction of the moai stopped. The people’s religion shifted, too, from ancestor worship to a religion that worshipped a half-man, half-bird figure.
Today, more than 50 moai have been re-erected, excavated, and placed back on their original stone platforms. Some have been shipped off to museums in other areas of the world.
Today, the moai of Easter Island are included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and their study is ongoing. Organizations like the Easter Island Statue Project are continuing to discover new information about the statues, how they were built and transported, and about the people who built them. If you ever venture out to Easter Island, be sure to check them out. You really can’t miss them!