Easter Island Moai: How Were They Transported

The Easter Island is located at the southeastern Pacific Ocean, 3512 kilometers away from the nearest continental point in Chile. It is inhabited by the Rapa Nui people, whose ancestors in around 1250-1500 AD built the famous Easter Island Moai–large stone statues averagely weighed 14 tons and measured 4 meters high. These large statues stood on their platforms called “ahu”, near the periphery of the island. They were not made there, since no quarry large enough near the periphery of the island can provide such huge stone for carving, thus an inevitable questions rose: how were these giant stone statues moved from the quarry to the platforms at a time that didn’t have mobile facilities?

Many possible theories was raised. Some people suggest that they were pulled lying down on their back entirely by human forces, or they were placed on timber columns to roll to the destinations. The most wide-spread theory was put forward by archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo, who did a series of experiment to reproduce the process of moving the Moai. The two archaeologists found out that some statues were also left on the ancient roads of the island, facing downwards, showing an unfinished transporting process, and the fact that these statues can’t stand on their own without the special platform “ahu”. These statues have D-shaped flat bottom bases, but the bases forbid the Moai to stand vertically to the ground. They measured a 14°angle at the bottom of the Moai, which made the statues leaning forward. Why made this angle that was harder for the statues to stand? Hunt and Lipo then hypothesized that the angle was made for the transportation of the Moai.

The space between the statue Moai and the paltform was stuffed with stones so that it could stand vertically

In the oral history of the Rapa Nui people, the Moai were not “moved” but “walked”. Hunt and Lipo took this into concern. They also indicated that the deep groove of the eyes of the statues can be tied around with ropes, which probably was how the Rapa Nui ancestors pull the statues to turn and twist on the ground to “walk”. They replicate a statues weighed 5 tons, and found volunteers to move it. It was placed upright, as the history suggested, “standing” on the ground. Three groups of ropes were tied on the groove of the eye socket of the replica, and volunteers cooperated to pull and made the Moai twist. Using the 14°angles, the Moai leans forward while the people on two front sides (front-left and front-right) pull, and was pulled back by the third group to make another “step”. It didn’t take many people as originally imagined to move the Moai forward.

A drawing of how Hunt and Lipo tied the replica to move it with three groups of ropes

Wilkinson, Christian. “Easter Island.” A Guide to Easter Island, Chile, June 13, 2018. ​https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/easter-island/.

Brand, Stewart. “Terry Hunt, Carl Lipo: Easter Island Reconsider.” The Long Now ​Foundation, January 17, 2013. ​http://longnow.org/seminars/02013/jan/17/statues-walked-what-really-happened-e​aster-island/.

Walking with Giants: How the Easter Island Moai Walked | Nat Geo Live. YouTube. National Geographic, 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5YR0uqPAI8

Further Reading:
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo: The Statues That Walked | Nat Geo Live

Hunt, Terry L., and Carl P. Lipo. The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island. Berkeley, CA: Counter Point Press, 2012.

1 thought on “Easter Island Moai: How Were They Transported

  1. What are the moral implications of attempting to disprove the oral history of the Rapa Nui people? Is it ethical for archaeologists to challenge the popular local belief that “the Moai were not ‘moved’ but ‘walked'”?

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