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Lessons Learned
by Liesl Clark
May 11, 1998

To the west, the full moon plunged into the ocean, yellow from the sun's early morning light. Today is our final day of filming on this remote island that has been our home for the past month. This morning Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg handed me her conclusions from the series of experiments conducted here, and the lessons she learned. They are as follows:

Reflections on what this experimental archaeology project has taught us, in human terms
1. The average statue could have been moved and erected with the combined resources of six to eight families.

2. Larger statues required more resources and greater cooperation among larger groups.

3. Pulling a statue involved the largest number of people. The transport task was, therefore, the opportunity for the community to demonstrate its unity, organized effort and dedication to their chiefs and leaders. Pride played an important role in the effort.

4. Smaller numbers of people with more specialized skills were needed for modifying, adjusting and manipulating the statue during turning and lifting after they had reached their ahu destinations.

5. All of the required skills and materials would have been available to the average Polynesian chief. These skills were learned and relearned over generations, and are typical of other construction efforts, including canoe building.

6. Problems such as we encountered during transport would have been solved by modifying and adapting the transport rig; the position of the statue on the rig allowed nicely for problem solving.

7. Pivoting or turning a statue on its transport rig before placing it in position to move up the ramp could have been accomplished with coordinated levering, as Vince Lee demonstrated.

8. Coastal and inland ahu probably required deployment and placement of people in different ways, but the basic means and methods probably didn't change much.

9. The statue acquired a history as it moved across the landscape, and a series of traditions were accumulated as people worked with the moai to reach their destination.

10. People worked on "island time," over cycles that were both natural and ceremonial.

11. The most well-traveled moai transport roads are on the south coast. The largest number and heaviest statues are on these roads, destined for ahu controlled by the more successful and powerful chiefs. Some statues on other, longer roads were probably there for non-transport reasons, i.e. politics, territory or resources.

12. Finally, our projections of time, resources and people required to move the average statue have been largely verified. The successful chief who, in ancient times, accomplished a task such as we have defined, probably accumulated and distributed the necessary resources for several years before undertaking to transport and erect a moai. Many factors could have intervened or interrupted the process before it was complete. The moai look different to me now. They are still artefacts of stone, but are no longer inert. I have a better understanding of the investment needed to make and move them, and a greater appreciation for the way they acquire meaning in the community. I have gained respect for the magnitude of the Rapa Nui accomplishment. Our moai has been christened "tangata anga" by the people who worked on this project. That means "people working," and he is a vital symbol of passionate, cooperative effort. His final home will be in the island school, where he will serve to teach young people the aesthetics of the past. Many thanks to all who sent questions and comments via this Web site. Look for "tangata anga" when next you visit Rapa Nui.

As I sit at the base of a coastal ahu ramp, where a fallen moai body lies severed from its head, I wonder if we've come closer to understanding how the ancient Rapa Nui people moved and raised their sacred stone giants. Perhaps we've only come closer to understanding our own differences in approaching this mystery. The archaeological evidence on the island—the many moai that lie face down and face up along the transport roads, and the myriad ahu that dot the coastlines and inland fields—can point in different directions. The mystery of Easter Island encourages visitors to dream up theories on how the moai were moved and raised. What is inarguable is that each theorist approaches the subject with a passion. We've witnessed a series of experiments that show we were able to move and raise a moai in this day and age, overcoming the same challenges that the ancient Rapa Nui people faced.

But the analysis of these experiments and the interpretive results that emerge will come later, from the participants in these experiments, and future archaeologists who seek to learn more about this ancient culture. For us, some mysteries remain, although for today's Rapa Nui people, they have never been in question. "It wasn't done the way these archaeologists did it here," explained a young Rapa Nui tour guide to a group of Japanese tourists. They stood puzzling at the spectacle of a concrete replica moai whose pukao has now fallen off, leaving a red gash on its perfectly shaped nose. "We believe the moai were moved by 'mana.' They walked across the land and our ancestors have celebrated it for centuries."

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)

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