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).