They stand in perpetual stoicism, on watch over the coast as a monument to the fallen ancestors of the Rapa Nui people. The mo’ai of Easter Island are the iconic symbol of Polynesian culture and they are one of the great wonders of the ancient world.
Easter Island, which sits over 3,500 miles from the coast of central Chile in the South-Pacific Ocean, owes its name to 18th century European explorer Jacob Roggeveen, who landed on the island on Easter day in 1722. Though most of the world knows it as Easter Island, there is some longstanding debate over the correct name for the island. The front runner in that debate is Rapa Nui (which means Easter Island in the Polynesian dialect native to the island).
Aside from the iconic mo’ai, Easter Island is known as a stunning example of poor resource management and environmental exploitation. The Rapa Nui civilization undertook massive deforestation efforts in the distant past, nearly stripping the island of all tree life. Much of its landscape today is barren, except for wild grasses that grow on the volcanic terraces.
From a one time high of 15,000 inhabitants, the deforestation of the island contributed the demise of the once flourishing population, which by the time of the first European arrival had dropped to 2000-3000 people. Disease introduced by the Europeans further drove their population down to 111 in 1877. Today there are approximately 5,800 people living on Easter Island.
The mo’ai however, stand unaffected by the passage of time (for the most part). Made of solidified volcanic ash, 887 statues were carved, it is believed, to commemorate the deaths of important members of their society. Traditional wisdom suggests that the mo’ai were carved somewhere between 1100-1680 CE, which was apparently rectified through radio-carbon dating. Those findings are in question however. Samples of ash from several mo’ai and samples from several coral eyes (with which many mo’ai are decorated) were used in the carbon14 dating procedure. The above date range is the result, however these results don’t account for the possibility that some mo’ai and their accompanying ahu – the stone (basalt) platforms many mo’ai were erected upon – could have been carved much earlier. Though most researchers agree with the dating, give or take a decade or so.
Carbon14 dating has its limitations, typically rock cannot be dated in this manner (which is why coral, that is very high in carbon, was used to come up with the date for the statues on the island), and some people, Ancient Alien theorists for one, claim that the carbon14 dating results are completely inaccurate.
As is their modus operandi, the AATs (Ancient Alien Theorists) point to elements of the mo’ai’s construction, transportation and erection and claim that our knowledge of these processes is either incomplete or inaccurate. Most of these claims are easily dismissed, such as the claim that the Rapa Nui people didn’t have the tools necessary to carve the volcanic rock. As mentioned above, the rock they are carved from is actually solidified volcanic ash called tuff and is quite soft. Not to mention that many examples of the basalt stone tools that were used have been found in the quarry, inside the extinct volcano Rano Raraku, where nearly half of the islands mo’ai are located in various stages of construction.
AAT’s also claim that the transportation of these massive statues, some weighing over 14 tons, was impossible due to the fact that there are no trees on the island to supply wood for rollers, sleds or levers. This, as most can see, is a chauvinistic view of Rapa Nui history. When the first European explorers landed at Easter Island the land was rife with vegetation. Trees, shrubs and palms were everywhere, laying waste to the claim that there wasn’t enough wood to construct sleds and rollers. In fact, a large mo’ai was recently (1958) erected on Ahu Ature Huke in Anakena beach using traditional methods, demonstrating that the so-called primitive techniques do in fact work for moving multi-ton stone statues.
Most recently however, the AAT’s have latched onto an idea that, at first glance seems to validate their position, which is that the mo’ai were carved and erected much earlier than mainstream archaeologists claim.
In the summer of 2011, researchers from the Easter Island Statue Project, embarked on what they called Field Season IV. During the course of this crowd-sourced excavation, the researchers uncovered a massive mo’ai buried under several feet of sediment and vegetation. It’s generally agreed that the mo’ai wasn’t buried intentionally, which means that sediment was deposited on top of the statue gradually over a period of many, many years.
AAT’s claim that this is proof that the mo’ai are artefacts from a much earlier civilization on Easter Island, possibly ancient South Americans or even former inhabitants of the lost continent of Atlantis. They suggest that the time it would have taken to fully bury the large mo’ai, as it was found, should be counted in the thousands of years, not hundreds.
Unfortunately, their understanding of the history of Easter Island leaves much to be desired. Due to the massive deforestation of the island, the soil is prone to massive soil erosion issues. Heavy rains and the natural movement of soil on a volcanic and tectonically active island result in large areas of soil literally moving all over the island, eventually covering up fallen mo’ai and even burying standing mo’ai up to their shoulders (most of the statues aren’t just heads, they’re actually full body carvings that are partially buried, leaving their torsos hidden.) Because of the soil erosion problem, researchers believe that the statue dug up in 2011 was buried over a period of decades, and certainly not millennia.
Despite their fervent attempts to undermine the credibility of mainstream archaeology, the AAT’s come up short when it comes to Easter Island. Each of their claims is easily answered with a little digging, and the heritage of the Rapa Nui people is safe from the pseudoscientific pillaging of Ancient Alien Theorists.
It’s a near certainty that some of you will disagree with this assessment of Easter Island and the mo’ai, and all those who would offer a differing opinion are welcome to leave a comment below.
 Thor Heyerdahl. Aku Aku. 1962. “at some unidentified date prior to AD 380, the first settlers landed on Easter Island, and found a verdant island covered by trees, shrubs, and palms.” He proved this to be true from the extensive pollen samples taken from the crater lakes with the aid of 26 feet long cores from the sediments