For most, the mention of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, the small, isolated island more than 2,000 miles off the coast of South America, conjures images of giant statues known as moai.
But ever since Dutch explorers found the island on Easter Sunday in 1722, people have wondered how the Rapanui, the island’s native inhabitants, were able to transport the hundreds of huge sculptures from the quarry where they were carved to stone platforms throughout the island, all without the use of wheels or draft animals.
Over the last sixty years, scientists have theorized that the Rapanui moved the moai — some of which are as tall as 33 feet and weigh more than 80 tons — using various methods, from strapping the statues to tree trunks and dragging them on the ground to rolling them on sleds over felled trees.
But in the July issue of National Geographic, Hannah Bloch explores the latest theory, put forward by Terry Hunt, an archeologist at the University of Hawaii, and Carl P. Lipo, an anthropologist at California State University Long Beach.
Hunt and Lipo theorize that three groups of Rapanui literally “walked” moai, with nothing more than ropes, manpower and patience.
As shown in the recreation above, two groups help moved the statue forward, while another group, positioned behind the moai, uses a rope to keep the statue upright.
The theory, which is the subject of their book, “The Statues That Walked,” is supported by Rapanui folklore.
“The experts can say whatever they want,” Suri Tuki, a 25-year-old Rapanui man told National Geographic, referring to previous theories. “But we know the truth. The statues walked.” As Bloch explains, “In the Rapanui oral tradition, the moai were animated by mana, a spiritual force transmitted by powerful ancestors.”
Find a full explanation of the the various theories of the moai in the July issue of National Geographic, which is already available for the iPad and will hit newsstands on June 26.