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,"
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."