Stone Statues of Easter Island

Ancient Ceremonial Center

 Religious Beliefs and Power of the Ruling Classes in Polynesia, as in many other civilizations in the world, gave rise to the construction of great monumental constructions. The art of carving stone statues was known to the first Polynesian settlers, led by King Hotu Matua. They sailed to the island between AD 400 and AD 800. Prototypes of rapa nui architecture are widespread in Polynesia, especially in the Marques Islands and Tahiti. Over time, they acquired their own elements and features of construction on Easter Island.

The word “ahu” is used to refer to the altar or ceremonial platform on which statues were erected . Ahu was the political, social and religious center of various tribes and clans of Easter Island. Important events were held here: harvest festivals, funeral rites and meetings of elders.

The vast majority of ahu is located parallel to the shoreline. The platforms form an almost continuous line around the coast. On average, the distance between them is less than a kilometre.

As created moai

Originally statues of Easter Island were sculpted from basalt and trachyte. It is hard and very heavy material, so it took a long time to create small statues. Soon a grey-yellow volcanic stone was discovered on the slopes of the Rano Raraku volcano. It is a pressed ash encrusted with basalt. This material, called tuff, proved more suitable for the mass construction of statues using simple tools.

Master carvers cut the stone using basalt or obsidian chisels. It took up to two years to manufacture one large moai. First the front of the statue was carved right into the rock, apart from the eyeballs. It is not known why they did not cut off large rough blocks or take them to a more work-friendly place. Instead, the sculptors climbed the highest and most impregnable part of the volcano, and carved every detail of the moai, including subtle facial and hand features, in their original location. In the final phase of the work, the statue was cut off from the rock. She then glided down the slope to the base of the hill. People held her with plant-fiber ropes. Moai would land in a pre-dug hole, and assume an upright position. In this position, the masters would complete the work on the back and send the product to the final destination.

58 moai have a red headdress which is called “pukao”. It is cylindrical in shape and is made of red tuff from the Pune Pau volcano quarry. Pukao is believed to represent hair knotted in a tuft and dyed in ochre. This hairstyle was worn by some Polynesian tribes.

How the statue was transported and installed

Moving these huge and heavy statues still remains the biggest unsolved mystery of Easter Island. There are a number of serious hypotheses supported by experiments. They demonstrated that moving 10-ton moai was under the strength of ancient islanders.

The traditional version of scholars states that the moai “stepped” up to the platform. The giant was made to tilt alternately, rocking from side to side and laying extra logs. Another successful experiment showed that istucans could be transported on a wooden platform that glided across cross logs.

As soon as the moai was set vertically, his eyes were cut out into which the eyes of white coral and the pupil of obsidian were placed in them. At the time, it was believed that the statue through its eyes directs its supernatural power at the tribe to protect it. This explains why all the moai look inside the island where the cities were, not the ocean. Losing eyes, the statue lost its power as well.

How many statues on Easter Island

There are about 900 moai registered on Easter Island. Of these, 400 are in Rano-Raraku Quarry and 288 are installed on a ceremonial platform. The rest are scattered across different parts of the island, probably left on their way to some aha.

The average height of the moai is about 4.5 meters, but 10 meters are found on the island. The standard weight is about 5 tons, but 30-40 statues weigh more than 10 tons.

The most famous moai platforms

Ahu Tahai

Ancient settlement of Tahai is located in the vicinity of Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island. The complex covers an area of about 250 square meters. Archaeologist William Malloy thoroughly researched the archaeological finds of Tahai and restored many of the buildings: the bases of houses in the shape of an overturned boat, hen houses, and stone stoves. Tahai’s most impressive object is a ceremonial platform with five statues. Slightly left there is a lonely moai, badly affected by erosion. A few meters away stands a fully restored Istukan — the only one on the island with preserved eyes.

Ahu Nau Nau

Platform Nau is the most complex and best preserved of the three built on the beach Anakena. According to legend, it was here that the first settlers from Polynesia, led by King Hotu Matua, landed. The statues were long left interred in the sand, which protected them from erosion.


Akivi is the first ahu to be restored on the island. These are the only statues that face the sea. The seven figures are believed to recall the seven explorers who discovered the island of Rapa Nui, and reported it to King Hota Matua.

Ahu Tongariki

15 stone giants are mounted on an altar 100 meters long. It is the largest archaeological site not only on Easter Island, but in the whole of Polynesia. All statues differ in height and art of performing details. Behind the platforms lie broken, at least 15 moai. According to historians, they were part of Ahu Tongarika, which could withstand more than 30 monuments.

Ahu Te Peu

Settlement Te Peu has remained virtually intact since the ancient inhabitants left the site. The statues lie shattered and abandoned in a secluded spot away from major tourist routes. The heads of ancient Istucans are half buried in the ground, and their bodies are not distinguished from other stones on the coast.

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