Most of us are familiar with the iconic images of the Easter Island heads, whether through photographs or videos. However, what many may not realize is that these heads actually conceal buried bodies underneath the earth.
According to research by Van Tilburg, a scholar at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, the misconception arises from the fact that approximately 150 statues are buried up to their shoulders on the slope of a volcano.
These statues are the most famous, visually striking, and frequently photographed among all the Easter Island statues. As a result, those who haven’t encountered images of other excavated statues on the island assume they are mere heads.
A team of archaeologists from UCLA initiated the Easter Island Statue Project to delve deeper into the study and preservation of the statues crafted by the Rapa Nui people between 1,100 and 1,500 CE, using stone from their local surroundings in the South Pacific. Through their efforts, the team excavated several statues, revealing their underlying torsos and bodies.
Over time, the heads had become buried under layers of successive mass transport deposits on the island, gradually concealing the lower parts of the statues as the natural processes of erosion and weathering took their course.
Spanning nine years, the project documented and analyzed nearly 1,000 statues on the small Pacific Island. The team endeavored to decipher the significance, function, and historical context of each individual statue to the best of their ability.
During their research, they discovered etched petroglyphs on the backs of the figures, often depicting crescent shapes representing Polynesian canoes. This motif likely symbolized the carver’s familial connections, offering insights into the diverse familial or communal structures on the island.
Furthermore, traces of abundant red pigment found at human burial sites near several statues suggest that the statues were likely painted red for ceremonial purposes. These burial sites frequently encircle the statues, indicating that the Rapa Nui people interred their deceased alongside their family’s statue.
Lastly, a fascinating insight into the process of crafting these famous statues: one of the carved statues depicted in the article was never erected but would have stood an impressive 72 feet tall, towering over the tallest standing statue at 33 feet high. Its weight would have exceeded that of two Boeing 737 aircraft.
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