The giant stone statues on faraway Easter Island are one of the most iconic images of ancient sculptures in the Pacific Ocean. This island located off of the coast of Chile contains hundred of statues that appear to be stone heads with angular, sloping faces sitting on the ground. For a long time, little was known about the reason for these stone heads. However, there is actually far more to the statues than what is visible above ground, and archaeologists are beginning to uncover their secrets.
Easter Island is a very remote location that is 2,000 miles from any continents. In 1250 CE, it was home to the Rapu Nai people, who were responsible for carving all of these giant statues. The statues are called Moai, and there are 887 of them on the island. The tallest is over 30 feet tall, and there are many others of various sizes that are scattered about the island. They are so heavy that it is still unknown how the statues were moved into place. According to ancient legend, the statues were given divine powers, so they could come alive and walk into place.
It turns out that the iconic Easter Island Heads are not just heads after all. Instead, they are massive stone statues of full figures. The rest of the statue is buried underground, so only the neck and heads of the statues are visible. Surprisingly, these statues were not slowly covered up with sand and dirt over the centuries. Instead, the Rapu Nai intentionally dug deep holes and buried the Moai statues up to their necks. The scientists still do not know why the statues were buried, but this unusual practice has kept them very well preserved.
When uncovered, the statues are shown to have a long torso with slender arms and long fingers that join together at the hips. The statues end right below the hips, which are covered in a loincloth that reveals the top of the buttocks in the back. The only moai statue that has legs is one that was set farther away from the rest of the statues. It is much smaller and made from a different type of stone, and this statue is a kneeling figure with its legs tucked beneath its torso.
Though the top part of the Moai were worn smooth by the weather over time, the parts of the Moai that were protected by being buried were covered in elaborate carvings. These carvings seem to be petroglyphs, an unknown form of writing. If it is ever translated, it may reveal more knowledge about the Rapu Nai people and their incredible carvings.
Originally, the Moai faced inland, so that they could oversee and guard the lands. They represent ancestors that the Rapu Nai saw as guardian spirits or gods. Different clans had their own statues, and when they got into fights, they would try to destroy their enemies’ Moai. Though the Rapu Nai no longer live on Easter Island, the Moai continue to keep watch over the land.