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This story is from UCLA Immediately, a discontinued print and web publication.
There’s more to the world-well-known heads of Easter Island than meets the eye.

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Ask archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a research associate on the UCLA Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and director of its Rock Art Archive, who has been lecturing and writing about Easter Island’s iconic monolithic statues for years.

As the director of the Easter Island Statue Undertaking — the longest-continuous collaborative artifact inventory ever performed on the Polynesian island that belongs to Chile — Van Tilburg has opened a window on certainly one of the best achievements of Pacific prehistory on one of the distant inhabited islands in the world.

She and her group of resident Rapa Nui have spent 9 years locating and meticulously documenting the practically 1,000 statues on the island, figuring out their symbolic which means and operate, and conserving them utilizing state-of-the-artwork methods.

After spending 4 months during the last two years excavating two of the statues and posting the outcomes of their digs on the project’s website, Van Tilburg was shocked to discover that a big segment of the general public hadn’t realized that what they knew solely because the Easter Island “heads” really had our bodies.

The two “heads” in the quarry the place Van Tilburg’s workforce dug are standing figures with torsos, truncated on the waist, which have become partially buried by eroded dirt and detritus over centuries.

When Van Tilburg posted photographs of the excavated statues on the project’s webpage about four months ago, the blogosphere lit up with surprise, generating a mass flurry of emails. Three million hits later, the Easter Island Statues Project (EISP) website crashed.

“I was completely blindsided,” mentioned Van Tilburg, who’s again in Los Angeles, but will return to Easter Island in October to proceed excavating. “However now I fairly perceive it, as a result of a lot of the photographs which can be broadly accessible on the internet, and definitely in books, deal only with the very photogenic statues that are positioned on the slopes of the quarry wherein they had been carved.”

Buried to mid-torso, she said, the statues (which the Rapa Nui call moai, pronounced MO-eye) “do look like heads solely. And, indeed, through the years, the statues had been usually referred to because the Easter Island heads. But now people are aware they have bodies. I feel that’s fabulous. I adore it when good science will be become public info so quickly.”

Whereas many of the statues had been moved by their creators to ceremonial sites, about half of the statues remain in and across the quarry, the Rano Raraku volcano crater. Attempts have been made to excavate greater than 90 of the 149 statues that are upright and buried to their torsos there. But the EISP’s two excavations are the primary in that location to be methodically executed and documented according to archaeological requirements, Van Tilburg stated. The excavations, which started in 2009, are funded by the Cotsen Institute, the Archaeological Institute of America and EISP.

From her studies of those two statues, the archaeologist is satisfied that the statues were partially buried naturally by eroded dirt, not by the Rapa Nui. She discovered approximately the identical amount of dirt that partially buried the statues also stuffed the quarries located near the place they stood.

The excavations additionally revealed other details about these megaton behemoths.
While petroglyphs have been seen earlier than on components of the statues that have been above ground, Van Tilburg’s excavations extended down to the bottom of the statues and revealed etched petroglyphs on the backs of the figures. She was especially intrigued by the repetition of crescent shapes that symbolize Polynesian canoes, she mentioned.

“What we found beneath the bottom of one of many statues was a signature stone, a basalt rock with an incised drawing of a crescent, or canoe motif” she mentioned. Van Tilburg believes this was the mark of its carver or the household group to which the carver belonged.

“Over time, it appears, extra of those canoes have been etched onto the statue in a constant repetition of identity reasserting who they have been. As the neighborhood lost a sense of identification over time, perhaps they wanted to mark these statues as their own,” she mentioned.

“Easter Island: The Mystery Solved”
Explorer Thor Heyerdahl excavated this Easter Island statue in 1954-55. The UCLA project is the primary, legally permitted archaeological challenge in the quarry since Heyerdahl’s dig. Photo is from Heyerdahl’s ebook, “Easter Island: The Mystery Solved.”

Between the 2 statues, the diggers also uncovered proof of the technology that was used to move the large statues upright — one of the statues Van Tilburg labored on stood 21 ft (about two stories ) tall.

“We discovered a spherical, deep post gap into which the Rapa Nui had inserted a tree trunk,” she mentioned. Van Tilburg mentioned ropes had been attached to the tree trunk and to the partially carved statue. “We discovered a rope information that was really carved into the bedrock close to the statue.” The Rapa Nui then used the tree trunk to lift the statue upright. Before the statue was upright, they carved its entrance. As soon as it stood erect, they finished the back, Van Tilburg explained.

The excavation crew also discovered about 800 grams of pure pink pigment — nearly two pounds — within the burial hole, along with a human burial. Van Tilburg believes the pigment was used to paint the statues, just as the Rapa Nui used pigment to paint their bodies for certain ceremonies. The unusually giant amount of pigment found indicates that it might have been used by a priest or chief, perhaps as part of mortuary apply, she said. Human bones were found throughout the dig, indicating that individuals buried their dead across the statues.

To protect the statues from water damage, Van Tilburg’s crew, which included Monica Bahamondez, director of Chile’s Nationwide Center of Conservation and Restoration, utilized a chemical answer to the surface after which refilled the opening they had dug. Cotsen Research Affiliate Christian Fischer, working with the UCLA/Getty Master’s Program on the Conservation of Ethnographic and Archaeological Supplies, aided in this effort.

“Conservation is a extremely important part of what we’re doing,” the archaeologist stated. She stated she hoped that Rapa Nui young people might be educated and employed to treat the remaining statues standing within the quarry. The Rapa Nui National Park, the agency in command of this World Heritage stone island mussola gommata field jacket site, and Van Tilburg and her staff are planning together to make that a actuality.

“The entire employees that I work with on Easter Island are from Rapa Nui. I’m very happy with that,” mentioned Van Tilberg.

To learn extra about the Easter Island Statue Undertaking and see more pictures, together with these of the Rapa Nui excavation team, go here. A 2009 story in Backdirt, a journal from the UCLA Cotsen Archaeological Institute, focuses on the project to save the moai.

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