Located on Easter Island, called Rapa Nui by the indigenous population, the Moai statues are sometimes referred to as the Easter Island Heads. These famous monolithic figures were carved between 1250 and 1500 CE by the Rapa Nui people and represented the living faces of the deified ancestors of the local population.
There have been 887 Moai statues discovered on the island, the largest standing at a whopping 33 feet tall. All sorts of mysteries surround these fascinating carvings, but scientists and archeologists have been able to determine a few certain facts about them. Check out these 10 things you didn’t know about the Moai statues.
10 Each Moai Took A Year To Complete
The Moai draw thousands of tourists every year because they are such phenomenal sculptures. Like anything great, they took some time to complete. According to Just Fun Facts, each statue took about one year to complete by teams of five to six men using basalt stone hand chisels.
There are 887 known statues and most of them were carved from volcanic ash known as tuff. Others were carved from red scoria, trachyte, and basalt. They range in height from under five feet to 33 feet tall.
9 One Of The Statues Stands Out From The Rest
What separates the Moai from other statues is their signature chiseled features—no pun intended. But there is one Moai that doesn’t quite fit in with the rest. While the majority of the statues resemble elongated features, the Moai known as Tukuturi much more closely resembles a human.
Tukuturi is much smaller than the other statues and appears to be kneeling. According to Atlas and Boots, Tukuturi was also carved from the stone of Pua Pura and then brought to Rano Raraku, where the others were carved. There’s always one odd one out!
8 The Statues Were Once Torn Down
Many of the details surrounding the Moai remain a mystery to anthropologists. What they do agree on is that there was a point in time when the statues were torn down by rival clans. This is said to have taken place sometime in the 1700s. There were rebellions and rioting on the island, possibly due to deforestation and shrinking resources, leading clans to attack each other’s statues.
By 1868, there were no statues standing upright on the entire island. There were still some on the slopes of Rano Raraku, but these were partly buried.
7 The Way The Statues Were Moved Is Still Debated
The majority of the Moai were carved more than 900 years ago, during a time when the local Rapa Nui people didn’t have the luxury of the infrastructure that we have today. Considering they didn’t have wheels, cranes, or strong animals to help them transport the statues, archeologists are still baffled at how they were moved 11 miles across the island.
Some theories suggest that the islanders used wooden sleds, ropes, and log rollers. It would have taken a considerable amount of force to move the Moai, given that the heaviest weighs 86 tons.
6 Nearly All The Statues Face Away From The Sea
Aside from their distinct aesthetic, the Maoi are all similar because they nearly all face inland, away from the direction of the sea. There is one statue situated at Ahu Akivi which faces the ocean. This is a sacred place for the local people, which may have something to do with why the Moai faces the opposite direction.
Facts Legend explains that most of the statues face toward the villages rather than the ocean might be because the Rapa Nui people believed the statues watched over them and protected them.
5 They’re Not Just Easter Island Heads, But Whole Bodies
The Maoi are iconic symbols of Easter Island, whose native name is Rapa Nui. In popular culture, they’re often portrayed as heads without bodies, so many people don’t realize that the statues actually do have entire bodies. The most popular photos of the statues show them buried up to their necks, leading to the common misconception that they’re “Easter Island Heads."
Since 1914, archeologists have known that the statues have bodies due to excavations. Still, the misconception persists that they are just heads.
4 Some Statues Wear Hats
The most common photographs of the Moai show them without any type of headdress, so most people are surprised to realize that some statues do wear a type of hat on their heads. My Travelling Circus explains that these are called Pukao.
The hats may represent dressed hair or headdresses which were common amongst chiefs of the native people. While some people believe that the hats actually represent hair, others think that they symbolize power. There is also the theory that they were just a part of formal dress during the period in which they were carved.
3 The Statues Are Carefully Guarded Against Tourists
It only takes one bad egg to spoil it for everybody else. After a Finnish tourist hacked off an ear of one of the Moai in 2008, many more restrictions were placed on tourists visiting the statues.
The Finnish tourist, who was 26 at the time, ran away with a piece of the statue in his hand, but he was spotted by a local who reported him to the police. He made a public apology and received a fine of 17,000 USD after being placed under house arrest.
2 A Number Of Superstitions Surround The Statues
The Rapa Nui people believed in a number of superstitions that governed the way they interacted with the statues. Famously, they believed that when a Moai fell, it was for a good reason, and so that statue should never be erected again. This is why many of the Moai were left uncompleted.
Similarly, there was the belief that the spirit of the Moai was activated when they were given eyes. After the islanders bestowed eyes of coral upon the statues, they were able to project their energy onto the people.
1 The Statues May Have Been Created In Response To Disease
One theory surrounding the Moai claims that they were created as an antidote to leprosy, which had affected other islands throughout Polynesia. After seeing the devastating effects of the disease, the Rapa Nui people created statues that they believed reversed the damage.
This is why the Moai statues have over-corrected features that are typically the direct opposite of the symptoms of leprosy. For example, the noses on the Moai are pronounced and stylized, which may have been a response to seeing destroyed nose cartilage as a result of leprosy.