Easter Island: Mysterious & Hauntingly Beautiful (25 pics)

March 8th, 2011 Permalink

Easter Island, (Rapa Nui) Chile, is an extremely remote island and one of the world’s most famous yet least visited archaeological sites. It has perhaps more mystery and speculation in proportion to its size than any other prehistoric place on Earth — since about half of the 887 massive stone monuments remain unfinished in its main quarry. People have wondered why so many statues were left unfinished, when was the last one carved, and how were they transported in as early as 500 AD? The Rano Raraku quarry at Easter Island is where the incredible ancient relics called moai were cut out of volcanic rock and sculpted prior to transport to various sites on the island. At least 288 of the monumentally massive moai once stood upon massive stone platforms called ahu. The moai dotted Easter Island, the paradise turned wasteland which serves as a cautionary tale and poster child for ecological disaster. [25 Photos]

Chile, Easter Island

In Chile, the Polynesian name for this island is Rapa Nui, but many people call it Easter Island since a Dutch explorer found it on Easter Sunday. Here the horses are nibbling away apparently unimpressed by moai archaeological treasures at the Rano Raraku quarry. Photo #1 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Chile, Easter Island Moai

Easter Island Moai with red topknot hats at Anakena Ahu. There are about 250 of these ahu platforms spaced about a half mile apart to create an almost unbroken line around the perimeter of the island. Another 600 moai statues are partial completed and scattered around the island in quarries, beside ancient roads, and in coastal areas. Photo #2 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA


Easter Island Ahu Tahai and Sunset

Most of the moai were carved from volcanic rock. The average statue is about 14 1/2 feet tall and weighs about 14 tons. There were some moai as large as 33 feet tall, weighing more than 80 tons. Another monumental statue was only partially cut from the bedrock, but it was a whopping 65 feet long and was estimated to have weighed about 270 tons. Some sources suggest it might have taken between 50 and 150 people to drag the moai across the island on sleds and rollers made from the island’s trees. Photo #3 by Robin Atherton

Easter Island - Human petroglyphs at Rano Kau overlooking Moto Nui

Human petroglyphs at Rano Kau overlooking Moto Nui, Easter Island. Photo #4 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

A moai silhouetted in one of the thousands of sunsets that have occurred since its being placed on the rocky shores of Easter Island

A moai silhouetted in one of the thousands of sunsets that have occurred since its being placed on the rocky shores of Easter Island. Photo #5 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

 Easter Island Moai facing inland at Ahu Tongariki, restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s

Easter Island: 15 excavated moai facing inland at Ahu Tongariki near Rano Raraku. The moai were restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s. Photo #6 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Easter Island Moai found inside the extinct volcano at the quarry Rano Raraku

Moai found inside the extinct volcano at the quarry Rano Raraku. The moai like this one were cut from the side of the volcano and stood up, but never were moved out of the quarry. They are slowly sinking into the ground. Photo #7 by Louis Vest

Chile, Easter Island - Horse following trail through the moai of the Rano Raraku quarry

Chile, Easter Island – Horse following trail through the moai of the Rano Raraku quarry. Photo #8 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Moto Nui as seen from the crater rim at Rano Kau on Easter Island

Moto Nui as seen from the crater rim at Rano Kau which is a 1,063 ft tall extinct volcano located on Easter Island. The Motu Nui islet is part of the Birdman Cult ceremony. Photo #9 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

A seemingly inquisitive moai tilts his or her head while pondering an observation for centuries on Easter Island

A seemingly inquisitive moai tilts his or her head while pondering an observation for centuries on Easter Island. The island was once a paradise, but as many as 10,000 inhabitants used up all the the island’s resources, leaving Easter Island as a cautionary tale and poster child for ecological disaster. Photo #10 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Moai NOAA's Small World Collection on Easter Island, Chile

Moai NOAA’s Small World Collection on Easter Island, Chile. Some of the Moai are placed upon ceremonial platforms and burials called Ahu. It is considered extremely disrespectful to walk on the Ahu. Photo #11 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Moai at the Rano Raraku quarry, remnants of a collapsed civilization

Moai at the Rano Raraku quarry, remnants of a collapsed civilization. To help unravel some of the mystery shrouding Easter Island, a team of archaeologists and a 75-person crew worked for one month with tools and materials available to ancients on Easter Island. In that month, the team struggled and were barely able to raise just one 10-ton moai. The experiment did not explain how hundreds of giant stone statues that dominate the island’s coast were moved and erected. Photo #12 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Best friends staying together forever on Easter Island

Best friends staying together forever on Easter Island. Moai at the Rano Raraku quarry. Photo #14 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as seen from offshore

Rapa Nui (Easter Island) as seen from offshore. Photo #15 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Easter Island Ahu Te Pito Kura, the world's navel, a perfectly round stone considered the world's navel by the Rapa Nuians

Ahu Te Pito Kura, “Navel of the World”, a perfectly round stone considered the world’s navel by the Rapa Nuians. Photo #16 by Bjarte Sorensen

Moai at Rano Raraku - Easter Island

Moai at Rano Raraku – Easter Island. This is in Rapa Nui National Park an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo #17 by Aurbina

Horses in paradise at Anakena Beach on Easter Island

Horses in paradise at Anakena Beach. This is one of two white sands beaches on Easter Island. Photo #18 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Tongariki sunrise, Easter Island

Tongariki sunrise, Easter Island. Photo #19 by Mike Green

Easter Island - A small hole-in-the wall affords a glimpse of azure surf pounding against against jagged volcanic rocks

A small hole-in-the wall affords a glimpse of azure surf pounding against against jagged volcanic rocks. Photo #20 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Easter Island Trail by the moai at Rano Raraku

Easter Island trail by the moai at Rano Raraku. Photo #21 by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps & NOAA

Osterinsel Krater-Rano Kao (Easter Island)

Osterinsel Krater-Rano Kao (Easter Island). Photo #22 by ProfessorX

There are extensive cave systems also on Easter Island, some with the ceilings and walls painted with indigenous cave art. Caves were used by inhabitants to hide during tribal wars and perhaps after those remaining started to starve. This cave is translated as “Man Eat Cave” and “Eat Man Cave” as it is believed the natives turned to cannibalism to survive. After using up all the environmental resources in what was once a lush paradise island, starvation allegedly drove the natives to eat each other. Photo #23 by Koppas

Panorama of Anakena beach, Easter Island

Panorama of Anakena beach, Easter Island. The moai pictured here was the first to be raised back into place upon its ahu in 1955 by islanders using an ancient method. Photo #24 by Rivi

Sunset at Tahai Ahu - Easter Island

Sunset at Tahai Ahu – Easter Island. Photo #25 by Francisco Abadal


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