The monolithic rock statues of Easter Island have mystified us for centuries. More recently, confusion about these postcard-friendly monuments has been fueled by viral images that appear to show these stone heads with giant bodies beneath them. So, what’s really beneath the shoulders of these ancient titans?
The figures, known as the “Moai,” were carved by the Rapa Nui people on a remote Chilean island in the Pacific Ocean. Estimates vary for when these stone monoliths were carved, but most experts agree it occurred somewhere between 1100 and 1500 CE.
The tallest ever erected, known as “Paro,” is estimated to be almost 10 meters (33 feet) high. Remarkably, there are over 887 Moai on the island. While the archeological community have been aware that these stone heads have bodies since 1914 during the Mana Expedition with Katherine Scoresby Routledge, this fact seems to have taken some of the public by surprise.
Much of the confusion seems to come from the most popular images, and probably the earliest images, of the statues buried up to the neck. In fact, the vast majority of the statues remain unburied and are exposed in their entirety.
Sadly, none of the statues look as impressive as the "arms crossed" illustration above.
Van Tilburg, from the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, explained to Live Science: "The reason people think they are [only] heads is there are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues. This suggested to people who had not seen photos of [the other unearthed statues on the island] that they are heads only."
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