We returned to Tongariki on the 23rd to explore more carefully. We visited there at sunset on our first day in Easter Island.
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.
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.
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.
… and a rather nice rainbow behind Ahu Tongariki late in the day.