26th April: Easter Island (Vinapu)

At mid-afternoon on the 26th we went to Ahu Vinapu O Tahiri, which is famous for its fine stone work, as you can see here.  (You can also click the image above for a much larger view.)

Alternatively, here is a detail.

This is probably the head re-erected by Thomson in 1889.

Here is another part of the ahu wall, which is 80 metres long by 12 metres wide.  People often wonder “How did they cut those stones?”.  Carving the moai from volcanic tuff using granite tools is one thing but ahu facing walls were often granite.  Perhaps the simple answer is they didn’t carve them, for the final fit at least.


My guess is that they put one stone on top of another (easy to say), perhaps with a wooden frame around the top one, and hauled on ropes to move the top stone back and forth and slowly grind the edges to match.  That way, there’s also no requirement for right angles.

Vinapu was cited in the past (for example by Heyerdahl) as evidence of Inca influence but the current consensus of archaeologists is to discount that.  For one thing, the technique is different.  Whereas the Incas used solid stone blocks, these are facing blocks for rubble fill.  You can see this from the side view, here.

Also, the average weight of the blocks here is about 7 tonnes and the largest 10 or 12 tonnes; the largest blocks in the Inca Sacsayhuamán fortress weighted somewhere between 120 and 360 tonnes!

Stepping back a bit, here is a side view of the ahu with toppled moai.   (You can also see in the distance the carpark and also the refinery poking its ugly head up between the moai and the ahu.)

Curiously, there is a dwelling space at the front of the ahu,  created after the fall of the moai, using the fallen moai itself as part of the roof.

There are actually two ahus at Vinapu. We have been looking at Vinapu I which paradoxically is the later of the two.  The image above and the next one is from Vinapu II, which has been dated as far back as 900AD.

The reason the numbering of the ahus is the wrong way round is because Thor Heyerdahl thought that the one with the finer stonework was made by South Americans prior to the arrival of Polynesians on the island but this has been refuted by carbon dating of charcoal buried under or around the ahus.

The ring of stones around the moai head in the foreground is not ancient; it is just to keep people back.

In the distance we can see the fallen moai on Ahu Vinapu II and over to the right a pukao or topknot.

In the front is a most unusual moai.  It is made of the soft red scoria, like the pukao, and is now greatly eroded.  Fortunately there is a description from the early nineteenth century when its form was still visible.  It was a female moai, with a vulva visible near the ground and lacking the usual male loincloth.  It also had two heads and had a special use for funerary functions.

They would wrap one or more dead bodies in bark cloth and suspend them on poles that rested between the two moai heads until the flesh rotted away.  Then the bones were washed and deposited inside the ahu.

The Rapanui also used cremation, uniquely for Polynesia.  There are, for example, cremating platforms behind Ahu Akivi and Huri A Urenga. The burial practices associated with this moai may therefore have been a later practice, after the supply of wood ran out.

Google Maps location (green arrow).

11 comments on “26th April: Easter Island (Vinapu)

  1. […] Murray Foote a journey to the Deep South Skip to content HomeHello ← 26th April: Easter Island (Vinapu) […]

    Like

  2. […] have considered whether they might have taken an alternative route from Akahanga down the coast to Vinapu instead of up it to Tongariki but this doesn’t seem to fit the descriptions.) The eroded moai […]

    Like

  3. […] 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 went on.  The […]

    Like

  4. hi murray,
    what is your reference for this:

    “In the front is a most unusual moai. It is made of the soft red scoria, like the pukao, and is now greatly eroded. Fortunately there is a description from the early nineteenth century when its form was still visible. It was a female moai, with a vulva visible near the ground and lacking the usual male loincloth. It also had two heads and had a special use for funerary functions.

    They would wrap one or more dead bodies in bark cloth and suspend them on poles that rested between the two moai heads until the flesh rotted away. Then the bones were washed and deposited inside the ahu.”

    thank you
    candace

    Like

    • Murray Foote says:

      Hi Candace

      Mainly Shawn McLaughlin “The Complete Guide to Easter Island” p171.
      “There is a tall, red scoria statue in front of Vinapu II, said to be female insofar as, according to Van Tilburg, the shortened fingers frame and display female genitalia. It also lacks a hami or loncloth worn only by males. At over 11 feet (3.5 metres) it originally had two heads; the forked configuration between the heads served to support a rack on which the cadavers were exposed to the elements.”

      I read somewhere that the moai was described by a traveller in 1838 when it was in much better condition but I don’t know where I read that, perhaps it is the source of Van Tilburg’s statement. There were three ships that called in 1838 and I don’t know which it would be.

      I also don’t know where I read that the bodies were wrapped in bark cloth and that the bones were washed and deposited in the ahu. The use of bark cloth I remember was a general comment on Rapanui funereal practices. I thought that might by Jarrad Diamond “Collapse” but can’t find it in a quick search. Storing the bones in the ahu reads as a comment specific to Vinapu.

      I thought of including footnotes but decided it might make what I write less accessible to most readers. However, I will post, probably on Monday, a bibliography for my readings on Easter Island, together with a list of special topics and table of contents.

      Regards,
      Murray

      Like

  5. Lois says:

    Most interesting, Murray. The ships which called in 1838 – were they on their way to somewhere else or were they calling there specifically? I must look at a map again to get my bearings – or rather, the island’s bearings!

    Like

    • Murray Foote says:

      The list of ships calling is an Appendix in Shawn McLaughlin’s “Complete Guide to Easter Island”. I don’t know where I got three from, there were six that called in 1838, one French and five English or American. The French one took a moai head back to France, so that may be where the account of Vinapu came from. All would have been on their way somewhere else because there was not much to go to Easter Island for in terms of resources or food or even water, there were no safe anchorages and it would not have been a target destination for sealers or whalers.

      Like

      • Lois says:

        I was interested in the ships aspect because ten years alter my g-g-grandad had a ship (at least one) which traded across the Pacific.When I was looking up information about it I was amazed at the swarm of shipping at that time criss-crossing the ocean and South China Sea.

        Like

      • Murray Foote says:

        I also have my share of Sea Captain ancestors on both sides of the family and my g-g-grandfather owned the ship he sailed in with his family and paying passengers from Newfoundland to NZ in 1865.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s