Hetereki Huke’s legs ached from the grueling landscape of Easter Island. The trek across the Chilean island was more than a random holiday. Huke was standing on the same land his ancestors had settled on centuries before. Monuments of the Rapa Nui surrounded him. The structural monstrosities instilled the same awe and wonder in him as every other visitor who had the pleasure of visiting the home of the aboriginal Polynesian inhabitants. Could anyone crack this puzzle?
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How did the Rapa Nui manage to carve statues up to 86 tonnes in weight and 10 meters in height? The Rapa Nui were thought to have constructed these monstrosities between 1400-1650 A.D. Although famous for the Moai heads, centuries of neglecting the land has caused an increase in soil, dirt, rubble, weeds, and grass. But much more lies beneath the surface of these heads.
The Statues of Rano Raraku volcano have mislead many to believe the monolithic carvings are just heads. The truth is that all of these heads are attached to torsos, many of them ending at the thighs. A few complete figures kneel on bent knees, their hands protecting their stomachs. Others sit, content with their fame. Shifting soil has buried many statues, as if the heads weren’t impressive enough. But how did the indigenous tribe, uncolonized natives manage to carve create these landmarks?
Huke’s ancestors discovered the island 1,000 years ago. At its widest, the island spans about 15 miles. To this day it remains one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. As metal was yet to be discovered, the natives used basalt stone picks to carve the solidified volcanic ash. But why did no two Moais look the same?
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It’s believed that the Moai statues were built in honor of chieftains and other key members of society who had passed. Large nose, small nose, big ears, tiny ears, prominent chin. This is why the Moais have different characteristics. Their only similarity was the huge size of their heads. They intentionally based each sculpture on the person it represented. But once complete, the Rapa Nui now had a pain staking task.
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Huke’s feet burned crossing the unlevel terrain. He wondered how the people before him managed to transport tonnes of statures kilometres across the hilly island. Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and Czech engineer Pavel Pavel attached ropes to the head, allowing them to tilt the statue while pushing it on its side. A second attempt at this theory was conducted in 2012 and took 30 people to move a 5 tonne replica. But there were plenty of questions left.
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There have always been absurd theories regarding Huke’s predecessors. The most popular included extra-terrestrials. Erich von Daniken, author of “Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past,” proposed some controversial theories regarding the Moai were created by something from another planet, like the pyramids and the Nazca Line drawings. Many have dismissed his theories, but others have praised them as the only logical explanation. But the sculptures were constructed from the native stone, not foreign materials. But somethings just don’t add up.
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Atop some Moai rests boulders that resemble hats. But the rock masses actually represent hair. Traditionally, the Huke’s forefathers wound their hair at the crown of their head like a ball. Chieftains believed their hair connected them to supernatural powers, which is why they rarely cut their locks. Although the extra-terrestrial theory seems much easier, it’s more likely the men created a hill of stones beside the Moai before pushing the boulders onto their head.
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Huke has always pondered over the history of his people. The island had little resources—no metal, no livestock, and little water. And the managed to transport the giant models kilometres across the land. Their creations have not only been recognised as a UNESCO heritage site, but also attracts visitors from around the globe. But many of them avoided the sad truth of Easter Island.
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Huke, an architect, saw human bones baking in the sun. This was a familiar sight. For years, the swelling waves broke past the cliffs and broke open the platforms containing ancient remains. The tombs held a collection of artefacts—spearheads, bones, statues. But on this occasion, the remains belonged to his ancestors. The land was now crumbling beneath his feet.
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The skulls discovered on the island has given archaeologists a hint to the skeletal structures of the Rapa Nui. The long and narrow bone structure of these remains suggest the natives had longer ears than the average person now. But Huke wasn’t as pleased with the discovery as others. “Those bones were related to my family,” he explained. Their place of rest is now threatened not only by the elements.
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The UNESCO heritage site seems to mean little to some tourists. In 2008 a Finnish man hacked the earlobe off one of the ancient Moai. And in 1868, the crew of the British HMS Topaze recovered a statue from the island. This Moai is now part of London’s British Museum, and is known as one of the first sculptures. But this is the least of Huke’s worries.
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As the sea levels are expected to rise by a minimum of five feet by 2100, residents, descendants, and scientists fear nature will become a serious threat to the island. The archaeological sites are the backbone of the island’s economy. New discoveries attract tourists. The 100,000 yearly visitors provide the 6,000 residents with business, economic growth, and cultural support. The island’s tourism sector provides more than $70 million each year, with the numbers increasing year on year. But that could all change.
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Although the tourists are content with the wide planes of glass and Moai, there is one missing characteristic that goes unnoticed by many—the lack of trees. Historians all agree that at one point, the island was subject to extreme deforestation. Although it transportation for the Rapa Nui easier at the time, it has influenced the solidity of the land. There are no roots to soak up excess moisture causing graves to become waterlogged before busting. The future is worrying.
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Time is quickly running out. Ovahe Beach, has taken the brunt of the abuse. The sandy beach was once a popular spot for both tourists and locals. Now, unmarked burial sites have been unearthed from the waves, leaving people like Huke horrified. It is doubtful that climate change will cease anytime soon. So, let’s hope archaeologists discover the final pieces of the puzzle before it’s too late.