|"I AIN'T GOT NO BODY..." [Wikipedia}|
On Easter Sunday of 1722, Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen became the first European to (ahem) discover the island of Rapa Nui. Like most other explorers of his day, he felt it was his civic duty to rename the place forthwith, so the island thereafter became known as Easter Island. To the rest of the world, anyway. As anyone who regularly works the New York Times crossword puzzle could tell you, its inhabitants still stubbornly cling to the name Rapa Nui.
Early explorers waxed poetic about the lush Polynesian paradise they (ahem) found on the island, but they were probably the most astounded by the Moai, HUGE monolithic human figures that dotted the island's hillsides...
... and still do.
When considering Easter Island, those Moai heads are usually the first image that comes to mind. But guess what? They do have some bodies... I mean, they've got SOME BODIES! Those heads are like the tips of the icebergs. The rest of the bodies are underground.
Here are some of the other statues from the island. (Just hold your horses; we'll dig up those buried bodies in a minute.)
Scientists have determined that the statues, carved from giant slabs of rock from the island's Rano Raraku quarry, were created from 1250 to 1500, and those statues, weighing upwards of 80-some tons, were then moved to their designated places of honor.
|These Agu Tongariki statues were restored in the '90s. [Wikipedia]|
A cyclone in the 1960s knocked over the statues at left, but they were restored by a Japanese team several decades later. I think it's fairly safe to say they did use modern equipment to do so.
These statues throughout the island are chiefly aringo ora, or living faces of deified ancestors. Just as the lush forests that once covered the island have disappeared, so too have the skills to carve these statues, and the knowledge as to how they were moved.
However, numerous scientific experiments have led to a consensus of opinion that these mammoth carvings walked. Or to be more definitive, they were rocked from side to side like you might move a heavy piece of furniture, and that movement, implemented with a combination of ropes, pulleys, and rollers, did the trick.( I guess you could say the ancient Rapa Nui people were real rock 'n' rollers, huh?)
Now, back to those buried bodies.
Easter Island Statue Program, whose home base is Santa Monica, California, is a private research and archive organization founded by Jo Anne Van Tilburg. Its goals: excavation, conservation, preservation, and education. (Plus a few other things, but I like the sound of all those -tions together.) The work done by EISP represents the first legally permitted excavation since Thor Hyerdahl's work with the Norwegian Archeological Expedition in the mid-'50s. So it's kind of a big deal.
And those statue heads... with bodies... are kinda big, too. Ready to see some of the EISP pictures? (Their reports and pics are in the public record.)
So, why were those ancestral statues buried up to their necks? Nothing nefarious or mysterious there. Scientists believe the burial was caused by centuries of wind, storms, and erosion. The newly uncovered bodies, protected by their years underground, are in excellent shape, (so to speak) and bear some interesting writings on them, yet to be deciphered. Neat, huh?
Oh, and lest you think you have to go to faraway Easter Island to see moai artifacts in person, you don't! The one at left is housed in a British museum. Others reside at the Smithsonian Institute and American University museum in Washington, D.C., at the Louvre in Paris, and in other museums in Chile, Brussels, and New Zealand.
Have you ever seen them in a museum?
Of course, as wonderful as it is to see things like this in a museum, seeing them in their original locales at places like Easter Island would be over-the-top exciting.
Have you ever been there?
If you ever do have the opportunity to visit this Polynesian island to see the moai in person, remember one thing: they are protected. So use your head; there will be none of this...