A replica moai was created and transported in an experiment, filmed for NOVA “Secrets of Lost Empires: Easter Island”, 1997.
This is an edited version specifically for publication on this web site of a paper originally published in “Onward and Upward! Papers in Honor of Clement W. Meighan” (K. Johnson, ed. 2005) © Jo Anne Van Tilburg and Ted Ralston
Our model for Rapa Nui statue carving is Polynesian canoe building. Experimental anthropology has established maritime methods for pre-contact Hawai’i and elsewhere in Oceania. Canoe builders and handlers were, like statue carvers, specialists who performed expert (and often sacred) work at the behest of powerful chiefs and for their communities. Canoe experts were socially and politically powerful.
In addition to the adze, the tool kit employed in canoe building contained the clamp, chisel, cordage and drill. Apprentices began by developing basic skills, including roughhewing and hauling massive logs. When wood materials were inadequate to build the desired size vessel, planks or logs were spliced and patched. Practiced methods of joinery provided strength, flexibility and protection of lashings from the sea, and finish details were carved with intricate artistry.
Positioning, stepping, raising and rigging a canoe mast required precision timing and a well-coordinated work force. A canoe’s survival in rough seas depended upon robust and durable cord lashing, which was required to withstand forces of many thousands of pounds per square inch. Complex methods of lashing outrigger components to both single and double hull canoes required such specialty tools as the keke (or ke’ke), a Y-shaped lash-tightening device that varied in size. A device such as the keke may be depicted in the Y-shaped bas-relief tattoos on the chins of some moai.
Wire diagrams arrived at after photogrammetric work accomplished at Ahu Akivi depict the statistically average statue used in computer simulations and then in our transport experiment. ©1992 EISP/JVT.
This is an abbreviated version of a paper originally published in Pacific Art: Persistence, Change and Meaning (Herle et al. eds. Adelaide: Crawford House, 2002 for citations and notes).
Experimental archaeology is the systematic approach used to test, evaluate and explicate method, technique, assumption, hypothesis and theory at all levels of archaeological research. This paper employs a replicated moai to describe relationships between real time and individual energy, and explores the subjective artistic dimension of moai carving during an experiment lasting 32 8-hour days. It is drawn from journal notes taken by Van Tilburg from October 1997 to May 1998, by Arévalo from December 1988 to July 1999, and on written correspondence in English and Spanish between the authors.
On Easter Island (Rapa Nui) ethnographic data related to monolithic stone carving methods, production techniques and carvers are scant. In the 1800s some Rapanui persons were distinguished by their relationships to ancestors who had been famed stone carvers. Katherine Routledge, co-leader of the Mana Expedition to Easter Island, 1913-1915, collected some names of statues that were said, in actuality, to be names of carvers, and believed them to have veracity.