After years of long debates, researchers have probably come into a conclusion on how the inhabitants of Easter Island have managed to place hats on famous Moai statues.
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, at the southeastern point of the Polynesian Triangle. Its 887 monumental statues were created by the early inhabitants during the early second millennium CE as part of their thriving and industrious culture. European arrival in 1722, under the leadership of Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, found the island with a population of 2.000–3.000 inhabitants (from 15.000 a century earlier). Rapa Nui’s inhabitants reduced to 111 in 1877, due to European diseases and Peruvian slave raiding.
The famous Moai statues, carved by the Rapa Nui people between 1250 and 1500 CE, are human figures of their deified ancestors. Almost all of them have large heads, three-eighths the size of the whole statue. Their average height is 13 feet (3.9624 m) and weight 14 tons (12.700 kg). When Europeans first visited the island, the statues gazed inland across their clan lands. Hundreds of them were transported from Rano Raraku, the main Moai quarry, and placed around the island’s perimeter. Nearly half of them still remain at Rano Raraku.
A number of the Moai statues have pukao, bulky cylindrical hats on top of their heads. Archaeologists suggest they may have represented dressed hair or headdresses of red feathers worn by chiefs throughout Polynesia. These hats, made from red volcanic rock called scoria, were balanced as a separate piece. What still remains unknown is whether they were raised with the statues or placed after the statues were erected.
A new study suggests that the inhabitants of Easter Island used ramps to roll up the pukao into place. According to Live Science “simple physics to model the force and torque required to place the pukao atop the Moai via different techniques, such as rolling the objects up a ramp to the top of the statues, building a giant tower and using a pulley system, or erecting the pukao and Moai simultaneously.”
The findings were presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology by Sean Hixon, undergraduate student in archaeology and geology at the University of Oregon. Hixon suggested that the rolling could easily be done by less than ten people.
This theory is supported by features, such as indentations at the bases of the hats and their oblong shape, which would have provided traction. Nevertheless, according to Hixon, research is not yet conclusive. Erosion and damage have altered the sides of the pukaos, so it difficult to say if the scratches on the outer surface were deliberately placed. Further research has to be conducted in order to explain the mystery of the massive hats on top of the majestic Moai statues.