The Moai, those iconic giant stone human figures of Easter Island, have long been a rich source of mystery and theories. One of the many mysteries is how the heck they got to their final locations, given their size, heft, and distance from the quarries where they were cut.
Walking the Moai
Researchers have successfully tested a method for moving one of these huge statues
Two researchers, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo, came up with a theory. They tested it to surprising effect: their teams of assistants were able to successfully "walk" a replica along a path. The replica was ten feet tall and weighed five tons, and required three teams of about ten people each.
The process was not too dissimilar from when you "walk" a dresser or bookshelf that is too heavy to carry or drag. The key is to shift the weight from one side to the other, without letting it tip over, and to pivot the item slightly with each shift. This method takes advantage of some basic principles of physics, particularly leverage.
The original moai are considerably larger and heavier, but the principle is presumably the same. You would simply need more people on each team. Original moai were up to 30 feet tall, with the heaviest weighing in at an estimated 86 tons.
Most people are familiar with the moai heads, but the statues had bodies as well. Most of those bodies were buried inside deep holes, so that only the heads were visible above the soil line. Their eye sockets, most of which stare out empty now, were originally designed to hold eyes made of white coral with pupils of black obsidian. When the eyes are restored to the moai, the effect is even more unsettling than before.
The moai serve as the "living faces of deified ancestors." They were considered more than just a headstone or ceremonial marker, but an actual living object imbued with the spirit of the ancestor which that particular statue represented. This made them powerful objects, which is why so many of them were toppled by rival clans during the transitional era after the Europeans made contact with Easter Island.
There still remain many mysteries regarding the moai. Even if these researchers have been able to prove the way in which they were transported, we still don't know how their hats were placed. Many moai have large cylindrical hats or topknots placed atop their head, made from a carved reddish volcanic stone. We have evidence that they were rolled to their sites from their quarries, but how they were lifted up to be placed atop the statues' heads remains a mystery.