The Moai statues are also known as ‘moai’, ‘Easter Island heads’ and ‘Easter Island statues’, are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people between the years 1250 and 1500 CE.
There are 887 known Moai statues.
Moai statues range in size from a height of less than 1.5 meters (4.9 feet) to around 10 meters (33 feet) tall. The tallest moai erected, called Paro, was 9.2 meters (30 feet) high and weighed 74 tonnes (82 tons); the largest that fell while being erected was 9.94 meters (32.6 feet); and the largest (unfinished) moai, found at the Rano Raraku Quarry and named El Gigante, would have been 21.6 meters (71 feet) tall with a weight of about 136 tonnes (150 tons).
All but 53 of the 887 moai statues known to date were carved from tuff (a compressed volcanic ash). There are also 13 moai carved from basalt, 22 from trachyte and 17 from fragile red scoria.
The carvers used basalt stone hand chisels, with many teams working on different statues at the same time. However, a single moai took a team of 5-6 men about a year to finish.
Almost all moai have overly large heads three-eighths the size of the whole statue.
Moai statues are known for their large, broad noses and strong chins, along with rectangle-shaped ears and deep eye slits. Their bodies are normally squatting, with their arms resting in different positions and are without legs.
“Ahu” are stone platforms on which many moai sit. There are 313 known ahu and 125 of these carry moai. The biggest, Ahu Tongariki [pic. below] is 220 meters (720 feet), and had the most (15) and tallest moai.
With the exception of the seven at Ahu Akivi, the statues always faced away from the ocean.
In 1979, Sergio Rapu Haoa and a team of archaeologists discovered that the hemispherical or deep elliptical eye sockets were designed to hold coral eyes with either black obsidian or red scoria pupils.
Many archaeologists suggest that “[the] statues were thus symbols of authority and power, both religious and political. But they were not only symbols. To the people who erected and used them, they were actual repositories of sacred spirit. Carved stone and wooden objects in ancient Polynesian religions, when properly fashioned and ritually prepared, were believed to be charged by a magical spiritual essence called mana.”
Archaeologists believe that the statues were a representation of the ancient Polynesians’ ancestors. The moai statues face away from the ocean and towards the villages as if to watch over the people. The seven Ahu Akivi which face out to sea to help travelers find the island.
Nearly half are still at Rano Raraku, the main moai quarry, but hundreds were transported from there and set on ahu around the island’s perimeter.
Since the island was treeless by the time the Europeans first visited, the movement of the statues was a mystery for a long time; pollen analysis has now established that the island was almost totally forested until 1200 CE. The tree pollen disappeared from the record by 1650, and the statues stopped being made around that time.
It is not known exactly how the moai were moved across the island, but the process almost certainly required human energy, ropes, and possibly wooden sledges (sleds) and/or rollers, as well as leveled tracks across the island (the Easter Island roads).
A recent study suggests the statues might have been harnessed with ropes from two sides and made to “walk” by tilting them from side to side while pulling forward. They would also use a chant, whilst ‘walking’ the moai. Coordination and cohesion was essential, so they developed a chant in which the rhythm helped them pull at the precise moment necessary. Another theory suggests that the moai were placed on top of logs and were rolled to their destinations. If that theory is correct it would take 50-150 people to move the moai.
Ten full Moai statues have been transported to other parts of the world and can be seen in museums.
Hoa Hakananai’a is housed in the British Museum in London. The name Hoa hakanani’a is from the Rapa Nui language; it means (roughly) “stolen or hidden friend.” It was removed from Orongo, Easter Island on 7 November 1868 by the crew of the English ship HMS Topaze, and arrived in Portsmouth on 25 August 1869.
The Moai statues are part of the Rapa Nui National Park, which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995.
In 2008, a Finnish tourist chipped a piece off the ear of one moai. The tourist was fined $17,000 in damages and was banned from the island for three years.