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Easter Island - Faces of Mystery
How were the Moai Moved?
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Did the Rapa Nui move the moai upright, like giant refrigerators?
historical drawing of moai being movedA Dutch drawing from 1728, right, seems to show natives moving an Easter Island statue in an upright position. Although it is unclear in this image whether what is being depicted is moving or erecting, Thor Heyerdahl was told by village elders that the statues walked from the quarry to the ahu. While this seems fanciful some have considered that it meant the statues where moved in an upright position.

Several experiments were carried out and although it was proven that the statues could have been moved by rocking and rolling their bases similar to the way we would move a refrigerator or large piece of furniture, the method would have caused so much damage to the base of the statue that it would seem an unlikely method except when the statue was at the end of its journey and ready for final positioning.

In the Dutch illustration, the statue is clearly on a base of some sort and workers are in the process of doing something underneath the base while others pull. American Geologist Charles Love, in a series of experiments, successfully moved a replica moai by placing it on two logs cut to fit into the bottom of the statue. When raised onto a track of wooden rollers he found that his 10 ton moai could be moved 145 feet in just a few minutes using 25 men and two ropes. Of course it would not be as easy over rough terrain and hills but the idea was plausible and fit with the "walking moai" stories.

One archeologist has a different idea. Jo Anne Van Tilburg of UCLA has become one of the premier scientists studying the Easter Island mystery. Her work has led to a complete cataloging of all know moai on Easter with measurements of every element the statue.

moving a moaiUsing computer models that took into account manpower, available materials, type of rock, and the most efficient route for transport of the statues across the island to the various locations which they had been erected in the past, and even how much food the workers would need to eat, Van Tilburg has created a convincing scenario for the most probable mode of statue transport. In her view the statues were move in a prone position.

The statue was lain prone on two long logs positioned vertically. Under these were placed smaller logs upon which the carrying logs were rolled. After plugging in all her data the result was that a standard size moai cut be moved from Rano Raraku quarry to Ahu Akivi (a distance of 10.1 km) by 70 individuals in 4.7 days. But how would this theory play in the real world? To find out, Van Tilbert set out for Easter Island with a team from the PBS show NOVA in April 1999. Her successful tests proved that the moai could have been moved by her methods. They did not prove, however, that this was they way they were moved.

To view the complete story on her experiment view the NOVA site


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