Moai Platform Complete
by Liesl Clark
April 26, 1998
Our faces burn from the constant battering we receive from the wind. It
dies briefly at dusk, just as the trucks are being loaded after a full day
of filming outdoors. The ahu (platform) at Tongariki has been built for the
moai-raising experiment, its back wall beautifully finished with large flat
stones. A small, dirt-covered ramp made of rock leads up to the 1.5-meter
platform. The exact dimensions of the ahu are 1.5 meters high by six meters
long by four meters wide—large enough to accommodate the 15-ton concrete
moai, which is still curing just outside the village of Hanga Roa.
In the overcast afternoon light, we drive along the south coast of the
island with Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino to inspect the many
stone ahu that remain there. Seemingly every rocky point on this rugged
coastline has remnants of a rectangular stone ahu structure on which moai
once stood. They now lie toppled, their faces hidden from view. "Ahu are
different all over the island because they were built by different tribes,"
explains Cristino. "First they would build the back wall of the platform
and the sloping ramp to the front would come last. The stone ramp was the
tool they used for raising the moai." Those same stones would then be used
to finish the platform structure.
Cristino believes the statues were toppled by humans as a consequence of
warfare. "Between AD 600 and 900, about 100 people arrived onto the island
which was, at that time, 165 square kilometers of good soil, water,
springs, and dense vegetation. By 1600, there were more than 15,000 people.
The pressure over resources was tremendous. The lower classes, who felt it
most, revolted and the island went into social crisis. Ancestral worship
ended and later slavery and even cannibalism set in." It is an apocalyptic
view, but Cristino is convinced that Easter Island's inhabitants had
reached the highest level of social anarchy, culminating in
self-destruction. "Unlike other cannibalistic societies, here, cannibalism
wasn't for ritual, it was for food."