Today a team of 60 Rapa Nui people pulled a replica moai statue almost 100
meters over the muddy, rock-strewn terrain on this island's south coast.
We learned two things today. First, we don't need the crew we estimated to do the moving.
Second, our estimate of the the weight of the statistically-average moai may be too high, and our
replica weighs nearly 10 tons, not 15. "We did it!" exclaimed
Jo Anne Van Tilburg, "and I'm sure
we can move it uphill or on any terrain." But even as Van Tilburg's team
celebrated their preliminary success, the question remains whether this
was the actual method the Rapa Nui culture used to move these massive stone figures as recently as 300 years ago.
The moai transport experiments began with an attempt to move the replica on a sledge with eucalyptus rollers over rails positioned on the ground. Face
up and head first, the concrete moai was placed by crane between the
original moai quarry at
Rano Raraku, and Tongariki,
the largest ahu on
Easter Island. With the aid of levers, the expertly-lashed wooden sledge
moved over the rollers a few feet, but soon the rollers jammed into each
other. "We've proven it slides, it doesn't roll," explained Jan Van
Tilburg, Jo Anne's architect husband. The Van Tilburg team then decided to
lash the rollers to the sledge and slide the whole rig over the rails.
"This represents the transfer of technology from a traditional Polynesian
canoe ladder to transporting a Rapa Nui moai. Local traditions are well
represented here," said Jo Anne Van Tilburg, who enlightened us on how her
team came up with this method of transporting a small moai the size of a
mini bus. Polynesian canoe-voyaging technology is the crux of Van
Tilburg's theory of moai transport.
Urged on by Van Tilburg's team, the 60 Rapa Nui pullers moved the moai
over relatively flat terrain rapidly. The success of the day was seen as
both a victory, but also as an opportunity to look closely at the
archaeological evidence that exists elsewhere on the island. How many
people were actually used to move a moai of this size? Were the moai
transported face up or face down? What would it have been like to use
Jubea chilensis, the palm logs available on the island to the original
Rapa Nui people? It moved, but is this the method the ancient Easter Islanders used?
Tomorrow the Van Tilburg experiments continue. They will use a crane to
reposition the moai face down on the sledge and transport it an
estimated 200 meters to a sloping road that leads toward the ahu
and pedestal. The ahu has been constructed for the raising experiments,
which will begin in two days. The challenge in moving the moai will be
greater on a sloping road, and especially difficult on the the uphill ramp that will put the
moai at its final resting place before being raised.