The Heads of Easter Island

image of easter islands heads

The famous heads on Easter Island that you’re familiar with from many documentaries and feature films are actually called Moai heads or Rapa Nui heads. They were first discovered by Europeans who landed there in 1722, but their history is far older than that. 

The Moai heads are thought to date back around 1500 years to a time when the area was ruled by clans and spiritual chiefs. These heads are thought to be the stone busts of deified ancestors of the Rapa Nui people.

The main quarry for these heads is the Rano Raraku area where around half of them are still standing. The rest have been transported around Easter Island and set on stone platforms called “Ahu.” The statues have overly large heads that account for three-eights of the statue’s total size. 

These statues were first carved around 1500 years ago by Polynesian settlers who came to the Island. They are thought to represent the deceased ancestors of these people, ones who had a particular influence or significant wealth. The size of the statue on the Ahu is often indicative of this. 

For some time the movement of the statues remained a mystery. Researchers couldn’t understand how such massive structures were transported across the island by primitive people. It is now believed that wooden sledges and ropes were used which would have required 50 to 150 people. 

The statues continue to be the subject of speculation and debate as no certain answers have emerged for their purpose and symbolism. Despite this, or perhaps due to it, the statues continues to be extensively studied for answers and visited by tourists for their impressive size and beauty. 

Image – “statue on Easter Island or Rapa Nui in the southeastern Pacific” by Aliaksei, licensed for Interesting Everything by Splashlime via adobe stock. 

Our resident science writer, James, has a long history of posts on Interesting Everything. James lives with his wife and british bulldog George in Aberdeen, Scotland.