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Easter Island Story
3. Erecting the Moai

Once the statues were reasonably complete, they then had to be transported across the island to the platforms prepared for them. This involved a trek of 14 miles in some cases. How were these massive Moai moved to the sites? Barring any extraterrestrial influence it seems likely that they were rolled along the ancient roads that crisscrossed the island on logs lubricated with the oils from palm trees. Some suggest that they were moved in an upright position and kept stable by crews manning ropes. This mode would verify the island legends of the statues "walking" to their sites. From a distance seeing one of these great Moai moving along the road bobbing up and down as the logs moved underneath would surely have looked like a statue moving under its own power with a procession alongside it. What a sight that would have been!

However, recent computer simulations by Jo Anne von Tilburg at UCLA have shown that it would have been much simpler to position the Moai in a horizontal position on two large logs and then roll the whole unit along on other logs placed perpendicular to it. Using this method Van Tilburg calculated that an average moai could have been moved from the quarry to Ahu Akivi in less than 5 days, using approximately 70 men. Her theories were recently put to the test in a successful experiment to move a moai replica on Easter Island sponsored and filmed by Nova (see Resources section)

Once the journey was complete the Moai were positioned atop great platforms called ahu. Built at the edge of the ocean, the ahu required just as much engineering know-how and raw labor as the statue construction itself. It is here that the Easter Islanders' stonework skills can fully be appreciated. As seen in the images to the right of Ahu Naunau and Ahu Tahai, massive blocks and tons of fill were required to build the supports for the moai. Although they were an incredible engineering feat, most of the ahu built were less than elegant constructions. At one mysterious site, however, it was much different.

The stonework of Ahu Vai Uri (right) is compared to that of Ahu Vinapu (below) on the southern shore near Rano Kau. The detail shot shows the incredible precision in the stone fittings. It was this precision, so similar to the stonework done by the Incas, that gave Thor Heyerdahl the idea that the Easter Islanders had come from South America in reed boats on the prevailing currents. Stonework of this complexity had not been seen in Polynesia, but it was common in Peru. It's impossible to look at that site and not think of the exact type of stone fitting which is so common in sites like Machu Picchu. Most archaeologists consider the similarities a coincidence. If so, it is a remarkable one.

Soon ahu with erected moai were installed on all corners of the island, until over one thousand had been carved, and the population of the island also continued to grow. For decades the competition to build the biggest and best moai went on, and different ahu - each belonging to a different clan - formed an almost unbroken line along the coast of Easter Island. The culture had reached its zenith. And then something went terribly wrong . . .


4.Conflict

1. Arrival - 2. Statue Construction - 3. Erecting the Moai - 4.Conflict - 5. A New Cult - 6. Lesson from the Past

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