Large, broad noses, strong chins, rectangular ears and deep eye slits: you might’ve heard about these Moai “heads”. Carved on the island by the ancestors of the current population, approximately half of the 887 statues documented to date still remain in the immediate area of Rano Raraku, the quarry in which they were produced.
Because most statues are set deep into the ground, add it up with their disproportionately large heads, many people (including me) tend to think of them as just big heads. But as it might not be a shock to everyone, these heads actually have something else underneath. So here’s a not-so newsflash: they have bodies! Or at least an elongated lower figure since they don’t generally have legs (oh, there is a statue kneeling but I guess you get the point). These bodies also have petroglyphs (rock markings) preserved below the soil level, where they have been protected from erosion.
The Eastern Island Statue Project (EISP) is a dedicated research aiming to excavate, conserve, collect and manage data, advocate preservation and stewardship, outreach communities, and expand opportunities and education of students. This extensive research includes, among the dry details, a day-by-day journal of the work, as well those remarkable photographs showing the petroglyphs and team members excavating.
Once this exploration is thoroughly documented, questions about their context, use, and meaning will come next. For through this understanding, we may also be able to further comprehend aspects of ancient social organization.
Well, I told you there's a kneeling one!
“The role of the statue cult as a component of technological development and subsequent ecological degradation is central to tracing the arc of statue form change and culture transformation over time,” said an archaeologist and project director of EISP, Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D.
“The continuity, unity, and congruence of how the human form was used in art, across Oceanic time and space, suggests the existence of a common, underlying “ancestral” Polynesian theme. The embodiment of that theme appears to be evident in the sculpture and funerary customs of Easter Island,” he added.
This discovery isn’t just a fun exploration of the Eastern Island “heads”, for as the excavation goes deeper and deeper, so does our understanding on how our ancestors lived their life before. Art has long been utilized by people and this Moai “heads” discovery can shed a brighter light as to its use in shaping and changing our culture.