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When you picture the massive stone heads on Easter Island (a tiny speck way out in the Pacific) you probably picture just that heads. Yet these incredible sculptures are so much more.

The statues, called moai, were built between the years of 1250 and 1500 CE by the Rapa Nui people, who originally hailed from Polynesia. There are 887 of them in total on the island, and the tallest of them is 30 feet tall and weighs 82 tons. Despite their massive size, there”s evidence that many were moved around the island.

The carvings represent deified ancestors, and were originally positioned to gaze out over their ancestral lands.

The carvings represent deified ancestors, and were originally positioned to gaze out over their ancestral lands.

This field is studded with moai heads, which have been here for hundreds of years.

This field is studded with moai heads, which have been here for hundreds of years.

But the statues aren”t just heads. Underground, researchers found that they actually have complete bodies. Over the centuries, the elements had simply buried them neck-deep in soil. The bodies extend several meters down into the soil, and while many have been excavated, more are still buried. The bodies are also covered in petroglyphs that can”t yet be deciphered.

Excavated statues at Ahu Tongariki.

Excavated statues at Ahu Tongariki.

Some of the more recently built moai have these topknots, called pukao, which represented the topknot worn by chieftains.

Some of the more recently built moai have these topknots, called <em>pukao</em>, which represented the topknot worn by chieftains.

The statues would have also been decorated with eyes like this, made from white coral. This statue”s eyes have been reconstructed. It”s believed that when the moai were new, their decorations would have explained who they were meant to represent.

Most moai are on the coasts, and this excavated group is the most inland of all the moai.

Most moai are on the coasts, and this excavated group is the most inland of all the moai.

Several digs have revealed the bodies below the surface.

Several digs have revealed the bodies below the surface.

The digs have also exposed the carvings on the statue”s backs. We don”t know what they mean yet.

The digs have also exposed the carvings on the statue

It”s possible that they represent the traditional Rapa Nui tattoos that the people had, or maybe they communicate a story about the particular ancestor. They”re currently being studied.

Sometime around 1500, construction of the moai stopped. The people”s religion shifted, too, from ancestor worship to a religion that worshipped a half-man, half-bird figure.

Sometime around 1500, construction of the moai stopped. The people

By the 1700s, due to the island”s clans clashing and struggling for power, many of the moai were toppled, while others fell during earthquakes. After that, the island, which was facing food shortages due to deforestation, was colonized by Christian missionaries, who began repressing the native traditions. Because of all this, the moai”s true stories are still shrouded in mystery.

Today, more than 50 moai have been re-erected, excavated, and placed back on their original stone platforms. Some have been shipped off to museums in other areas of the world.

Today, more than 50 moai have been re-erected, excavated, and placed back on their original stone platforms. Some have been shipped off to museums in other areas of the world.

(via ArtFido, Wikipedia)

Today, the moai of Easter Island are included in the UNESCO World Heritage sites, and their study is ongoing. Organizations like the Easter Island Statue Project are continuing to discover new information about the statues, how they were built and transported, and about the people who built them. If you ever venture out to Easter Island, be sure to check them out. You really can”t miss them!

For more mysterious works of times and peoples past, see what others in the world have created:

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