The enigmatic statues seen in Rapa Nui, popularly called Easter Island, a World Heritage Site, may have been built by ancient carvers with a belief that the ‘Moai’ monoliths could boost agricultural fertility and critical food supplies, according to a study.
According to the researchers, including those from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) in the US, this is the first definitive study to reveal the site used to build the monoliths as a complex landscape linking soil fertility, agriculture, quarrying, and the sacred nature of the Moai. The study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, looked at two particular Moai excavated over five years. These monoliths were discovered in the Rano Raraku quarry on the eastern side of the Polynesian island.
Analysis showed that in addition to serving as a quarry, and a place for carving statues, Rano Raraku was also the site of a productive agricultural area. Chemical analysis of Rano Raraku soil, and those in other parts of the island revealed that the quarry probably had the richest minerals on the island, certainly over the long term.
According to the study, soils in the quarry are rich in clay created by the weathering of lapilli tuff, the local bedrock, as the ancient indigenous workers carved into deeper rock and sculpted the Moai.
The study also revealed that the ancient indigenous people of Rapa Nui were very intuitive about what to grow planting multiple crops in the same area helping maintain soil fertility.
While previous research of the enigmatic statues had postulated that they were lined up to be exported to another place, the Moai excavated in the current study were discovered upright in place one on a pedestal and the other in a deep hole indicating they were meant to remain there.
According to the researchers, the Moai were central to the ancient indigenous people’s idea of fertility. The study estimated that the statues from the inner quarry were raised by or before A.D. 1510 to A.D. 1645. According to the scientists, the activity in this part of the quarry most likely began in A.D.1455, with most production of Moai ceasing in the early 1700s due to contact with western civilizations.
The Moai excavated by Van Tilburg and her team had been almost completely buried by soils and rubble. Adding the inputs gleaned from the current study, the researchers have created a massive detailed archive documenting more than 1,000 sculptural objects on Rapa Nui, including the Moai, as well as similar records on more than 200 objects scattered in museums throughout the world.