One of the Mysteries of Rapa Nui is Solved

British scientists discover the origin of the crowns worn by the enigmatic statues

British scientists have finally explained part of the mystery of the red crowns worn by the moai of the Puna Pau quarry in Easter Island (Chile), thanks to the discovery of a road that was used to transport them. Today, Professors Sue Hamilton of the University College in London and Colin Richards of Manchester University said the crowns were made of volcanic rock from an ancient volcano in the area, and that they were manufactured by the Polynesian inhabitants of the island between the years 1250 and 1500.

According to a press release from Manchester University, the way in which the inhabitants carried these rocks of several tons in order to place them on the moai remains an enigma. Hamilton and Richards directed the first British team to visit the island since 1914, and they were the first archeologists allowed to conduct an excavation in Puna Pau. "We now know that the crowns were rolled along a road built with a cement of compressed red slag dust with an elevated side", explained Richards, who said that “probably, they were pushed by hand, although it is also possible that wooden logs were used.”

Hamilton pointed out that Puna Pau lies inside the crater of an extinguished volcano, and that “one third of the crater was used to produce these crowns.” “Until now, we have located over 70 crowns in the ceremonial platforms and along the road. Many more may have been broken and incorporated to the platforms,” he added. They also discovered an obsidian ax with a 17 centimeter blade, possibly owned by one of the workers in charge of transporting the crowns. Allegedly, he abandoned the blade as an offer to the gods.

According to the British researchers, the ax and the way in which the broken crowns are aligned along one of the sides of the road suggest the road was a ceremonial avenue that led to the quarry. “It is clear that the quarry was sacred, but also industrial,” said Professor Richards, who recalled that “the Polynesians saw the landscape as something alive, and considered that after sculpting the stone, the spirits became part of the statues”.

Richards said that, initially, the inhabitants of the most remote place in the planet (the island lies 4000 kilometers away from the Chilean coast) built the moai with different types of local stone, and that it wasn’t until the years 1200 and 1300 that they stopped making the statues and started manufacturing crowns. The investigation set to last 5 more years also offers details about life in Easter Island 500 years ago, where people "lived in a successful and well organized society, in a well managed vital context."

"70% of the island was transformed into open gardens and agricultural land, where a complex system was used in order to keep the surface moistened,” he said. As for Puna Pau, they concluded that it was a secret place that could not be seen from other parts of the island and where the production could not be heard, since it took place within the crater. Everything seems to also point out that different teams worked in the quarry and competed in order to have their own areas of production within Puna Pau, says Richards.