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article imageMany on Easter Island Prefer to Leave Stones Unturned

By Carolyn E. Price     Jan 9, 2007 in World
Ancient civilisations versus the modern world. What to do?
For the locals on Easter Island, what to do about the hundreds of stone icons scattered around their island is a difficult question.
Currently, there are about 50 of these large statues, known as moai, that have been uncovered and repaired on the island. Archaeologists estimate, however, that there are around 900 other pieces of them that have not been unearthed. There is one site on the island, what is believed to be a hillside quarry where the island's original inhabitants mined and quarried the stones, where more than half of the 900 have been found.
"Having so many is both a blessing and a curse," said Jo Anne Van Tilburg, an American archaeologist who has worked here since 1982 and is the director of the Easter Island Statue Project. "Some are already lost, of course, but because there are so many, decisions are going to have to be made about which ones to save."
The islanders are very concerned about the planned expansion of this project because the influx of visitors to the island, 45,000 in 2005 alone, has put a strain on the local public services and their natural resources.
To restore even more statues, local critics argue, would only divert scarce resources from other scientific work that could reveal more about the culture that existed here for 1,000 years before the Dutch landed on Easter Sunday of 1722. "We don't want to become an archaeological theme park, a Disney World of moai," Pedro Edmunds Paoa, the mayor of Hanga Roa, the island’s largest settlement, said in an interview. "If we are going to keep on restoring moai there has to be a good reason to do so."
Easter Island is about three times the size of Manhattan and nearly half of it has been set aside as a national park. An additional 30 percent of the island is a former sheep ranch that is currently in the hands of the Chilean government.
Part of the debate may simply stem from sheer fatigue with archaeology and archaeologists. Ever since an expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl landed here 50 years ago, Easter Island has been a magnet not just for archaeologists, but also anthropologists, ethnographers, musicologists, botanists, biologists and art historians.
"As Rapanui we are tired of people coming here, investigating us and then going away with a 'Ciao!' and not giving anything back,"” Mr. Arévalo Pakarati said. "What did Heyerdahl really leave behind for us? You have to share the benefits and not just leave me a chocolate bar. Those days are over."
More about Easter, Island, Giant, Statues
 
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