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Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

Main attractions

Ahu Tongariki - megaliths in Rapa Nui, Pacific
Part of Ahu Tongariki statues / Rivi, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

The small Eastern Island is small in geographical sense but it has unique cultural and archaeological heritage comparable to the heritage of major world civilizations.

The richness of local culture is illustrated by the incredible archaeological heritage - there are known more than 20,000 archaeological sites on this island which is ten times smaller than London. Thus, for example, there are 3,244 house foundations around the island, sometimes laid with neatly hewn stone blocks arranged in ellyptic, boat-shaped form (hare paenga - higher status houses).

Highlights of Rapa Nui are:

  • Moai and ahu. In total there are known 887 monolithic stone statues made in Rapa Nui - moai. These statues have been hewn in 1100 - 1680 AD. Approximately one quarter was installed in their proposed locations, while others are half made in quarries or left half way to their destinations. Nowadays there are reerected some 50 statues. Moais were placed on special platforms - ahu. There are known 313 ahu in Easter Island, 125 of these had moai statues - for most part one of them. These statues were developed by a learned specialists who gradually gained more and more skills.
  • Petroglyphs. Easter Island contains some 1,000 petroglyph sites with approximately 4,000 petroglyphs - nearly any site suitable for stone carvings has been appropriately used. Often these are not simple petroglyphs but rather intricate reliefs made in diverse artistic, highly original styles. Carvings often show Tangata Many - birdman.
  • Caves. There are known more than 800 caves on the island and very often they contain unique, valuable cultural artefacts. There are rock shelters - ana and refuge caves - ana kionga, which are found both at the coast and inland. Many of these caves have been secret family caves. In such caves were kept unique, often mysterious artefacts, like thousands of miniature mythical stone sculptures moai maea and also tablets with undeciphered writing - rongo rongo. Most of these caves are formed by the lava flows.

Moai and ahu

Ahu Vinapu - perfectly fitted basalt slabs, Rapa Nui
Ahu Vinapu - perfectly fitted basalt slabs / Pablo Rodríguez Madroño, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
  • Ahu Akivi - between Hanga Roa and Terevaka. Group of seven moai located inland and erected after 1400 AD and restored in 1960. These moai face a village which is abandoned long ago. This group of moai face the sunrise during the spring and autumn equinox.
  • Ahu Nau Nau - Anakena Bay. One of the most impressive and mysterious ahu on island. Here on one platform are mounted six moai who all have ornate carvings on their backs. The sculptures themselves are more elaborate than most other moais on island as well. Four moais have their pukaos (headknots). One more moai is standing separately, nearby.
  • Ahu Tahai - at the sea in Hanga Roa. This ahu consists of five moais and faces an old village site - this village could be inhabited already by the 8th century (the earliest dated settlement on island). Ahu has been built already in the 8th - 10th centuries, athough moais most likely have been built later. Here nearby is located beautiful hare paenga - foundation of higher status house.
  • Ahu Tongariki - the largest ahu with unusual history - its moai possibly were toppled during the civil wars and swept inland some 100 metres by a tidal wave in 1960. In 1955 - 1996 it was gradually restored and all 15 moai again face the sunset during the summer solstice. The largest standing moai of Easter Island is on Ahu Tongariki - it weighs 86 tons. One moai has also pukao on its head. This ahu is 220 m long.
  • Ahu Vinapu - east from Hanga Roa. Group of impressive ahus. The most impressive part of one of ahus (Ahu Tahiri) is the base of it - it is made of enormous (average weight - 7 tons), perfectly fitted basalt slabs made in different way than other ahus on island. This belongs to one of impressive achievements of megalithic cultures worldwide and poses a puzzle to archaeologists who sometimes (if looking superficially) suppose that this ahu has been influenced by Inca architecture. Tahiri most likely had some 6 moais erected on top of it.
  • Hoa Hakananai'a is unusual moai, which once was located in Orongo but now - in British Museum. It was hewn of basalt (much harder than the usual tuff) sometimes around 1000 - 1200 AD and is 2.42 m tall. Back of this moai is adorned with beautiful reliefs.
  • Paro - the largest transported moai, moved 6 kilometres far. This giant stone weighs 82 tons, it is 9.89 m long.
  • Slopes of Rano Raraku with abandoned moai, Rapa Nui
    Slopes of Rano Raraku with abandoned moai / Vera & Jean-Christophe, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.
    Puna Pau quarry - east from Hanga Roa. This small volcanic cone served as a mine of red-colored stone for pukao (topknots) of moai statues. As moai were erected, pukao was lifted on their heads.
  • Rano Raraku quarry - one of the visually most impressive megalithic monuments of the world. Rano Raraku served as a mine of moai, used sometimes around 1200 - 1700 AD. Here in the comparatively soft volcanic tuff were hewn moai sculptures for further transport to different parts of island. Numerous - 397 - sculptures are still located in situ, half-made or left on the way to their destinations. Very impressive are the semi-completed moai still standing in the vertical cliff face. Not less imposing are the moai dotting the slope and partly subsided in the ground. Rano Raraku serves as a great place to research the evolution of moai. Here is located the largest moai weighing 270 tons and 21.6 m tall, many times larger than any transported moai. Here nearby is located also Tukuturi - unusual sitting sculpture made of red stone from Puna Pau quarry.
  • Titahanga-o-te-henua in Motu Nui - small moai which was located in a cave of the small Motu Nui island. Nowadays this moai is located in Oxford, Pitt Rivers Museum.

Caves

Drawings of birdman in Ana Kai Tangata cave, Rapa Nui
Drawings of birdman in Ana Kai Tangata cave / Koppas, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0
  • Ana Kai Tangata - west of Hanga Roa. Ceiling of this cave is adorned with unique paintings which are related to birdman cult. Paintings are seen also on a boulder. It is unclear what ceremonies have been performed in this cave but the name of it means "Man Eating Cave".
  • Ana Mahina - burial cave with bones in it. Adorned with petroglyphs of Make Make deity.
  • Ana O Keke - eastern end of island. Cave with drawings, some of these drawings resemble the mysterious rongo rongo script.
  • Ana Toki Toki - cave with very impressive drawings of Make Make.
  • Roiho Cave System - 6,500 m long. The longest known cave system in Easter Island consisting of numerous smaller caves (f.e. Ana Vaiteka, Ana Te Pahu). These smaller parts of the cave were known earlier, but only in 2006 - 2010 there were discovered very narrow passages conetcting them. Here have been found human skulls, arrowheads, petroglyphs, ochre for body paint, endemic invertebrates. Ana Te Pahu contains rich Mataveri - cave garden.

Petroglyph sites

Orongo petroglyphs with Motu Nui islands in the backgrouond, Rapa Nui
Orongo petroglyphs with Motu Nui islands in the background / Pablo Rodríguez Madroño, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Below are listed some sites with cliff carvings located outside the caves.

  • Ava 'o Kiri - north coast. Three cliff panels here are covered with very valuable petroglyphs and marks. Here are found four engravings of sceletal fish, fishhooks. Site contains also cupules and specific marks. These cliffs have been used by the local people for sharpening of their working tools. This possibly was a kind of ceremonial site - tools were sharpened exactly at the location where are fish carvings.
  • Orongo petroglyphs - One of the most significant petroglyph sites worldwide with 1,274 valuable carvings documented. Large blocks of vulcanic tuff around Orongo village are adorned with beautiful carved reliefs which show mainly birdman.
  • Vai A Heva - Poike peninsula. This small hill contains tuff outcrops with carved reliefs of Make Make deity - in his large open mouth was gathered rainwater.

Other monuments

Rano Kau crater, Rapa Nui
Rano Kau crater / Robert Nyman, Flickr, CC BY 2.0.
  • Crater of Rano Kau - This is the most impressive volcanic formation in Easter Island, 1.5 km wide at the upper rim and 1.1 km wide - below, surrounded by 150 - 200 m high slope and cliffs. Bottom is covered with wetlands - numerous small lakes and occasional shrubland, crater is sheltered and suitable for growing wine and fruit trees. Bottom of this crater contains large boulder with beautiful ancient relief carvings. In the early 20th century there was reported and photographed a steam rising from the crater.
  • Orongo village - restored village built of stone, consists of 53 structures, mostly of oval form, with grass-covered roofs. It served as a ceremonial centre for birdman (tangata manu) cult of islanders: here took place the annual race for an egg of sooty tern (Onychoprion fuscatus (Linnaeus, 1766)) living on the nearby Motu Nui island. Ancient rituals discontinued in 1888.
  • Ahu Te Pito Kura - near Anakena Bay. Interesting stone setting with large sea-wave rounded boulder in the middle. This is revered as the "navel of the world" - Te Pito o The Henua. Most likely this unusual rounded boulder was revered as a talisman of some clans.

List of described attractions

Map of Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

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