Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui

Site Information

Country: Chile
State: Province of Chile
Location: 27° 10' 17" S - 109° 24' 23" W
Field Documentation Date(s): February 3rd, 2008
Project Release Date(s): July 30th, 2009
Time Range: 450 CE - 1750 CE
Era: Ancient East Polynesian
Culture: Polynesian, Rapa Nui
Site Authority: Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF)
Heritage Listing: UNESCO World Heritage Site
world map with location

3D point cloud of Rano Raraku Moai, created from laser scan data

Site Description


Rapa Nui, a territorial province of Chile more commonly known as Easter Island, is one of the most isolated pieces of land on earth. Located over 3500 kilometers west of the Chilean coast and over 2000 kilometers (1243 miles) east of the Pitcairn Islands, Rapa Nui's 163.6 square kilometers (63.2 square miles) comprise what is considered to be the easternmost habitable place in the collection of Pacific Ocean islands known as the Polynesian Triangle; a geo-cultural expanse that is defined to the north by Hawaii and to the west by Aotearoa (New Zealand). For its inhabitants, Rapa Nui's remoteness from any other landmass helped to define its positional role as Te Pito Te Henua in the Polynesian universe, a term sometimes translated as "Navel of the World" but literally meaning "Land's End".

The climate of Rapa Nui is oceanic sub-tropical with around 120 centimeters (47 inches) of rain per year; the island has no permanent streams or rivers, though there are a few springs and rainwater lakes located in volcanic calderas. Strong marine winds buffet the coasts and howl inland as well, though humidity remains consistently high. Three extinct volcanoes define the three different points of this triangular island. The tallest volcano, Maunga Terevaka, reaches a modest height of 506 meters (1660 feet) at its summit. Rapa Nui is surrounded by a rugged, cliff-lined coast and gently rolling hills that are also of volcanic origin. Though Rapa Nui has only one town, Hangaroa (current population approximately 4000 persons), most of the island's terrain is best described as a rural landscape that has been profoundly altered by human activity. Trees are mainly limited to isolated groves of introduced species, while grasses and scrubby undergrowth carpet the hills; severe land erosion of the island's fertile, reddish-brown soils is widespread. At the bottom of three calderas, the craters of extinct volcanoes, reeds grow thickly in freshwater lakes. As there is no barrier reef surrounding this entirely volcanic island, heavy surf batters much of its rocky shoreline; only two sandy beaches are found on the island, Anakena and La Perouse Bay.

There are very few large, natural objects on Rapa Nui (besides the volcanoes), and numerous stone monuments are the most prominent aspects of the landscape. The most visible of these man-made objects, and by far the most famous, are the island's 887 known Moai. These great statues primarily depict kneeling, adult male figures with arms tightly to their sides and their hands resting upon their stomachs. Moai height, width, and weight vary widely, averaging around 4 meters (13 feet) tall and weighing 11.33 metric tonnes (12.5 U.S. tons). They are stylistically similar, with their basic form featuring an enormous human head with a prominent, overhanging brow, a long nose, defined and pointed chin, and perforated, distended earlobes. Collectively, these statues were known as aringa ora, or "living faces". The Moai that have survived to the present were carved from volcanic stone quarried from the island's volcanic calderas, particularly Rano Raraku. Many are massive; the largest Moai ever erected on the island (Paro) weighs approximately 74.39 metric tones (82 U.S. tons) and is 9.8 meters (32 feet) tall. 58 Moai were topped with cylindrical stone headdresses called Pukao, mainly carved from the iron-rich red scoria rock quarried from Puna Pau caldera.

Most of the Moai are located in and around the volcanic calderas from which they were carved, though many of them were transported away from their places of origin and erected upon great stone platforms called Ahu. Over 300 Ahu have been identified on Rapa Nui, of which 113 are known to have had stone Moai atop them. The Ahu platforms that were designed to hold Moai were most commonly located directly along the island's coastline. Ahu were constructed using small pieces of volcanic stone held in place and paved with great slabs of cut basalt; they were generally built right up to the surf line. The vast majority of the Moai found on coastal Ahu were positioned to face inland rather than out to sea. Twenty-five of these Moai-bearing Ahu are very large in size; their enormous, vertical, seaward retaining walls measure up to 4 meters (13 feet) in height, while the inland walls gently slope downward to rectangular plazas. There were over a dozen separate tribal/clan territories on the island, and each one of these territories had between one and five of these "supersized" ahu which could hold a number of Moai.

The Moai and Ahu are just two aspects of the culture of Rapa Nui's material record, however. In total, over 35,000 archaeological sites are scattered about the landscape, including the ubiquitous stone-built Hare Moa ("Chicken Houses"), Manavani (rock-enclosed or subterranean gardens), Hare Paenga (boat-shaped house foundations), Umu Pae (stone-lined subterranean earth ovens) and Taheta (carved red scoria urns). These are mostly located around the coast, where the majority of settlement took place, though much of the cultivated land was located further inland, separate from the domestic units and their constructions. Densely-populated villages were clustered around the Ahu and other important ceremonial sites. The dwellings located closest to the Ahu housed elite lineages and are known as Hare Paenga; their shape is evocative of a large, overturned canoe with foundations cut from solid slabs of basalt.

Most of the island's ancient archaeological features that have survived to the present day were constructed from volcanic stone. This was a logical material in a humid environment where organic materials decompose quickly and stone was the only inorganic construction material available. In fact, most of Rapa Nui's land that is currently used for pasture is densely filled with broken volcanic rock; these rocks were used in Manavani (rock-enclosed or subterranean gardens) or other agricultural constructions where they would allow for agriculture without direct cultivation into soil or irrigation. Recent research by the island's coordinator of monuments, Sonia Haoa, has discovered that larger outcroppings of boulders in these ancient agricultural areas were used as "production rocks", lithic forges where fires were lit to heat up larger rocks enough to split them into smaller pieces. The sheer density of these constructions makes it clear that it was, at one time, far more densely populated than it is today.
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While the name Rapa Nui ("Big Rapa") is of relatively recent origin, coined by 19th century Tahitian laborers on Easter Island who said it reminded them of their home island (Rapa), the island's cultural history is quite old. According to legends of the islanders, Rapa Nui was settled by a small colony of men, women and children, bearing cultivated plants and domesticated animals and led by a founding figure known as Hotu Matu'a (Great Parent). Hotu Matu'a was a chief who is reputed to have been fleeing his homeland of Marae Renga after defeat in a war, taking his followers with him on a great journey via catamaran for a "promised land" to settle. Through the incredible seafaring prowess of Polynesian mariners, and pure chance while adrift in the open ocean, the colonists are said to have eventually reached Rapa Nui, where they circumnavigated the island twice in search of a landing site and finally came ashore at Anakena beach. There were no other migrations, and no return journeys west. Over time, Hotu Matu'a's sons and other descendants subdivided the land under the control of about a dozen clans; these were the ruling lineages of the island for over 50 generations.

In contrast with the powerfully supernatural origin myths of many of the world's indigenous cultures, the story of Hotu Matu'a is actually probable in many respects. Glottochronology, a linguistic analysis technique that aims to determine when languages with common root tongues separated from each other, indicates that the language of Rapa Nui contains many Polynesian place names and a strong structural commonality with an archaic central eastern Polynesian dialect, as well as elements of an archaic western Polynesian dialect that would have only been present in earlier forms of the central eastern tongue. Using these criteria, it has been surmised that the people of Rapa Nui split completely apart from the rest of Polynesia sometime between 300 and 550 CE, probably voyaging from the westerly Marquesas, or (more likely) the central eastern Mangareva or Pitcairn. The linguistic evidence corresponds with a recent count of 57 generations since Hotu Matu'a which, judging by an average of 25 years per generation, would place an approximate date of 450 CE for the founding population. The earliest firm radiocarbon dates for human habitation on the island are from Ahu Tahai on the island's southwest corner (near Hanga Roa), and date to 690 CE plus or minus 130 years; this data is also consistent with legend since it would have taken sometime before the first Ahu’s construction. Questions as to the historical trajectory of the island have been contentious for decades. Many theories have been propounded about comings and goings to the island from South America as well as later migrations from Polynesia. More recently, the archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo have pursued the hypothesis that the island was not colonized until the 12th-13th centuries CE; however, current paleo-environmental and linguistic evidence points to a single migration and an earlier settlement which is consistent with legend.

Rapa Nui's southwest corner seems to have been colonized first, and it is here where introduced Polynesian species of plants and animals would have initially been nurtured in this new environment. Due to the climate being slightly colder, drier, and windier than most of Polynesia, however, certain staple domesticates (such as the breadfruit and coconut) did not grow. In addition, there is no evidence of the presence of dogs and pigs on the island before European contact. At the north coast's Anakena, the legendary landing site of Hotu Matu'a, the first habitations seem to date to the 8th or 9th centuries CE, with the first Ahu built here by 1100 CE. The south coast didn't build up until around 1300 CE, when monumental construction on the island peaked. This construction was centered on the Ahu and Moai.

While Rapa Nui’s monumental architecture developed into highly distinct forms, analogous examples can be found in traditional Polynesia. The Ahu platforms have clear antecedents in the Marae platforms of Tahiti, where wooden Moai-like figures and smaller stone idols were erected. On Rapa Nui, Moai represent respected ancestors and chiefs, often serving as funerary monuments. With their great size and stately form, they likely served as a type of sacred border between the terrestrial world and the heavens; between life and death. Positioned on Ahu, the Moai of the coast faced inland; they were said to be infused with the Mana (spiritual power) of the persons they were dedicated to. These Moai exercised considerable power over the island, a power which likely included a solid territorial stake for the descendants of the persons they represented. As social boundaries seem to have been fairly strong between the different chiefdoms, and likely got more defined through the early 11th-16th centuries CE, it has been inferred that the bulk of the Moai carving and Ahu construction was undertaken not by a centralized authority but by individual chiefdoms, and quite likely in a competitive manner. Of course, the question has long been asked: How did they sculpt and move these massive figures? In recent decades, much of that question has been tentatively answered.

Relatively malleable volcanic tuff and scoria were carved by large basalt chisels known as Toki; experiments have indicated that it would have taken a small team of skilled carvers less than a year to produce any of the island's statues. The figures were carved on their backs with their base usually pointing down slope at a sharp angle. A keel of stone attaching the statue to the bedrock was left intact, not to be cut away until the statue was ready to be moved. Channels of earth were cut below the statue to allow it to slide downhill, with the remnants of the keel serving as a kind of rudder to maintain the statue's direction. On the crater's rim are deep postholes cut into the bedrock, which probably held trunks of the gigantic, now-extinct Easter Island palm. Scars in front of these indicate that thick cables of 7.5-10 centimeters (3-4 inches) diameter were used to haul the Moai from the crater, probably via leverage and manpower.

Most of the Moai and Ahu were built starting around 1000 CE based on radiocarbon dates at Rano Raraku; with the greatest frenzy of building beginning around 1200 CE and lasting until the end of the 16th century. Many of these teams were likely at work at the same time, so a large number of statues were built in a relatively short span; as transport and erection of these statues was far more time-consuming and resource-intensive than simply carving them, it is possible that the large number of Moai still in the quarry represent production outstripping demand. Some scholars believe, however, that the Moai still in Rano Raraku were meant to stay there, facing the vital water source of the lake. As previously mentioned, moving the statues would have been very difficult as the volcanic tuff is relatively fragile. Additionally, the statues would have been largely complete by the time they were to be hauled off and erected on an Ahu so it was important to keep the detailed work intact.

Experiments in erecting the Moai were first attempted in 1958 at Anakena under the supervision of Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl. Numerous experiments in the decades since have repeatedly proved that a dedicated workforce could move the statues over several miles with the aid of specially-built sledges constructed of logs and tree bark or fibrous shrub ropes; even relatively small trees such as the toromiro would have been suitable for moving many Moai. The utilization of palm logs as rollers may also have played a role in moving these enormous monoliths; and the overall size of the statue would have likely influenced which technique was used to move it to its final location. The Ahu, which were also massive public works that required a great deal of labor to construct, were often built atop each other in layers over the centuries. One type of Ahu bore Moai, the “Image Ahu” (so-called by archaeologists), and it would have been designed solely for this purpose. The Moai would have been erected upon them by piling smaller stones underneath as ropes levered them slowly upwards until they were standing; the Pukao headdresses on some of the Moai were likely added at a later date by using similar techniques.

Pollen cores taken from the caldera lakes, as well as archaeological excavations of roots and seeds placed into caves by humans, show a much richer endemic flora until this monumental period. Thirteen native rainforest tree and shrub species were present at the time but disappeared from the archaeological record in the centuries that followed the monumental construction projects, including the critically-endangered toromiro and the now-extinct giant island Jubaea palm species. The latter is thought to have been wiped out by the combined harvesting activities of humans and the feeding habits of introduced Polynesian Rats, which had an appetite for palm seeds. The last radiocarbon dates for seeds of the giant Easter Island Palm, thought to be closely related to the Chilean Wine Palm and present on the island for hundreds of thousands of years, are from the late 16th century CE.

As the island grappled with the pressures of exploding population (peaking at around 20,000 persons) and limited resources, the first documented European visitor to the island arrived. The Dutch Captain of the merchant ship Afrikaansche Galei, Jacob Roggeveen, found Rapa Nui on Easter Sunday 1722 CE, and named it Easter Island. Roggeveen and his crew only stayed for a day. He saw no trees and was astounded at the engineering feats that must have been required to raise the massive Moai, which stood erect at Ahus all around the island. However, when the legendary English explorer Captain James Cook made landfall on the island for four days in 1774 while searching for Antarctica, he noted that many of the statues were toppled and that they were poorly-maintained in general. Those that were knocked down showed evidence of deliberate destruction to their coral-and-obsidian eyes as well as purposeful cracking at the neck/decapitation; both were unambiguous methods of extinguishing the statues' Mana power. Visitors over the next 50 years saw fewer and fewer standing Moai as the islanders toppled the great monoliths; oral histories that refer to "the wars of the throwing down of the statues" correspond to a simultaneous explosion in the archaeological record of obsidian spearheads. It seems that during the 52 years between Roggeveen's and Cook's visits, Rapa Nui fell into fierce warfare between chiefdoms. Roggeveen observed the islanders as healthy and well-fed, peaceable and seemingly content; Cook reported their condition as "small, lean, timid, and miserable". Social and sexual boundaries between chiefdom territories tightened even further during this period.

Further analysis of skeletal remains from this period reveal strong signs of famine as well as the negative effects of introduced disease, quite possibly from Roggeveen's time or the poorly-documented visit of a Spanish vessel launched from Peru in 1770 CE. Carved images of spirits such as the Moai Kavakava, with its sunken cheeks and protruding ribs, began to predominate in the island's material record of ritual goods while oral histories indicate that incidents of cannibalism began to occur. The most common theory follows a simple progression: a population explosion combined with deforestation, overfishing, the destructiveness of introduced species such as the Polynesian Rat, and overworking of arable land, laid the groundwork for an ecological and socioeconomic collapse. Some theorists have argued that this analysis is an oversimplification, downplaying such factors as the global climactic shift caused by the so-called "little ice age" that was at its peak at this time. Yet it is difficult to deny the overwhelming weight of archaeological and cultural evidence that, over the course of not much more than 1000 years, human activity completely transformed the environment of this tiny island. Because of human impacts, a lush, subtropical forested environment became transformed into a semi-cultivated grassland containing over 35,000 archaeological sites.

Successive decades of decline, famine, a variety of introduced disease, and hostile activity from foreigners took an even greater toll on the island's already-reduced population and unique Polynesian culture. Peruvian slave raids in 1862 reduced the island's population to 111 persons, and an estimated 70,000 sheep brought in by Scottish herders further decimated Rapa Nui's threatened natural vegetation. Ritual activity had long before shifted from monolith-oriented, ancestor-worship to the worship of gods such as Makemake under the Birdman Cult (Tangata Manu). This cult was centered at the cliff of Orongo and focused on the acquisition of the first Sooty Tern egg of the season from the nearby rock islet of Motu Nui. The undeciphered Rongorongo script, carved onto wooden tablets and reputed by tradition to have come from Hotu Matu'a himself, makes its first appearance in the archeological record in the decades following the toppling of the Moai; none of the elders who were capable of deciphering this script survived to pass on their knowledge. Yet a substantial corpus of other traditional knowledge has been retained; as western scholars flocked to the island to solve its "mysteries", such as how the Moai were raised, they received invaluable insight from the people who live there, who had slowly rebuilt their population and living culture after many decades of setbacks. The people of Rapa Nui are strong and proud of their history and traditions today, and have gone to great lengths to keep them intact.
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Perspective of Te Pito Kura (Navel of the World) taken from the southwest, created from laser scan data

Project Narrative


In 2007, following an assignment in Chile, engineer Pete Kelsey of Autodesk Software came to Rapa Nui on vacation, armed with a GPS unit and a laptop. There he met the hardworking Sonia Haoa, a groundbreaking researcher and the island's coordinator of monuments, and introduced her to a range of advanced mapping and surveying equipment including the newest versions of AutoCAD and laser scanning technologies. After working with Haoa on a limited survey of part of the island's coastline, Kelsey began to realize the challenges that people interested in preserving the island's rich archaeological record faced. He went to AutoDesk and secured funding to create a base map of Rapa Nui in order to aid with preservation as well as the development of island infrastructure to keep the island's material heritage intact.

In a partnership with Leica Geosystems and MetCo Services, Kelsey and five technicians went to the island in October of 2007 and January-February of 2008 to create high-definition, fully geo-referenced survey data of the island's archaeological features. Laser scan data from a Leica HDS600, a Leica ScanStation, and GPS surveys were overlaid with Haoa's maps, info on erosion rates from the municipality of Hanga Roa, topographical charts, and satellite imagery. Architectural and mapping software suites were donated by AutoDesk for the effort. During a week of scanning, the major sites surveyed included the Rano Raraku crater, the Motu Nui islet off the Orongo coast, several Ahu, and five caves filled with Petroglyphs. The work also included the training of local municipal workers in using the technology in various ways, and the data is now being processed for use in further cultural management applications such as erosion control in addition to archaeological survey and conservation. CyArk is honored to be digital archive for a great deal of this data, and to play a part in helping educate the general public about Rapa Nui.
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3D point cloud of Rano Raraku Moai, created from laser scan data



Discussion about preservation of the archaeological environment on Rapa Nui presents complex questions tied to the island's history, both ancient and during the historic period following European contact. With the toppling of the Moai in the 18th century CE, the island experienced a purposeful destruction of its own archaeological heritage.

By the mid-20th century, foreign archaeologists and explorers had teamed up with the native tribes people to re-erect many of the Moai and restore the ruined Ahu, starting with Thor Heyerdahl's reconstruction of the Ahu Ature Huki at Anakena in 1958. The re-erection of many Moai around the island became an important part of national identity, as the Rapa Nui embraced their ancient past and began to understand the potential benefits of increased tourism to the island.

As the Moai, Ahu, and other ancient archaeological objects around the island are mainly crafted from stone, they are somewhat resistant to deterioration; different types of stone, however, weather at different rates with different levels of degradation. For example, basalt is quite weather-resistant, while red scoria (the material which the Pukao are crafted from) tends to deteriorate quickly when exposed to rainfall and humidity. The deterioration of the Moai varies greatly depending on where in the quarries they were cut from, and by which methods. At present, however, many of the oldest Moai are at the greatest risk of degradation, having been cut from less durable tuff deposits; detail features such as the eyes, noses, and lips are eroding from these statues. The growth of lichens, as well as introduced grasses, is also responsible for a great deal of damage to the Moai.

The Ahu are at risk from high levels of erosion, both from the action of seawater and from overall topsoil degradation on the island as a result of deforestation. A tsunami severely damaged one of the larger Ahu on the southern coast several decades ago, leaving Moai scattered far from the site. Additionally, free-ranging cattle can cause severe damage to the Ahu ramps as they climb on them. All of Rapa Nui's megalithic constructions, from the Moai to the Hare Moa, are vulnerable to thermal damage from periodic grass-burnings meant both to rejuvenate cattle feed stocks and to maintain the island's park-like appearance; this cycle of heating and cooling makes the stones far more likely to crack or crumble apart. As funding to help restore Rapa Nui's native vegetation is currently quite limited, many of these cycles are likely to continue.

High-definition documentation holds great promise for Rapa Nui. It can help to assess current damage and aide plans to repair/restore damaged monuments. HDD can also be utilized as an accurate archaeological survey in order to predict potential future damage. These surveys are particularly important as they can help researchers discover and map features and sites which may not have been recognized previously. This is a necessity for a cultural environment rich in history, one that is currently undergoing a great deal of modern expansion to accommodate tourism while grappling with persistent issues of poverty and infra-structural deficiencies.
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Area Descriptions

Chicken House
Navel of the World
Rano Raraku
Rock Splitter


Aqueduct Description:

The people of Rapa Nui used several ingenious methods to manage water on this relatively arid island. Crater lakes (rano) provided much of the water, but puna (reservoirs) were dug along certain parts of the coast. Different sizes and types of reservoirs existed all over the island; most of these were designed to collect and store rainwater for long dry periods.

Taheta are worked depressions pecked into bedrock, rock outcrops, or even fallen moai. Manavani are walled enclosures, depressions or pits, located in garden areas to trap rainwater and protect plants (particularly banana and paper mulberry for barkcloth) from the wind; over 1450 of these enclosures have been recorded. Though Manavani are highly variable in design, they average about 3 to 5 meters in diameter. Often, these were used to grow cultigens in high humidity or positioned to collect rainwater in such a manner as to allow plant growth without direct cultivation into soil; so-called "rock agriculture". Dry and covered, some manavani may have served as storage for tubers. Additionally, circular stone-lined pits known as pu are found scattered around the island; these were used to collect water for taro growing along their edges.

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Chicken House

Chicken House Description:

Translated from the term Hare Moa, the Chicken House ruins are stone constructions particular only to the Polynesian culture of Rapa Nui. The Hare Moa are the most abundant free-standing permanent constructions on the island; 1233 of them have been counted. Built from small pieces of basalt, these structures generally measure around 10 feet wide, 6 feet tall, and 20 feet long, though some examples measuring up to 70 feet in length have been found. The Hare Moas' inner chambers often have both human-sized and animal-sized (chicken) entrances. Evidence points to the use of many of the Hare Moa as chicken coops during later archaeological periods, though quite a few seem to have originally been built as tombs in earlier phases (pre-protohistoric period) then later re-used as coops. In the case of smaller Hare Moa with no side openings and ill-defined roofs, they served as storage for tubers such as sweet potato and taro. These more protected chicken coops suggest that food sources may have become scarce on the island, and many of them like the wood and reeds that would have been used to build thatch coops in earlier times on the island.

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Navel of the World

Navel of the World Description:

The Rapa Nui term "Te Pito Kura" translates to "Golden Navel", or "Navel of Light", while "Te Pito Te Henua" translates to "Navel of the World"; which is what Rapa Nui is often referred to by its residents, referencing its place in Polynesian mythology. This specific site is the navel of the navel, as it were, located on the island's shore near Anakena, the spot where Rapa Nui's legendary founding figure, Hotu Matura, is said to have landed. Stone barriers surround a worked stone sphere (the "navel" itself) measuring some 75 centimeters in diameter, reputedly brought by Hotu Matura from overseas. Geological sourcing, however, indicates the sphere is actually of local origin. The Ahu next to Te Pito Kura also has the largest moai (Paro, standing 9.8 meters tall at 82 tons, with an 11.5 ton pukao) known to have been ever erected on an Ahu; toppled sometime after 1838, it was one of the last (if not the last) standing moai on the island until modern times.

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Rano Raraku

Rano Raraku Description:

Rano Raraku (Raraku is the name of a local ancestor spirit) is a caldera located near the island's southeastern corner volcano, Poike, and it served as the primary quarry for the rock carvers of Rapa Nui from the early years. Currently, Rano Raraku's recognized quarry area is 800 meters long, but was likely much larger in the past. Many of the Moai that have survived to the present were carved from the superior volcanic stone quarried from Rano Raraku.

Most of the Moai and Ahu were built starting around 1000 CE based on radiocarbon dates at Rano Raraku; with the greatest frenzy of building beginning around 1200 CE and lasting until the end of the 16th century. Many of these constructions occurred simultaneously, so a large number of statues were built in a relatively short span. 164 of the statues carved from Rano Raraku stand on the island's Ahus (stone platforms); the Rano Raraku quarry provided the only type of stone used for these particular Moai. Out of 887 total Moai inventoried on the island, 397 were carved from Rano Raraku tuff. Of these, 40.3% are found on both the exterior and interior slopes of Rano Raraku, and the majority of these are erect or nearly erect. The interior moai face west or northwest, and are largely complete except that they lack eye sockets or carving on their backs. The exterior Moai face south or southwest and are generally of a great size. Since the transport and erection of these statues was time-consuming and resource-intensive, it is possible that the large number of Moai still in the quarry represent production outstripping demand. Some scholars believe, however, that the Moai still in Rano Raraku were meant to stay there, facing the vital water source of the lake.

Moai represent respected ancestors and chiefs, often serving as funerary monuments. They primarily depict kneeling, adult male figures with arms tightly to their sides and their hands resting upon their stomachs. Moai height, width, and weight vary widely, averaging around 4 meters (13 feet) tall and weighing 11.33 metric tonnes (12.5 U.S. tons). Their basic form featured an enormous human head with a prominent, overhanging brow, a long nose, defined and pointed chin, and perforated, distended earlobes. Collectively, these statues were known as aringa ora, or "living faces". They likely served as a type of sacred border between the terrestrial world and the heavens.

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Rock Splitter

Rock Splitter Description:

Most of Rapa Nui's land that is currently used for pasture is densely filled with broken volcanic rock; these rocks were used in Manavani (rock-enclosed or subterranean gardens) or other agricultural constructions. Recent research by the island's coordinator of monuments, Sonia Haoa, has discovered that larger outcroppings of boulders in these ancient agricultural areas were used as "production rocks". Rock splitting was done by lighting fires at the base of the outcrop and heating the rocks until they fissured and broke apart. Then, smaller rocks were placed into the cracks to help break them further. The process was repeated over and over until the right size rocks were created (roughly softball size). These rocks were then used in the building of Manavani, often growing plants without any direct ground cultivation or irrigation. Not long ago the islanders just assumed that the millions of softball sized rocks were simply the result of volcanism. It has now been proved that they were all man-made for agricultural use.

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  1. An excellent resource for further reading and additional HD documentation of Rapa Nui can be found on JoAnn Van Tilburg's Easter Island Statue Project (EISP) web site .
  2. Charlota, A. Elena and Weber, Carlos A. The Preservation of Rapanui's Archaeological Heritage. From Contributions to the History of Rapanui, pp. 128-130. S.R. Fischer (ed.). Oxbow Monograph 32, Oxford: Oxbow Books (Bloomington, IN), 1993.
  3. Cristino Ferrando, Claudio and Vargas Casanova, Patricia. Archaeological Excavations and Reconstruction of Ahu Tongariki. From Easter Island and East Polynesian Prehistory, pp. 153-158, ed. Vargas Casanova. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 1998.
  4. Drusini, Andrea G. and Claudio Cristino, Ferrando. Femoral Diasphyseal Osteon Population Density and Histomorphometric Age Determinations for the Tongariki Easter Islanders.From Easter Island and East Polynesian Prehistory, pp. 159-164, ed. Vargas Casanova. Santiago: Universidad de Chile, 1998.
  5. Fischer, S.R. and C.M. Love. Rapanui: The Geological Parameters. Easter Island Studies. From Contributions to the History of Rapanui . S.R. Fischer (ed.). Oxbow Monograph 32, Oxford: Oxbow Books (Bloomington, IN), 1993.
  6. Flenley, John and Bahn, Paul. The enigmas of Easter Island : Island on the Edge. Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2003
  7. Lee, Georgia. Rock Art of Easter Island: Symbols of Power, Prayer to the Gods. Los Angeles, Calif. : Institute of Archaeology, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992.
  8. Van Tilburg, JoAnn. Easter Island: archaeology, ecology, and culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994.
  9. Yen, Douglas E. Easter Island Agriculture in Prehistory - Possibilities of Reconstruction. Paper delivered at the First International Congress on Easter Island and East Polynesia Volume 1: Archaeology. Hanga Roa, Easter Island; 1984.

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