Rapa Nui’s Silent Moai

Rano Raraku

Photo by Frank Kehren

Having just finished reading Aku Aku, Thor Heyerdahl’s seminal work from the 1950’s, there’s an urge to see more of the mysterious and wildly remote Easter Island. Known worldwide for it’s huge, breathtaking Moai (or statues), Easter Island stunned archaeologists and scientists, who didn’t understand how a primitive culture on a remote island could have created such huge, heavy statues out of rock, with no use of metal tools or wheels.  Heyerdahl led a major scientific exploration of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the 1950’s, and literally unearthed many groundbreaking secrets on the Moai, including the surprise that the statues had tall bodies, buried deep underground.

All in all, 887 giant statues have been discovered or unearthed, with many more found in partial-sculpted form. The statues also had elaborate red stone “top knots” on their heads, precariously perched more than thirty feet up, but have fallen or been destroyed over hundreds of years.

A highly recommended read, Aku Aku delves into the mysterious Moai, but also the polynesian peoples of Easter Island, their traditions and superstitions, and much more.


This painting by William Hodges in 1775 shows the statues in their more upright, fully realized form, with red top knot additions.

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Explorer Thor Heyerdahl, after he and his team excavated one of the Moai to find that it went far below ground, hiding a full torso.

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Thor Heyerdahl on a return trip to Rapa Nui, Easter Island.

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Photo by David Berkowitz