The impassive monoliths of Easter Island have for many years flummoxed and baffled archaeologists. The theory had for many years gone that out of all these magnificent moai, those inland had simply been abandoned by the tracks.
Some suggested they were possibly too heavy to cart to the perimeter of the island. Thor Heyerdhal (left) the famous adventurer explorer suggested that they had no spiritual meaning whatsoever and were most likely the ones that were simply left to lie at the side of the road because for whatever reason they did not make it to the coast.
A new team of academics from the United Kingdom have come up with an alternative suggestion – and perhaps the moai are finally to give up their last secret. The monoliths, it is now argued, played a pivotal role in the island’s road system and were left in their places much more specifically than the old consensus ever suggested. Contrary to the Norwegian explorer’s hypothesis the new evidence suggests that they had a religious, possibly mystic raison d'être.
Legend has it that the statues arrived at their final resting places when the king of the island called upon the gods and ordered the statues to walk to their destinations. He would have had to have had an incredibly long reign as the statues were sculpted over a period of three hundred years from 1200 to 1500CE. It was more likely then that the islanders took the monoliths to their end point by an elaborate system of rollers and A frames made from the island’s soon to be decimated tree population.
The above picture shows just how big a moai can be - and that is big. However, the inland effigies are now considered to have been placed not with the assumed randomness because the islanders were not able to move them any further but with a deliberate intent. The new team have discovered that each has its own plinth (just like the ones on the coast) now buried and this would very much suggest that they were not simply left to their own devices but that there was design to their placement.
These platforms were discovered by the use of state of the art imaging equipment and the teams from University College London and Manchester University now believe that Heyerdahl was in fact mistaken. These giants, some of them weighing up to eighty six tons were placed there for a reason – and that reason was the very quarry from which they were extracted.
The academic team believes that the monoliths formed part of a complex religious avenue, criss crossing the island but eventually ending up at the quarry where the moai were born. Although the vast majority of the inland maoi of the archipelago are overturned they now think that this is simply the result of standing up for too long – some of them up to eight hundred years – rather than abandonment ab origine.
They have worked out that all of them would have looked inward on to the roads and that as the traveller nears the quarry (known as Rabo Raraku) their incidence becomes much more frequent. So, as the religious pilgrims got closer to the volcano cones of the quarry, thought by Polynesian cultures to be openings to the underworld, more and more of the statues would appear, creating an entrancing stone culmination to the pilgrimage and heralding the entry of the ancient islanders to a sacred place, indeed their most sacred of places.