A private pickup truck has crashed into one of Rapa Nui’s famed moai statues and the ahu platform that supports it, “seriously damaging” the important cultural relic.
A March 1 Facebook post shared by Ma’u Henua, an indigenous community tasked with co-administering the National Rapa Nui Park. Photos posted by the group show the front end of a four-door truck rolled off of the edge of a grassy area and appears to be stuck on black volcanic rocks. It looks as though a moai statue or its ahu platform is fallen over on the passenger side of the vehicle. IFLScience sent a message to the group but has not received a response at the time of publication.
“We reiterate the importance of taking care of the heritage we have in our park,” writes Ma’u Henua, adding that the statures are not just archaeological sites but also “sacred elements for a living and fundamental culture.”
It is unclear why the man ran into the statue, or whether the act was accidental or intentional. Chilean newspaper El Mercurio reports that the private truck appears to have rolled down a hill due to a brake failure. Rapa Nui Mayor Pedro Edmuds describes the damage as “incalculable” and has since suggested imposing limitations on the use of private vehicles on the island.
Also called Easter Island, Rapa Nui is known for its elaborate architecture including nearly 1,000 moai statues and hundreds of large ahu platforms that support them. At one point, the remote volcanic island supported up to 20,000 people before the ancient society mysteriously collapsed following European contact. Science largely agrees that the famed statues were built as a focal point for social and ritual activity, perhaps to encourage soil fertility or indicate freshwater sources, but much else remains shrouded in mystery as to who the island’s ancient inhabitants were, where they came from, and why they built the massive stone statues, many of which average a weight of 14 tons.
Rapa Nui is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world located 3,400 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the western coast of Chile. A 2012 census estimated Rapa Nui’s total population at just under 6,000 full-time residents, though 2017 projections from the Chilean Instituto Nacional de Estadisticas estimates that number is closer to 7,750, according to International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.
Each year, an estimated 150,000 tourists visit the island to see the moai statues, putting pressure on an already resource-strained island that lacks a sewer system and has a limited freshwater supply. A study published last year found that a continued uptick in visits to the island bring with them trouble.
"By Rapa Nui standards, on an island where electricity is provided by a generator, water is precious and depleted, and all the infrastructure is stressed, 150,000 is a mob," said Jo Ann Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project, at the time. She adds that visitors who step on gravesites and climb the statues pose a danger to both the island and its culture