Monday 28 July, 2014

Easter Island’s statues `may have walked into place`

Published On: Thu, Oct 25th, 2012 | Archaeology | By IANS

Easter Island’s massive stone statues once walked, according to a controversial new theory that explains how the megaliths were put into place.

Nearly 1,000 statues stand on the remote Polynesian island’s 63 square miles, but much about their origin and the people who built them remains a mystery.

With the largest weighing 74 tons and standing nearly 33ft tall, few of the mysteries are more perplexing than how the megaliths – known as moai – were moved miles into place from the quarries where they were hewn.

Previous studies have suggested that the people who settled Easter Island some 800 years ago, known as the Rapa Nui, laid the statues prone and rolled them into place using logs.

Image credit: Wikimedia

Rhe island has since been highlighted as a warning of the dangers of overexploitation, with the theory being that the Rapa Nui eradicated the island’s forests to serve their obsession with statue building.

However, a new study has now suggested that Easter Island’s statue builders ‘walked’ the moai into place by rocking them from side to side rather like you would move a refrigerator into the corner of your kitchen.

Carl Lipo, an archaeologist at California State University, Long Beach, claims that the archaeological record does not support the overexploitation hypothesis.

On the other hand, he says incomplete statues littered across the island tend to support the idea they were rocked into position, Nature reported.

According to Lipo, these incomplete statues lean forward in a posture that doesn’t seem to lend itself to horizontal transport.

He contends that broken moai along roads, which were presumably dropped and abandoned, also point to their being transported across the island vertically.

Professor Lipo and Terry Hunt, an archaeologist at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, tested the hypothesis with a life-size concrete model of one of the statues.

The large stone statues, or moai, for which Easter Island is world-famous, were carved from 1100–1680AD, according to carbon dating.

A total of 887 monolithic stone statues have been inventoried on the island and in museum collections so far.

Although often identified as ‘Easter Island heads’, the statues have torsos, most of them ending at the top of the thighs. A small number are complete, with the figures kneeling with their hands over their stomachs.

They were carved out of distinctive, compressed, easily worked solidified volcanic ash or tuff found at a single site inside the extinct volcano Rano Raraku.

Only a quarter of the statues were installed, while nearly half remained in the quarry at Rano Raraku and the rest sat elsewhere, probably on their way to final locations.

The largest moai ever raised on a platform is known as ‘Paro’. It weighs 82 tons and is 32.15ft long.

Enlisting the help of an 18-strong team, they managed to get a 10ft statue walking by pulling it side to side with three hemp ropes – one tied to the back to stop it dropping face-first and two on either side.

In under an hour the team were able to get the replica moai to travel 100m and based on their findings Professor Lipo suggested a small number of part-time workers could efficiently transport the statues, questioning the traditionally held scenario that Easter Island’s population ballooned and later crashed.

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