23rd April: Easter Island (Tongariki revisited)

We returned to Tongariki on the 23rd to explore more carefully.  We visited there at sunset on our first day in Easter Island.

Ahu Tongariki

You can get an idea of the size of the ahu and the moai by the people who are standing at the middle left.  There is also a moai lying on his back at the far left.

Ahu Tongariki

This one gives you a feel for how large the ahu is itself.  There is a far greater volume of rock in the ahu than in the moai.

Tongariki over Time

The classical Easter Island culture slowly built up over a long period of time and the earliest confirmed date for construction of an ahu is 690AD.

Ahu Tongariki was rebuilt several times during its history.  We may well marvel at the carefully reconstructed ahu of the present but that does not completely represent what it was.  At the height of the classical period, Ahu Tongariki was probably the largest ahu on the island, around 220 metres long with as many as 30 moai.

The moia at Tongariki were already overturned and the ahu abandoned when the first Europeans turned up in 1770 and probably well before that.  The ahu remained relatively undisturbed until 1960 and many photographs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries recorded the layout in detail.

Then, on 22 May 1960, the ahu was overwhelmed by a tsunami, caused by an earthquake in Chile, the greatest earthquake ever recorded at 9.5.   The tsunami waves were up to 25 metres high in Chile and they raced across the Pacific, killing 61 people in Hawaii and 163 people in Japan.  At Tongariki, the wave was between 6 and 8 metres high and a huge volume of water surged in.  This threw the moai, which weighed on average around 40 tonnes, up to 600 metres inland and destroyed the ahu.

Between 1992 and 1996, archaeologist Claudio Cristino restored the ahu with the aid of a crane donated by Japanese company Tadano and with the support of the Chilean government.  This was obviously a massive undertaking, even with modern technology.

Moai heads

Behind the ahu we found these three moai heads left over from the restoration. What their original place was in the ahu I have no idea.

Rainbow behind Ahu Tongariki

… and a rather nice rainbow behind Ahu Tongariki late in the day.

9 comments on “23rd April: Easter Island (Tongariki revisited)

  1. […] spending most of the day at Ranu Raraku, we revisited Ahu Tongariki for a while and then with the last light of the day, we moved a little way west along the South […]


  2. […] and Eastern confederations of the clans.  Ahu Te Pita Kura was with the western group, even though Ahu Tongariki was not far away and the main focus of the eastern […]


  3. […] about four kilometres east of Ahu Te Pito Kura and about four kilometres over the peninsula from Tongariki.  In 1722 Roggeveen landed somewhere along this coast, which could have been at Hanga Taharoa or […]


  4. […] to Ahu Hanga Poukura,  Ahu Hanga Te’e O Vaihu and Ahu Akahanga,  going half of the way to Tongariki before we ran out of light.  Here are some images and brief comments in the […]


  5. […] also appear to have arrived at Tongariki and Rano Rarako. They observed that this side of the island was full of those gigantic statues so […]


  6. […] in particular, had lost their fishing and had the poorest agricultural land.  Areas around Tongariki and Vinapu still possessed the best rock for carving but this counted for less and less as time […]


  7. […] town of Hilo.  Hilo was devastated by a tsunami from Chile in 1960, the same one that washed the Tongariki moai on Easter Island hundreds of kilometres inland.  Thirty foot waves hit the coast at Hilo (and […]


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