Want to get away from it all? Easter Island will blow your mind
Here’s a riddle for you. Why are Easter Island’s famous statues like snowflakes? Because no two are alike.
Words by Ute Junker
Originally published in Australian Financial Review
This is the first surprising thing I learn on Easter Island. There is no denying that the statues – or moai, as they are known – share a family resemblance, with their prominent noses and ears. However, each one has its individual quirks, finely chiselled differences that make some seem cheery, while others appear stern. This makes sense once you learn that each moai was meant to represent a revered ancestor.
My first encounter with the moai in all their glory occurs at Rano Raraku, one of the most remarkable sites on the island of Rapa Nui, as the locals call it. For centuries, this volcanic crater was used as a quarry, mined for the tufa stone that was used to construct the moai. From here, we know that the completed moai were transported to sites across the island; experts are still arguing about how precisely that feat was achieved, given the islanders’ rudimentary technology.
It turns out that not all the moai made it out of the quarry – its slopes are littered with hundreds of them, some completed, some not. In most cases, centuries of drifting soil have accumulated around the moai, leaving just the heads exposed.
Take it from me: nothing makes you feel as small as being dwarfed by a giant head.
The mighty moai – there are more than 800 of them across the island, many weighing 60 or 70 tons and standing up to 14 metres high – may be Rapa Nui’s most famous attraction, but they are just one of the many intriguing aspects of this 24-kilometre long island.
Given its incredible remoteness – the nearest land mass, South America, is 3600km or five hours’ flight away – and its lack of fresh water, it is surprising not only that Polynesian seafarers ever made landfall, but that they decided to settle here. Precisely when that happened is another mystery, with expert estimates ranging from 400AD to 1200AD…