Mysterious Moai of Easter Island

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Moai, the mysterious stone heads of Easter Island, are sentinels to the most remote inhabited place on earth…
Ever since Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1955-56 expedition to Easter Island captured the imagination of Boomers, visiting Easter Island has become a standard on most Boomer’s bucket lists. This may explain the soaring rates in tourism over the last 20 years which have risen from ~14,000 to ~80,000 visitors per year.

Easter Islands iconic Moai stone statues are it’s key tourist attraction.

There are over 900 Moais on Easter Island that range in size from the smallest “Poike” 1.13 meters (3.76 feet) to the largest “El Gigante” 21.60 metes (71.93 feet) weighing ~160-182 metric tons.

The Moai were carved by the Rapa Nui, the indigenous Polynesian people of Easter Island, around 1250-1500 A.D. after which Moai carving went out of religious fashion and was replaced by the Birdman cult. Starting with European contact 1722-1825 Moai were toppled from their Ahu (shrine), their red scoria hats removed, and their coral eyes which were said to give them life plucked out. While there are many hypotheses about why the Moai cult was abandoned and the stone sentinels toppled off their alters (including warfare, environmental disaster [earthquake, tsunami, rats], extraterrestrials, European contact) …  it remains a mystery.

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Ahu Akahanga – toppled Moai lying face down.
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Rano Raraku: the quarry where the Moai were carved in situ then once completed “walked” into place.
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Unfinished Moai bodies were buried by time with only their heads being visible. Note the “boathouse” foundation in the background.
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Unfinished Moai litter the quarry on the slopes of the extinct volcano Rano Raraku.
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Pukao are the red volcanic scoria stone hat-like structures/topknots that were placed on top of Moai. The source of the scoria was Puna Pau, a small extinct volcano. The mountain in the background is Rano Raraku, where the heads were quarried.
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Tukuturi, the unique kneeling Moai, made entirely of scoria from Puna Pau, is found in on the slopes of Rano Raraku, near the quarry most of the Moai were carved.
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Headless female Moai.
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Unusual female Moai in Museo Anthropologico P. Sebastian Englert in Hanga Roa.
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There are hundreds of Ahu (ceremonial platforms) on Easter Island. Ahus have a raised stone platform, a ramp and a flat court in front. An “Image Ahu” is one with Moai facing inland over a village.
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Ahu Tongariki is the largest Image Ahu (platform with Moai) on Easter Island.
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Ahu at Ana Kena beach, where Hotu Matu’a is said to have landed with the first Polynesian colonists on Easter Island.
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Ahu Tahai, near Hanga Roa, with eyes restored.

 

 

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