There have been many archeological discoveries over the years, but there’s one that has kept us guessing for years: Easter Island.
Many cultures have come and gone over the years. The likes of the pyramids built by the Ancient Egyptians have left many clues about how they used to live their lives. Many have dedicated their entire lives to learning about the ancient culture, and they have been able to paint pictures of what the past was like all those years ago.
While researchers have been able to figure out how many people used to live their lives, there are some cultures that never left enough clues about their fallen homes. The Mayans once ruled the land, yet they disappeared without a trace. Easter Island is another land that left many people scratching their heads. The island is filled with Easter Island heads, but how did they make such huge sculptures, and what happened to the people on the island? Now, archeologists may be one step closer to answering the questions.
An annual event
Did you know that the inhabitants of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island as it is commonly known, used to take part in an annual event? Yes, the first people that lived on the land would compete each year to become the Tangata Manu.
Images of the figure, known as Bird Man in English, were found in the “Cannibal Cave.” Here, researchers learned of their importance within the tribe. People would battle it out to find the first egg each season.
This usually meant they would have to swim to neighboring islands, grab an egg, and return to Easter Island. The first one to return would be named as Bird Man. This earned them the role of the chief of the tribe for the next year until the event took place with the new season.
Plenty of symbols
As well as the Bird Man, one team led by archeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg uncovered something incredible. There are thought to be 1,000 Easter Island heads scattered across the island. Until recently, people believed that’s where they ended. However, it turns out they all have huge torsos that have been buried under the surface.
It was on one of these discoveries that Jo Ann and her team found the carving. It had a crescent symbol carved on the buried part of the statue. Researchers now believe it represented a vaka, or canoe, in Rapa Nui.
Some of the sculptures also had unique petroglyphic carvings on their sides. The researchers feel this could be the link they need to connect the people who once lived on the island, including the people behind the impressive Easter Island heads.
On the move
The Easter Island heads were first discovered by explorers in the 1700s. However, no one was ever able to figure out how anyone built the statues, let alone moved them around the land. They are towering creations that weigh up to 14 tons each. Many people have tried to come up with their own theories about the inhabitants and their work.
One of the leading theories about how they moved the statues involves using ropes, strength, and potentially other tools at the time.
Some other ideas talk about how builders might have used giant logs to roll the heads to their spot. If this is the case, then it would have taken at least 50 if not 100 people to move the heads thanks to the many obstacles that would have stood in their way.
Recreating the magic
One team of researchers decided to put the idea of using ropes to move the statues to the test. Pavel Pavel is an engineer from the Czech Republic. He teamed up with Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian adventurer, as the pair built their own replica of a Moai statue. It was the size and weight of the ancient Easter Island heads but meant they would test their theory without damaging one of the relics.
The two decided to use a single rope to get the statue moving. They attached it around the head of the figure, and, together with 16 other people, they walked the statue.
Sadly, the movement damaged some of the structure. They concluded that they could move the statue up to 330 feet per day. This means it would take 160 days to move just one mile.
The fall of the island
In the 18th century, Peruvian traders captured many people living on the island and forced them into work. The horror continued for months and led to huge riots. It’s believed that around 1,500 people, approximately half the population of Easter Island, were captured or lost their lives.
It wasn’t long before there were protests not just on the island but across the rest of the world. Many of the Easter Island heads were damaged or knocked over in the battles and caused many of them to be buried and lost for years.
Although the inhabitants were finally freed towards the end of the century, they took contagious illnesses, such as smallpox and tuberculosis, back to the island. This created another epidemic as many people lost their lives. Some were taken out so quickly that they weren’t even buried.
A system of roads
As well as helping figure out how the ancient people were able to move the heads in the first place, Thor Heyerdahl also studies ancient cultures. He wanted to uncover the secrets behind an ancient system of roads that were discovered on the island. It’s believed the early inhabitants of the isle once used them to get around, and many of the Easter Island heads were found alongside the roads, but why?
That’s where Thor stepped in. He believes they were nothing more than transportation tracks. This goes against archeologist Katherine Routledge’s views as she thinks the roads were for religious purposes.
This is thanks to the fact that they all meet at the inactive volcano, Rano Raraku. Katherine is convinced that people once traveled to the volcano as they used it as a place of worship.
Plenty of questions
The Easter Island heads, or Moai as they are officially known, have kept people guessing for years. They are intriguing and have an air of mystery around them. How were they built? How were they moved? Why are they there? The island was once the home of an impressive community that thrived in their own little bubble.
As well as building their community, the people also made a home in one of the most isolated parts of the world. Even now, their existence has left a significant impact on others. Sadly, there are still plenty of unanswered questions.
Archeologists still have no idea why the former inhabitants ever stopped making the Moai statues. That’s not all. People are still puzzled by the location of Easter Island as it lies in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean.
Out of place
It’s not just the Moai statues that have kept people guessing. Archeologists have also discovered an ancient writing system that the inhabitants of the island once used. Robert M. Schoch works at Boston University, and he believes that people could have been living on the island much longer than we ever realized.
If he’s right, then the community could be up to 10,000 years older. Could people have been living there all this time? Robert first got the idea when he explored the Göbekli Tepe in Turkey. He thought something about felt a little out of place about the ancient ruins.
It was almost as though they shouldn’t have been there. As soon as Robert saw the Moai, he thought the same thing. Something just seemed strange about where they were and the ancient markings.
Battle of the ears
As well as searching for clues about the Easter Island heads, archeologists also wanted to uncover as much as they could about the people that once lived on the island. They have been able to find a handful of remains over the years that have brought up more questions about the inhabitants. It seems as though the ancient people used to have narrower and longer heads than modern humans. That’s not all.
Some people are thought to have longer ears than modern humans, while others had shorter ears. It’s believed that the people on the island could have split into two tribes: one made of short-eared people, who likely descended from ancient Polynesians.
And then the others of long-eared people, who probably originated from Peru. In fact, some researchers think there could have once been a battle between the two tribes.
Standing above the rest
While most of the Easter Island heads stand around 14 feet tall, there is one that towers above the rest. The statue in question is a whopping 33 feet tall. As if that wasn’t enough, it weighs a staggering 22 tons. It is so much larger than most of the other statues on the island, and people wanted to know what made this one so special.
It’s believed that the Easter Island heads were carved between 1100 CE and 1500 CE. Being so large and kept safely away from the rest of the world means they have remained in place ever since, only showing effects from the weather.
This is unlike many other great statues or buildings that have been destroyed in battles or as new cultures have moved into the area and put their own stamp on the land.
One of a kind
The Tukuturi Moai is unlike any other statue on the island, and it’s not just its size that has got people talking. It is kneeling, while the rest of the figures are standing. Plus, the Tukuturi has a beard compared to the other clean-shaven faces. Now, researchers think that the unique Easter Island head could be the physical embodiment of one of their ancient singers.
Hence why it has been made so differently from the others. Amazingly, there’s still more to the statue. It was found in 1956 in the Rano Raraku Quarry, where most of the other figures were also made.
The difference? The other Easter Island heads were carved from compressed volcanic ash. Only the Tukuturi and 18 other statues were made from a fragile type of volcanic rock called red scoria.
Sent from above
Of course, many incredible ancient structures have been the center of many conspiracy theories over the years. There’s one that crops up time and time again: aliens. Could beings from outer space really have built these huge structures before disappearing again? Erich von Daniken seems to think so.
The theorist has written about plenty of ancient structures in his book ‘Chariot of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past.’ As well as talking about the Moai statues, Erich also discusses the likes of the Nazca Lines and the Egyptian pyramids. They have all been blamed on aliens over the years.
However, there might be more truth to the idea than first meets the eye. The Easter Island heads are impressive. Something that’s even more breathtaking? The fact the materials to build the huge statues weren’t from the island.
More to the statues
The University of California, Los Angeles, once ran a huge project titled the Easter Island Statue Project as teams of people came together to bring as many of the Moais back to the surface as they could find. It was during one of their excavations that they learned the heads actually had torsos that had been buried underneath the surface for so long.
As well as looking for more answers about the fallen community, the researchers also want to try and preserve the statues as best as they can.
It turns out there could have been more effort put into the statues than anyone ever realized. Some of the Moai figures featured red pigments. This could mean they were once covered in paint and had a lot more detail than the intricate symbols.
Tools for the job
Slowly but surely, people have been able to uncover more and more about the ancient culture that once lived on Easter Island. If there was one thing they needed to make all their Moai statues come to life, it’s tools. Archeologists have spent years searching for the items that people used to carve out the heads…
As well as make anything else that would have once stood across the island. The tools, named Mata, were made from various forms of volcanic glass and rock.
The inhabitants would then sharpen the tools into all kinds of shapes and sizes until they had everything they needed for the job. Most of the tools were made to be as sharp as possible, so they could carve stone and wood as well as act as a weapon when needed.
Caught in the act
It wasn’t long before people from across the world wanted to see the Easter Island heads for themselves. After all, it’s not every day that you get to take a step back in time and witness some of the greatest creations from the forgotten world. Sadly, some people want a unique souvenir. One Finnish tourist, Marko Kulju, took it upon himself to slice an ear from one of the statues.
Little did Marko know that someone caught him in the act and contacted the authorities. Marko was later found, fined $17,000, and ordered to hand the ear back to the authorities.
However, he could have faced up to seven years behind bars for his crime. Now, there is a lot more security covering the Rapa Nui National Park to stop anything like this from happening in the future.
A new home
Believe it or not, but one of the most famous and cared-for Easter Island heads is no longer on the island. It is, in fact, housed at the British Museum instead. The Moai is called Hoa Hakananai’a and has stood in the museum alongside some of the most delicate and sought-after artifacts from around the world since August 1969.
A team of explorers traveling HMS Topaze, a British vessel used by the navy, arrived in Rapa Nui in November 1968.
Hoa Hakananai’a went on to travel the world before it eventually landed in England and was sent to the museum where it has remained ever since. Although the statue is smaller than others on the island, it’s thought that it was used as a model for all the other Moais on the island.
There have been plenty of bizarre theories about why the Moai were built, but there’s one that has come under questioning over the years. Dr. Anneliese Pontius works at Harvard Medical School, where she has created a theory of her own, Anneliese believes that Moai were created to help cure people of leprosy. Hear her out.
Anneliese thinks that when people first saw the signs of leprosy and the effects that it was having on people’s bodies, they decided to create the perfect specimen in the form of a Moai. It was almost like an overwhelming feeling to create a flawless figure.
Anneliese concludes that ancient people may have believed that creating these statues could help to rewind the clock on the effects of the illness on the body. Sadly, it wouldn’t have been enough to preserve their health.
Brimming with history
The most iconic part of Rapa Nui are the Moai statues. They have become cultural icons around the world, and thousands of people want to see them for themselves thanks to the incredible workmanship that went into making them all those years ago. So what about the people who lived on the island their entire lives?
Many people have called Rapa Nui “home” over the years. However, there have been plenty of rapid changes in that time. One tour guide working on the island admitted that his grandmother grew up in a cave with her family when she was a child.
Seeing an airplane was a strange and scary time in their lives. After all, the inhabitants had spent so many years isolated from the rest of the world, they had no idea what was happening across the planet.
Learning the ways
Heading to Rapa Nui offers visitors more than the chance to see the Easter Island heads for themselves. There is also the chance to learn about the ancient community and how they have survived off the land and water all these years without help from the rest of the world.
One of the many people, Moi, aims to help visitors learn as much as they can about life on Rapa Nui. Moi works for a tour company where he gets to meet plenty of people.
It all starts on Ovahe Beach, where groups go snorkeling to catch fish. Once they have their meal, it’s back to the land where Moi can prepare the food in front of visitors with the Easter Island heads in the background. It’s all about preserving the ways of the area.
To the capital
It can be easy to think that Easter Island is dominated by the Moai statues. However, it is still a functioning land that welcomes visitors every year. The capital of the island, Hanga Roa, is also the harbor of the island.
Amazingly, nine out of ten of the people who live in Napa Rui reside in this town. This is all thanks to the days that Chile claimed the island as its own. They gathered everyone into the city, so the rest of the land could be leased by a sheep farm.
There are few buildings in the town as the government struggles to hold onto ownership of the nation thanks to the locals who often battle to reclaim the space. There are strict rules about what can and can’t be built on Rapa Nui.
Changing the land
It turns out that Rapa Nui wasn’t always the open land that many of us are used to seeing nowadays. It seems as though the island was once covered in dense forests. That all changed when ancient inhabitants wanted to create space and needed resources to create buildings and canoes.
It’s believed they could have burned the trees to the ground and harvested them for their produce before almost all of the forests on the island were gone for good. The tribes needed so many canoes as they were their primary source of fishing.
It’s also thought the communities could have used trees to make the necessary tools to move the Moai around the island. Whatever the case, modern Rapa Nui is almost unrecognizable compared to the island that once hid in the ocean.
Lost at sea
There is a good reason that Rapa Nui was undiscovered by outsiders for so many years: it’s thousands of miles away from anything else. Many people wonder how the island ever made it there in the first place. The closest landmass is Pitcairn, an island that’s found around 1,200 miles to the west of Easter Island.
However, the nearest land to the island is Chili, which is approximately 2,300 miles away. Finding the island in the past would have meant spending weeks if not months at sea, and hoping that you were heading in the right direction.
Could a journey to Rapa Nui really be worth it? Many people seem to think so – especially as travel to the island is now easier than ever. Among the Moai statues are also plenty of other hidden wonders on the island.
A reason for the name
Although many people know the island as Easter Island, the land is actually called Isla de Pascua. It was once a part of Chile after the country claimed it as its own. However, even the name Isla de Pascua has some historical influence. Jacob Roggeveen was a Dutch explorer who was searching for Davis Land, a phantom island that was named after pirate Edward Davis, who declared that he spotted the land on one of his journeys.
However, no one has ever been able to find it again. Instead, Jacob stumbled upon Easter Island. He named it Paasch-Eyland, which translates to Easter Island, as they discovered the land on Easter Sunday.
Isla de Pascua is Spanish for the island’s name. Sometimes, the land is called Rapa Nui thanks to the land’s similarities to Rapa Island in the Bass Islands.
The first inhabitants
For many years, people tried to theorize where the first people to live on Easter Island came from, and it wasn’t long before there was a possible answer. People assumed that people living along the coast in South America must have traveled across the ocean and found the island before they set up their new home.
Archeologists and researchers have continued to search for answers over the years and have since provided a more probable answer to the first inhabitants. People think that the original community to land on Easter Island were from Polynesian ancestry.
It’s likely they traveled from the Society Islands or Marquesas, a group of islands in the Pacific Ocean. People could have claimed the island as their own as early as 318 CE, meaning it’s been inhabited for almost 2,000 years.
The middle of it all
Long before Jacob Roggeveen landed on Easter Island, the local community had their own names for the land that they had been using for many years. The oldest name on record is Te Pito o Te Henua, which in English translates to ‘The Center of the World.’
Of course, this is most likely due to the fact that the island is in the middle of the ocean and almost appears to lie in the middle of the world. However, the settlers on the island had another name for their new home: Mata-Ke-Ti-Rani.
This name means ‘Eyes Looking at Heaven’ in English. Eventually, sailors and explorers started to refer to the island as Rapa Nui at some point in the 1860s, and people have been calling it the same name ever since.
Dig a little deeper
Some of the Moai statues stood high above the rest of the island. Others? They found themselves buried beneath the surface for all kinds of reasons. Some became victims of the weather and changing land, while others were knocked over during various battles throughout history. However, no one ever thought that more to the Easter Island heads were lying beneath the surface.
It turns out they actually have huge bodies attached to them, making their move across the island even more impressive thanks to the added height and weight. Their bodies are covered in plenty of intricate tattoos.
Many people now believe these are symbols that tell stories of people’s lives from the past. Another thought is that the carvings are there to commemorate prominent figures of the time. We may never know the truth.
Leading the way
The excavation of the Moai’s bodies was led by none other than Jo Anne Van Tilburg. The archeologist was one of the many people working on the Easter Island Statue Project as people from across the world wanted to learn even more about the famous statues. Thankfully, all their hard work soon paid off.
Jo Anne announced they had found two torsos attached to two 23-foot-high statues. This meant they stood taller than anyone could ever imagine. That wasn’t all.
Having so much of the statue buried underground also helped to show Jo Anne and her team that the original inhabitants of the island knew a lot more about engineering than they ever realized. To top it off, it seemed that the people behind the statues had plenty of creativity to make their pieces of art come to life.
The center of the island
Would you believe there are three volcanoes on Easter Island? The highest of them all is 1,674 feet tall, but it seems as though the volcanoes are a part of something greater. The entire island was actually once a volcano in its own right. The most prominent volcano that still stands is Rano Kau.
It finds itself in the center of Rapa Nui National Park that is considered to be so important that it’s been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Still not enough? Rano Kau is home to the fallen village of Orongo. It is made up of 53 buildings that feature low stone walls and even lower doors. One half of the town is next to a 1,000-foot cliff that falls straight into the sea. It’s thought this was once a sacred place of worship.
While we know that people have been living on Easter Island for thousands of years, no one is sure what happened to the early settlers that tried to make the land their home. However, some people have been able to devise their own theories over the years. One thought?
A rat infestation. It could have been the huge food stocks that drew the rodents to the island. This could have been made even worse by rats hiding on the ships of explorers that landed on Easter Island.
To top it off, the rats could have chowed down on all the crops, meaning no one was ever able to grow enough food to survive. Researchers know that ancient inhabitants of the island enjoyed rats in their food thanks to remains they have uncovered.
Writing their own destiny
Another theory that has become popular over the years is the fact the early inhabitants on the island could have written their own destiny. This is all thanks to the chances that Easter Island was once covered in lush forests before people decided to cut them down or burn them to the ground.
It might not have been long before they destroyed so much of the landscape that there was nothing left for people to survive, and they were forced to move on or lost their lives on the island.
Many researchers agree that it’s likely the early settlers believed the trees and plants would grow back in no time. Sadly, they would have to learn this wasn’t the case. Too many people and not enough resources or space is usually a recipe for disaster.
People behind the tools
From aliens to native people and everyone in between, it seems as though most people have been accused of building the Moai statues over the years. However, there was only one real answer – and even that has been up for debate over the years! While there have been many theories about why they were created and who was behind them, there are some that appear to be more popular theories than others.
One of the leading ideas about who picked up the tools and crafted the Moai statues is the fact it was leading Polynesian crafters of the time.
Another idea is that the tribes came together to build them one by one. After all, the quarry where they mined the stone for the creations was divided up into regions for each tribe to use.
The biggest statue wins
Why build a statue so large unless you want to show off your power, right? That’s one idea that many archeologists believe to be the truth. Many have come together and agreed that Moai statues were there to symbolize ruling and power – but not for the traditional reasons.
No, it wasn’t a case of whose statue is bigger than whose but was a way to embody the spirits and elders that were important throughout their lives. The theory states that the Moai statues gave the tribes something to hail and soon became an identity for the community. Another theory?
That the Moai statues were a symbol of their old ancestors, who were placed there to continually watch over the island and all of the people who made it their home, as well as the people who traveled across the sea.
Earning their name
Perhaps you’re wondering why the Easter Island heads are caller Moai? That’s all thanks to the Polynesian language as the word translates to “head.” Yes, it really is as simple as that. Would you believe there is actually an underwater statue? However, this one isn’t as ancient as the ones that cover the island.
It was all thanks to Kevin Costner and his movie, Rapa Nui. Yup, you guessed it, it was about the island. There was a scene with an underwater Moai head, so the crew built a fiberglass replica and dropped it to the bottom of the ocean. The film was a flop, and the prop was abandoned.
Amazingly, people loved the underwater addition! Sadly, it later broke up before a local diving company recreated the statue out of rock and dropped it closer to the harbor.
Earning its status
National parks are there to make sure that the land and all the animals within are protected from the outside world. It’s usually pretty hard to get the status removed, but that’s not all. National parks can also be a great way to teach people all about the local area and attract visitors from across the world.
Much of Easter Island has been named as a national park over the years. While it might have been protected, many people wanted more security for Rapa Nui. It was eventually designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.
These are the sites around the world that hold incredible beauty or high historical value. The diversity on Easter Island teamed with the secrets lying within the Moai statues has earned this island safety from the outside world.
Topping it off
When you think of a Moai statue, what springs to mind? Perhaps it’s their great size? How about their towering features? If there’s one thing that doesn’t always come along with the image, it’s probably a hat. However, it turns out that many of the structures have a stone hat on top of their heads.
They are called pukao in the local language, and they are supposed to represent human hair. The natives would always wrap their natural hair around their heads and secure it in place as ancient tribes would never cut their hair.
It was believed that long and healthy hair brought good fortune. It was also thought that human hair was linked to mana, ancient mystical powers, and led many tribal chiefs to grow their hair as long as possible.
Sharing his thoughts
Although Jacob Roggeveen found Easter Island by accident, he had plenty to say about his discovery. He recalled 3,000 people were living on the island, and their statues stood “a good 30 feet in height.” Jacob also noted that the island was fully cultivated and had rich soil, perfect for crops.
Apparently, it had always been Jacob’s father’s dream to sail the sea, and he wanted to make his dreams come true. Sadly, a lot of the explorer’s notes were lost, but some things seemed worth remembering.
Jacob wrote that the natives on Easter Island appeared to rely on the statues as they stood all along the seashore “in great numbers.” Plus, Jacob noticed there was a strong spiritual presence on the island, with prominent figures standing out more than typical islanders.
While the Moai statues are impressive, they weren’t the only things crafted on the island. Another local creation was none other than the Moai Kavakava. These statues were small, underweight men who were carved from wood. They look pretty terrifying – and they’re supposed to be.
The strange creations were once a huge part of Rapa Nui culture. The word “kavakava” translates to “ribs” in English. This is thanks to the man’s bones on show. Many people believe they were once used to symbolize hungry and evil spirits.
They probably would have been worn by spiritual individuals and priests during any rituals or ceremonial dances. To top it off, people believe that important figures would wear the small carving around their neck like a piece of jewelry as they attended events within the community.
The legendary statues
Ahu Akivi are sacred grounds and a huge part of the local culture. They still hold an important place for many people who live on Rapa Nui. The grounds are surrounded by seven identical Moai statues that all stand shoulder to shoulder in one straight line. They have been placed there, so their heads face towards the sunset of the Spring Equinox.
Plus, this also means that the statues are facing away from sunrise at Fall Equinox. The seven figures are there to represent the seven guardians. The tale says they were once visited by the astral form of the king during a dream one night.
The king’s spirit ordered the seven guardians to wait for the return of him and his scouts from their journey across the Pacific Ocean. Now, the guardians stand waiting forever in the form of statues.
Jo Anne, the leader of the Easter Island Statue Project, believes that it’s important to set the record straight about the Easter Island heads, especially the misconception that they are nothing but heads and don’t have any bodies attached. She thinks the idea came from Moai statues on the volcano.
They are the most famous of all the statues and the most photographed, even though they only make up around 150 heads on the island. Jo Ann says that if people have only seen these Moai statues, then they could think they are just heads as the bodies of these are buried underground.
Jo Anne wants to teach people that the Moai statues are more than just photographic opportunities; they were once used by an incredible community long before explorers uncovered the land.