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

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.

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.

20th April: Easter Island (Tongariki)

Up again very early in the morning and away on the plane from Santiago to Easter Island (or Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua).

We arrive in Easter Island near the middle of the day, pick up a rental car, drop off our things at the hotel and head off into town for a while.   It is a fine warm day and we settle down for a while for lunch at a seafront café.  We gaze out at the surf and the surfers, the bathers below us and the fishing boats on the other side of the small cove and already start to appreciate the languid pace of island life.

Easter Island is roughly triangular, with three volcanic cones defining the corners of the triangle, so it isn’t very large and the furthest you can go in one direction is about 23km.  Still, you have to watch out for horses and cattle on the roads, some of the roads can be a bit rough and maximum speed on the open road is 60kph, so it still takes a while to get around.

Towards sunset, at the suggestion of a staff member from the tourist bureau, we headed for Anakenga half-way along  on the South coast.  It doesn’t seem to be the right place and light for us at this time so we keep going and end up near the far end of the Island, at Ahu Tongariki.

Here are the moai at Ahu Tongariki:

 Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui and tagged Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, Archaeology, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Moai, Photography, Rapa Nui, Travel

The moai are the statues.  All of the moai were felled by the islanders some hundreds of years ago; they have been reerected on a handful of sites only.  The platform and surrounds they are standing on is called an ahu.  This is the greatest number of moai on any restored ahu.

 Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui and tagged Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, Archaeology, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Moai, Photography, Rapa Nui, Travel

These are three of the moai from the ahu.  You can see the rounded stones on the sloping section that leads up to the platform on which they stand.  All of this is part of the ahu.  One of the moai is wearing a pukao or topknot.  The moai are all different, representations of individual ancestors.  They are standing in the open air, exposed to the elements, and therefore fragile.  No-one may walk on an ahu or climb on a moai.

 Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui and tagged Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, Archaeology, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Moai, Photography, Rapa Nui, Travel

Here is a wider view of Ahu Tongariki, which will give you a better idea of the scale.  You may be able to make out my travelling companion Greg on the far left of the photo (you can always click on an image for a somewhat larger sized image).

Ahus included a large flat area in front, used for ceremonial purposes, no doubt with many people.  The large rocks in front are in fact pukao (topknots).  They no doubt belong to individual moai but it may not have been practical to identify which belonged to which and to replace them on top.

 Ahu Tongariki, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Rapa Nui and tagged Ahu, Ahu Tongariki, Archaeology, Easter Island, Isla de Pascua, Moai, Photography, Rapa Nui, Travel

By now this is after dark.  The 30 second exposure stretches out some of the clouds and you can see the stars.

Google maps location.

We are in Easter Island for eight days, including six full days.  You have just seen images from one ahu with fifteen moai.  OK, this is a particularly significant ahu but there are 360 or more ahu on the island and 900 moai.  There are probably many more moai hidden under the ground because lots of sediment can deposit over hundreds of years.  Easter Island is one huge archaeological site.