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)


Questions and Responses
Posted May 05,1998


Question
Were ancient roadways built for transporting the moai and are there any remains of those roads left today?

Cliff Wassmann
Dana Point, CA
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg
Hi, Cliff,
There are ancient roadways on the island that are essentially cleared tracks. They were first mapped in 1914 by K.S. Routledge and are visible today.

Cheers,
J. Van Tilburg.

Question
Perhaps the stones were rounded at the quarry, rolled to their final destination, then chiseled down to the end products.

Randy Young
Denver, CO
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg
Hello Randy,
Good question. The quarry, which has been fully mapped, contains 397 statues. All were finished before being transported to their ceremonial sites.

J. Van Tilburg.

Question
We are so very impressed with Dr. Van Tilburg's fieldwork. I look forward to exploring this site further.

Cassandra Coblents-J. Paul Getty Museum
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg
Dear Cassandra,
Thanks for the kind words. Cheers!

Jo Anne Van Tilburg

Question
Dear Liesl Clark: It is always fascinating to see what sorts of information gets out there! The statue we moved upright here on campus was just short of 9 tons and 4 meters high and represented a slender style of statue. We experimented with about four different methods of moving it, one of which was the tilting method, same as Pavel Pavel, but he used a group of men in closer to the statue with a wooden bar. Ours were much farther away.

The reason this is not the method they used is because the number of folks it takes to tilt it carefully are not very many, but they make a heck of a scuffle with their feet, and thus any amount of work would have produced three roads - the prepared one for the moai transport itself, and two other tracks or trails parallel to it made from the constant scuffling of feet. Using that method we only moved it a few feet before a soft section of our "road" caused it to dig its own hole! We dumped it over a total of four times during our experiments, three times forward, and one backward, and that's the one that keeps getting repeated over the TV, with the implication that method was a failure. It was not. That was the successful method, and the statue, unlike Ms. Van Tilburg's comment, is amazingly stable and no where near as dangerous as it appears. It is tied down to the "pods" as I called them. It fell over backward because our rollers jammed forward of the center of gravity. Subsequent rolling did notÉ

If you would like me to compress a couple of photos and send them your way, I would be happy to do that. They range in size from about 70k to 110k. We are incidentally experimenting with another statue at the moment, so this is a nice coincidence! Please feel free to say hi to Jo Anne, Claudio, Edmundo, Vince and others if you are in contact with them. I wish them all the best of luck in their experiments. Incidentally, I first worked on this in 1982, and then with the big statue in 1987 after earlier failed attempts in 1984. Pavel Pavel did his statue moving in 1986, but had thought about it, he told me, in 1982. Regards, - Charlie

Charles M. Love
Rock Springs, WY 82902
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg and Ted Ralston
Charlie, you may be interested to learn that rollers are of little use...rolling, sliding, or both occur depending on many factors, including interface friction condition, the ground slope, and surface smoothness condition, material variables. In our experiments, large-diameter palm rollers on smooth surfaces, rollers predominate. On rough surfaces, small-diameter rollers, lubricated sliding predominated. In any case, the lower effort condition, be it rolling, sliding, or a combination, will occur first. In all of our experiments, roller management is extremely difficult. Sliding works like a charm!

Cheers.
JVT and Ted Ralston

Question
I'm not particularly knowledgeable about the Easter Island statues, but could the stones that were made into the statues be moved to their destination and then chiseled or the like into each statue. Or the bottom could be chiseled into an arch shape for easier dragging by rope, maybe a lubricant could be spread along the bottom by setting some around it and moving the rock around the immediate area. Not that many people would be necessary, I believe. As for the erection of each statue a collection of smaller but fairly large stones or logs or log-like pieces of wood could be used for leverage and the statue could be lifted because of the heavier base.

Kenny Linsky
Brooklyn, NY
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg
The archaeological evidence is clear, that the statues were all finished prior to moving them out of the quarry. We agree that levers are essential for moving and lifting.

Regards, JVT.

Question
I am a fifth grade student and have been researching Easter Island for my school project. I have read your plans to experiment with the best ways to move the moai. Your daily dispatches are interesting and keep me in touch with your latest activities. I'll be checking your site each day and waiting to see what method for transporting the moai seems to be the best.

I think that they used seaweed as a lubricant to help the moai slide. I do not think they would use anything edible because they were growing short of food.

Elizabeth Nyberg
Old Lyme, CT
Response from Jo Anne Van Tilburg
Dear Elizabeth,
I agree completely with you! Food was much too important on Rapa Nui to use in such a way! We think one option would be the stumps of banana trees as lubrication - a renewable resource because banana trees must be cut to grow fresh each season.

Jo Anne Van T.

Question
Is there still building going on at Anakena (harbour /pier ?) It seems such a pity to spoil such a stunning little bay. Have you named the moai replica you are making, if not call it "Dave." Are any of you going to be looking further into the kneeling moai at Rano Raraku? Thanks for this site and updates, hope all goes well.

(name withheld by request)

Question
Would it not be possible to strap ropes from top to bottom to prevent cracking of the statue, then use ropes wrapped around trees and logs as pulleys further using logs as rollers. Then at the site using pulley methods to erect the statue. Finally cutting all the ropes and the statue is erected.

George Durden
Houston, Tx


Mail posted: April 26 | April 29 | May 5 | May 19


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