Easter Island Heads

The Moais and Easter Island

In average, the easter island heads are 3.9 meters high and weigh 14 tons. They are human figures with a masculine shape, sculpted in volcanic hardened rough ashes. The islanders called them moai and they have puzzled ethnographers, archaeologists and other visitors since the first European explorers came to the island in 1722. Why did the first islanders make this colossal effort?

Unfortunately, there are no written records, and the oral tradition that could help us tell the story of this remote land, its people and the meaning of the almost 900 giants who decorate the sterile landscape of the island is scarce.

Meaning of the Moai

Easter Island Heads

The Easter Island Heads and the ceremonial sites remain along the coast and are concentrated in the southeast coast of Easter Island. Here, the moai have a "standardized" design, and researchers believe they were sculpted, transported and lifted between the years 1400 DC and 1600 DC. They face away from the ocean, and most archaeologists believe they represent chiefs or other male figures that had important positions in the history of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, which is the name the indigenous islanders give the island.

The statues may have been created based on the image of several supreme chiefs. Allegedly, they weren’t individualized sculptures of a portrait, but standardized representations of individuals of very noble birth. The moai can also have a sacred role in Rapa Nui life, acting as ceremonial channels of communication with the gods. Researchers believe that their physical position between heaven and earth places them in the secular and sacred land: secular because of the representation of the chief and their ability to physically be heaven’s resting place, and sacred for their proximity to the divine gods. Thus, the heads mediate between heaven and earth, people and the chiefs, and the chiefs and the gods.

What is an ahu?

Easter Island Ahu

The word “ahu” has 2 meanings in Easter Island culture. First, an ahu is the flat base of the stone where the moai are supported. The height of the ahu is around 1.20 meters. The word “ahu” also refers to a sacred ceremonial place where there are various supports for the moai.

Number of Easter Island heads

  • Total number of moai in Easter Island: 887
  • Total number of moai successfully transported to their final locations in the ahu: 288 (32% of 887)
  • Total number of moai still in the Rano Raraku mine: 397 (45%)
  • Total number of moai outside the Rano Raraku mine: 92 (10%)

Less than one third of all sculpted moai finally completed the ahu into a final ceremonial site. Was this idea of finally placing the moai on the ahu related to the difficulties of their transportation? Were the ones that remain at the mine (45%) judged as not worthy of transportation? Were they originally designed to remain in place on the slopes of the mine or had the islanders exhausted the necessary resources to finish the herculean tasks of sculpting and moving the moai?

Height and weight of the Easter Island heads

The most outstanding moai are listed below:

The biggest moai:

  • Location: Rano Raraku mine, named “The Giant”.
  • Height: 21.60 meters
  • Weight: approximately 145-165 tons.

The biggest head ever to be lifted:

  • Location: Ahu Te Pito Kura, named “Paro”
  • Height: 9.80 meters
  • Weight: approximately 82 tons

The biggest fallen Easter Island head:

  • Location: Ahu Hanga Te Tenga
  • Height: 9.94 meters

The smallest standing moai:

  • Location: Poike
  • Height: 1.13 meters

Average statistical Easter Island head:

  • Height: 4.05 meters
  • Base width: 1.6 meters
  • Frontal width: 1.48 meters
  • Depth of the torso at the middle point: 92 centimeters
  • Total volume: 5.96 cubic meters
  • Gravity center: 1.36 meters
  • Total weight: 12.5 metric tons.