The amusing picture of two Easter Island statues buried up to their folded arms and bodies is actually not too far-fetched from reality.
Most of us are familiar with the iconic Easter Island heads through photographs and videos, but few know that these famous statues actually have hidden bodies buried beneath them. According to Van Tilburg, a researcher at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, people perceive the statues as just heads because the most famous and photographed ones are buried up to their shoulders on a volcano’s slope. However, there are about 150 statues on the island, and many have been unearthed to reveal their full form. To better understand and preserve the statues, UCLA’s Easter Island Statue Project was created, which involved excavating several of the heads to uncover their underlying torsos and bodies. These figures were carved between 1,100 and 1,500 CE by the Rapa Nui, the island’s indigenous people, using stone sourced from the surrounding area in the South Pacific.
Over time, the majestic statues on the island were gradually buried up to their heads due to successive mass transport deposits. The island’s natural weathering and erosion caused these events, which enveloped the statues and covered them in layers. A comprehensive study of almost 1,000 statues on the small Pacific Island was conducted by a team over a period of 9 years. The study aimed to determine, to the best of their ability, the meaning, function, and history of each individual statue.
On the figures’ backs, pictures engraved into stone were discovered. These petroglyphs were in the shape of a crescent, which typically represents Polynesian canoes. It is thought that the carver’s family used the canoe motif as their symbol, which could give insight into the various familial or group dynamics present on the island.
Numerous red pigments were discovered at human burial sites of various individuals, indicating that the statues were painted red during ceremonies. The proximity of these burial sites to the statues suggests that the Rapa Nui people interred their deceased relatives alongside their family statue.
Finally, let me share with you the process of carving the renowned statues. The particular one mentioned below was indeed carved, but unfortunately, it was never raised. It was meant to be a giant standing at 72ft tall, twice the height of the tallest one presently standing, weighing more than two Boeing 737 airplanes combined.
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