Moai are the enormous "Easter Island heads" that have come to symbolize the ancient traditions of Rapa Nui, the native culture of Easter Island. Now a part of Chile, Easter Island is the most isolated, western point of the Polynesian Triangle of the South Pacific. Rapa Nui civilization flourished on Easter Island between 1250 and 1500.
Moai are called "Easter Island heads" for two reasons. First, the statues' heads are disproportionately large: the average head-to-body ratio is 3/5. Second, many moai are buried to their shoulders, making them appear as only heads.
Most moai remain at the Rapa Nui quarry, Rano Raraku, shown in the photograph above. Tools and other implements unearthed at Rano Raraku have given archaeologists and anthropologists clues about how moai were carved.
Most moai are made of tuff. Tuff is a soft volcanic rock native to Easter Island. (A few moai were carved from basalt and scoria, other volcanic rocks.) Because tuff erodes easily, few of the moai's original designs remain. Moai that were buried retain some original markings, which are similar to Rapa Nui tattoos of the period.
Moai are known for their exaggerated brow ridge and nose. However, most moai also had decorated eyes. Rapa Nui sculptors used white coral in the eye sockets, with black obsidian or red scoria for the pupils.
All moai were toppled in the 18th century, following a Rapa Nui civil war or other internal conflict. Like the moai above, most moai were deliberately pushed face-down. The hundreds of moai standing on Easter Island today were restored by historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists in the 20th century.
What is Rapa Nui?
What is Rano Raraku?
How were moai decorated?
Why do you think most moai were pushed face-down during a conflict?
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry ancient Adjective
person who studies cultures and characteristics of communities and civilizations.
person who studies artifacts and lifestyles of ancient cultures.
type of dark volcanic rock.
brow ridge Noun
prominent bone above the eye. Also called the superciliary ridge and supraorbital ridge.
complex way of life that developed as humans began to develop urban settlements.
Encyclopedic Entry: civilization civil war Noun
conflict between groups in the same country or nation.
tiny ocean animal, some of which secrete calcium carbonate to form reefs.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
to wear away.
eye socket Noun
hole in the skull where the eyeball and its associated tissues are secured. Also called the orbit and eye socket orbital cavity.
to thrive or be successful.
person who studies events and ideas of the past.
to carry out plans.
very large stone figures carved and displayed on Easter Island.
black glass formed as lava cools above ground.
island group in the Pacific Ocean between New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island.
site where stone is mined.
Encyclopedic Entry: quarry Rapa Nui Noun
people and culture native to Easter Island. Also another name for Easter Island.
relationship between numbers or numerical values.
natural substance composed of solid mineral matter.
type of rough, crusty volcanic rock.
to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.
permanent ink decoration on skin.
instrument used to help in the performance of a task.
beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.
type of rock formed from hardened volcanic ash.
to dig up.
having to do with volcanoes.