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The Mystery of Easter Island Giants

The Mystery of Easter Island Giants
On the remotest island on the face of the planet stand the massive, enigmatic stone statues of Easter Island. Who carved them? And why? Ever since Easter Island was first discovered, this tiny pinprick of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean has baffled scientists. How did the ancients who peopled this place even find it? Host sets out to unveil the mysteries of the island and of the remarkable stone heads that its first inhabitants left behind. Delving into the world of ancient Pacific Islanders, he relearns the lost art of Polynesian navigation, recreates the techniques of Easter Island masons, and participates in dangerous ancient rituals--all to solve one of the greatest enigmas of our time: the mystery of Easter Island. Moai Listeni/ˈmoʊ.aɪ/, or mo'ai, are monolithic human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people from rock on the Chilean Polynesian island of Easter Island between the years 1250 and 1500. Nearly half are still at Rano Raraku, the main moai quarry, but hundreds were transported from there and set on stone platforms called ahu around the island's perimeter. Almost all moai have overly large heads three-eighths the size of the whole statue. The moai are chiefly the living faces (aringa ora) of deified ancestors (aringa ora ata tepuna). The statues still gazed inland across their clan lands when Europeans first visited the island, but most were cast down during later conflicts between clans. The production and transportation of the 887 statues are considered remarkable creative and physical feats. The tallest moai erected, called Paro, was almost 10 metres (33 ft) high and weighed 82 tons; the heaviest erected was a shorter but squatter moai at Ahu Tongariki, weighing 86 tons; and one unfinished sculpture, if completed, would have been approximately 21 metres (69 ft) tall with a weight of about 270 tons. The islanders themselves tore down the standing moai after their civilization broke down. The moai are monolithic statues, their minimalist style related to forms found throughout Polynesia. Moai are carved in relatively flat planes, the faces bearing proud but enigmatic expressions. The human figures would be outlined in the rock wall first, then chipped away until only the image was left. The over-large heads (a three-to-five ratio between the head and the trunk, a sculptural trait that demonstrates the Polynesian belief in the sanctity of the chiefly head) have heavy brows and elongated noses with a distinctive fish-hook-shaped curl of the nostrils. The lips protrude in a thin pout. Like the nose, the ears are elongated and oblong in form. The jaw lines stand out against the truncated neck. The torsos are heavy, and, sometimes, the clavicles are subtly outlined in stone. The arms are carved in bas relief and rest against the body in various positions, hands and long slender fingers resting along the crests of the hips, meeting at the hami (loincloth), with the thumbs sometimes pointing towards the navel. Generally, the anatomical features of the backs are not detailed, but sometimes bear a ring and girdle motif on the buttocks and lower back. Except for one kneeling moai, the statues do not have clearly visible legs. Six of the fifteen moai at Ahu Tongariki Though moai are whole-body statues, they are commonly referred to as "Easter Island heads". This is partly because of the disproportionate size of most moai heads and partly because, from the invention of photography until the 1950s, the only moai standing on the island were the statues on the slopes of Rano Raraku, many of which are buried to their shoulders. Some of the "heads" at Rano Raraku have been excavated and their bodies seen, and observed to have markings that had been protected from erosion by their burial. The average height of the moai is about 4 m (13 ft 1 in) high, with the average width at the base around 1.6 m (5 ft 3 in) across. These massive creations usually weigh in at around 12.5 tonnes (13.8 tons) a piece. All but 53 of the 887 moai known to date were carved from tuff (a compressed volcanic ash) from Rano Raraku, where 394 moai and incomplete moai are still visible today. There are also 13 moai carved from basalt, 22 from trachyte and 17 from fragile red scoria. At the end of carving, the builders would rub the statue with pumice.

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