Easter Island Wrapup and Contents

It’s now been over two months since I returned from Patagonia, Antarctica, the Falklands, Iguazu Falls and Easter Island.  Most of that time I have been writing up Easter Island, which I have now finished.  Having got home I have been processing all images and therefore posting more of them.

Easter Island especially demands explanations to go with the images and I have given quite detailed accounts of many aspects of the history and archaeology of Easter Island.  There have been 24 posts, 150 images and lots of words.

It started out just about photography.  It’s become somewhat more than that, though the images remain central.


One thing I discovered, not in other accounts, was that Easter Island had a two-stage crisis.  First was an ecological crisis that lead to starvation and warfare.  Second and only after European contact, the overthrow of the old religion and the downing of the moai.

I finished up by considering whether the history of Easter Island offers a parable for our times.  I hope many people read this because I believe we all need to understand these issues to help build a consensus for positive change.

Ahu Hanga Kio’e

Below is a list of my special topics.  These are folded into the posts which have quite different names, specific to locations, that may not reflect the content of the special topics.  Further below I also present a list of the titles of the posts and then the sources of my research.

Special Topics

Ahu Te Peu


Note that posts are not necessarily chonological because they are also combined by content.

Easter Island map – click for larger size (so you can read the place names)

You need to click on the map to get it twice as large so you can read the place names.  The maps covers 16 of the 25 place names in the titles of posts.  Of those not covered:

  • Puna Pau is shown as Maunga Vai Ohao,
  • the South Coast is the whole south-east coast,
  • Ahu Vai Teka is just to the West of Ahu Akivi,
  • Ana Kakenga is just near Motu Tautara (which you can see from the cave),
  • Ahu Hange Kio’e is near Punta Cook,
  • Hanga Taharoa is the bay near Mahatua,
  • Hanga Piko is just below the big point at Hanga Roa,
  • Ana Te Pahu is about halfway between Ahu  Akivi and Ahu Te Peu on the South side of the road
  • and Ahu Runga Vae’e is just below Ahu Hanga Te Tenga.

Ahu Tongariki


My discourse on Easter Island reflects what I’ve read, my observations and my analysis. I don’t claim to be a scientist or an archaeologist.  Apart from being a photographer, I am an economic historian (in terms of academic qualifications) who found a career as a systems developer (and I’m now retired).  Here is a list of the books and articles I used:

Easter Island

– Books

– On the Web

Ahu Hanga Poukura


– Books

  • Tim Flannery:  Here on Earth(An Argument for Hope) 2010
    • Confusingly, there seem to be several books with very similar titles.  I suspect that this is publishers’ demand for different markets.  Since this is the Australian version, it is probably the book Flannery intended to write.
  • Tim Flannery:  The Weather Makers (2005)
  • Tim Flannery:  The Future Eaters (1994)
  • Tim Flannery:  The Eternal Frontier (2001)

– On the Web

Ranu Raraku

25th April: Easter Island (Puna Pau)

Puna Pau was the scoria quarry where the Rapanui extracted the red pukao or topknots, which fitted on top of the heads of some moai.  They may have represented hats, hair tied up or feather headdresses.  They are a later innovation, so not all moai had them and only about 100 have been found.

Pukao awaiting transportation

Here is a group of pukao moved out below the crater, awaiting transportation to unknown destinations.  Their shape suggests rolling to move them though it is not known whether this occurred.

Pukao with canoe petroglyph

Carving for the pukao was completed on the ahu, so the pukao here are larger than they would end up being and they are unfinished.  Even so, some have petroglyphs.

Inside the quarry

Google maps location.

This is the inside of the quarry, with several pukao visible.

The average pukao was 2.4 metres high, 1.5 metres in diameter and weighed 5 tonnes, while the heaviest weighed 12 tonnes.  It appears that they were added to moai using a ramp of small stones, after the moai were erected.

View from Puna Pau

Here is a view from Maunga Puna Pau, looking inland towards the North.  On the right is Maunga Tangaroa, mid-left is Maunga Roiho and in the far distance is Maunga Tereveka.  The agricultural zones were in the inland part of the island.

22nd & 23rd April: Easter Island (Rano Raraku)

Ranu Raraku moai

Ranu Raraku is where the Rapanui made the vast majority of the moai. Most of the moai were made from volcanic Tuff, a form of compacted ash originating from a pyroclastic flow. Since they did not have metal, they worked the moai with stone tools, using the harder basalt. There were also some basalt moai, which must have been truly challenging to carve, and dressed basalt stones were included in many ahu.

On the afternoon of the 22nd, we turned up at Ranu Raraku but we did not appreciate that, as with Orongo, there were opening and closing hours, so we had half an hour or so only.

Google maps location

A moai staring out into the distance, late in the afternoon.  ….

On the morning of the next day we returned.

Here is a view on Ranu Raraku from the road in.  You can click on the image for a larger view – then click the bottom right icon for full screen and use icons or mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

You can see over 50 moai in the image. There are apparently 397 at Ranu Raraku, including some on the inside of the volcanic crater.

I understand that here are also some large holes carved into the rock at the top of the cliff, five feet deep and two feet in diameter. Logs fitted into the holes acted as levers in conjunction with huge quantities of rope made from bark to assist in lowering moai down the slope below.

Moai under archaeological excavation

First we headed off into the crater. Here we found a couple of moai under excavation by archaeologists. Many moai originally had carving of various designs on places like the back. This can be difficult to see where they are in the open air due to erosion and fungal attacks. Here we have some moai emerging from the earth with the carvings on their back intact.

Click on the image to see this in much greater detail. This actually takes you to a slightly different and very large image taken at the same spot and time. Once again, bottom right icon for full screen and use icons or mouse wheel to zoom in and out.

Towards the bottom of the back is a circle above three arcs, above an “M” symbol.  I have read that this represents the sun above a rainbow and rain underneath.

Moai under archaeological excavation

Here are those two moai from the front. While not an image that’s likely to end up on anyone’s wall, it usefully shows some of the context. The excavation holes are quite deep, say around three metres. This shows that a lot of sediment can be deposited over 600 to 1,000 years. It also might indicate that the volcano was originally forested and removal of the trees for mining and other purposes has accelerated erosion (and deposit of sediment).

There are also at least four unfinished moai lying on their backs. Such moai can often be hard to notice and no doubt there are many more buried under the soil at Ranu Raraku.

Behind the two upright moai are the holes where they were chiselled out and removed, though you can’t see that very well. They would have been moved downhill a short distance and then raised erect. There are also other places visible where moai have been excavated from the slope and removed.

The last stage in the chiselling out process was removing the “keel” under a moai, apparently by hitting the keel with logs.  The moia was presumably supported by a wooden frame or ropes but it still sounds rather dangerous.

Tukuturi with Ahu Tongariki in the distance

The image above shows the eroded head of the moai Tukuturi with the Poike Peninsula and Ahu Tongariki in the background. Unusually, this is a kneeling moai with a beard and is similar to other stone carvings from Eastern Polynesia. It is probably quite old. Thor Heyerdahl rediscovered it and re-erected it in 1955-56.

Moai in light rain

Here are some moai on the slopes of Ranu Raraku.  In the distance you can see a small pointed hill (Maunga Toa Toa) and the coast is just behind that.  The main moai road leaving Rano Raraku went just to the left of that hill.

The right-hand moai has a European sailing ship carved on his chest.  There is also a line from it that goes down to a turtle, just half visible near the grass.

Here is my travelling companion Greg, giving scale to two large recumbent moai.  They may be finished because they were probably never intended to go anywhere.

El Gigante

This is the largest moai, known as El Gigante or Ko Tetu Kena.  I might have been able to get a better image from closer, but you can see the sign – this is as close as you are allowed to get.

El Gigante is about 20 metres long and is estimated to weigh 270 tonnes.  It was probably never intended to move and it is difficult to imagine how this might have been possible.





A moai relaxing in the sea breeze


A trio of moai


Moving the Moai

The task of chipping away to construct a moai is awesome enough. The task to move the moai up to about 20 kilometres away over uneven terrain was probably much larger.

Of the 887 recorded moai, 288 were successfully transported to ahu.  Others were also erected beside the moai roads (or Ko te Ara o te Moai).  The average moai weighs 12.5 tonnes and stands 4 metres high.  The largest moai successfully transported to a ahu is nearly 10 metres long and is estimated to weigh over 80 tonnes!

How they moved the moai is not really known.  There have been many theories over the years:

  • Moving them on rollers, lying flat on their back, probably on a wooden frame
  • As above plus using wooden levers as fulcrums
  • As above but with the statues standing rather than lying down.  This is said to be possible due to a low centre of gravity of the statues
  • Because legends mention moai “walking” to the ahu: two groups of people tilting the statues and moving them forward, one side at a time
  • Use of round stones instead of logs, as though large ball bearings

There have been many field tests of the different methods.  Logs and levers proved viable but the test was on an even flat surface only.  “Walking” the moai proved viable but only for short distances or the base became damaged.  “Walking” might be viable as a final method for getting them the last metres onto an ahu which often backed onto a cliff.

It has long been known that there were moai roads, in fact quite a significant network over much of the island.   It was assumed that these were flat.  However, about a decade ago, Charlie Love excavated some of them and put many of the theories above in question by determining that the roads were in fact V-shaped or U-shaped.  The edges of the roads were also faced with stones.

This suggests (to me, at least) that the design of the roads was intended to minimise the risk of sideways movement while moving the moai.  Perhaps they mounted the moai on wooden frames that were designed to fit the contours of the roads.  Because the roads were not level, this seems to rule out the use of log rollers.  Two explanations occur to me:  (1) perhaps they laid split logs vertically along the road, plus some lubricant; or (2) perhaps they used round stones.  Either way, they wouldn’t need to line the roads with the logs/ stones because they could pull them out from behind and replace them in front as the moai moved.

Love also found holes at regular intervals on each side of the roads where there was a slope.  These were evidently to use logs as fulcrums to assist moving the moai or to help prevent them slipping back.  However the Rapanui did it, the organisation and effort required is hard to imagine.