Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

NOVA Online (click here for NOVA home)
Secrets of Easter Island
menu (see bottom of page for text links)


A New Way to Move the Moai
by Liesl Clark
May 9, 1998







Twelve men lurched forward onto their levers and a 6 ton half-carved moai moved a few inches. "This may be the tortoise and hare approach, but it works," said Vince Lee, "slowly but surely." Partnering with carver Raphael Rapu, Lee lashed logs together with rope, creating a sort of canoe ladder as a transport rig for moving a moai. "I got the idea from the Van Tilburg transit rig. The only difference is that we have a more parallel shape and more cross beams to lever against," explained Lee.

The windless heat beat down on the Rapa Nui men whose efforts had previously pulled, levered and raised a 9.5 ton replica moai. Just 200 yards away the replica stood watching the progress of Lee, Rapu and their team. The intention was to try and transport a moai standing up, which Rafael Rapu believes may have been the method used by his ancestors. But in the morning, when the 6 ton half-carved stone moai (a work in progress of Rapu's) was lowered onto the transport rig, it became apparent that the wooden frame needed to be wider to support the vertical moai. So it was placed face down onto the transit rig and the men levered it very slowly forward.

In less than 3 hours, 12 men moved the 6 ton moai 15 feet. "That means each man was able to lever 1,000 pounds," said Lee. But the amount of effort was clearly noticeable as the windless heat beat down on the men as they took frequent breaks from their hard work. "This is meant to be a demonstration of moving a moai, using a different technique and fewer people. It can be done, but it takes longer," said Lee. The team also demonstrated how the ancient Rapa Nui people might have pivoted a moai in transport at the base of an ahu from a head first position to a base first position, ready for raising.

The consesus was that the method works, but the rig itself would need improvement. "Just look at it, it's a mess!" interjected Jo Anne Van Tilburg who felt the whole process should have had more time for planning.

"I agree, it's a mess, but with the resources and time we had, I think we were able to demonstrate a method quite different from sliding a rig on rails with the help of 60 people pulling on ropes," responded Lee. "We've learned a lot from our mistakes and know where we could make improvements for a better system."




Lessons Learned (May 11)
A New Way to Move a Moai (May 9)
Moai is Upright (May 6)
Moai Nearly Raised (May 5)
A Tourist Attraction (May 3)
The Secret of the Sledge (May 2)
Moai Ready to be Raised (May 1)
The Moai is Moved (April 30)
15-Ton Moai Removed from Mold (April 27)
Moai Platform Complete (April 26)
Moai Mold is Filled (April 24)
Moai Mold Ready for Concrete (April 23)
Statue Mold En Route (April 22)
The Team Arrives (April 20)
Arrival on Rapa Nui (April 17)






Move a Megalith | Dispatches | Explore the Island | Lost Civilization
Resources | E-mail | Table of Contents | Easter Island Home

Editor's Picks | Previous Sites | Join Us/E-mail | TV/Web Schedule
About NOVA | Teachers | Site Map | Shop | Jobs | Search | To print
PBS Online | NOVA Online | WGBH

© | Updated November 2000

Support provided by

For new content
visit the redesigned
NOVA site