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How Easter Island’s Moai Statues ‘Walked’

National Geographic magazine’s July iPad app is dedicated to Easter Island’s mysterious Moai statues and the riddle behind their movement. Nat Geo’s Hannah Bloch explores scientists’ new theory about how the Moai were moved across the island and how they may have ‘walked’ from one spot to another. 
 
Easter Island is Chile’s far flung Pacific outpost, located 3000km away from the mainland. The climate is subtropical (no hurricanes) and the island is home to 5,000 people, about half of whom are Rapa Nui natives of Polynesian descent. In addition to being the world’s most isolated inhabited island, the island’s other claim to fame is its mysterious Moai statues - colossal stone sculptures as tall as 10 metres, with some weighing over 70 tonnes. 
 
Dutch explorers discovered the island in 1772 and were fascinated at how the inhabitants had been able to transport the 600 strong Moai statue collection from the quarry where they’d been made to their respective places across the island. Theories involving the statues being tied to rolling tree trunks and also dragged have circulated throughout the last 240 years, from Dutch discovery through Chile’s annexing of the island in 1888 to the present day tourism boom. 
 
National Geographic’s July issue explores the latest theory, by Terry Hunt and Carl P. Lipo, put forward in their book The Statues that Walked. Their theory that the statues ‘walked’ across the island is supported by island folklore which says the Moai moved, animated by a spiritual force transmitted by powerful ancestors. 
 
The new theory contradicts Jared Diamond's famous book Collapse (published 2005) stating that the inhabitants of Easter Island committed ecocide and that the Moai accelerated the ecocide process. Diamond claims that the Moai were transported on wooden sledges which required so much wood that more and more land was cleared by rival chiefs on the island, competing for Moai statue prestige, and when there was no more land for food or wood civil war broke out and the Moai were toppled. This theory has been used as a comparison for the depletion of natural resources in today’s world.
 
Hunt & Lipo’s theory, however, offers a much more positive view of the Rapa Nui, as people who cared for their land - the ecological disaster was an unavoidable catastrophe - and intelligently built and moved the Moai. The theory states that Easter Island was an incredibly hard place to live and farm land due to unpredictable rains meaning the islanders were used to bringing huge amounts of rock into their fields to use as windbreaks and garden inside stone circles, even trying to fertilize the soil and keep it moist. As Nat Geo’s Hannah Bloch says, ‘In short, Hunt, Lipo, and others contend, the prehistoric Rapanui were pioneers of sustainable farming, not inadvertent perpetrators of ecocide. “Rather than a case of abject failure, Rapa Nui is an unlikely story of success,” Hunt and Lipo argue in their recent book.’   
 
Watch the video to see a simulation of the new theory of how the Moai ‘walked’ on Easter Island.
 
Watch the video to see the different theories about how the Moai were transported.

To experience the Easter Island Moai Mystery first hand book a Rapa Nui Explorer Tour!