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article imageEaster Island — Has mystery of statue's red hats been solved?

By Karen Graham     Apr 27, 2015 in Science
Easter Island's wonderful and mysterious stone statues, or Moai have gazed inland across the island for hundreds of years. Some of the Moai wear red stone hats, called pukao. How did the Easter Islanders get the pukaos on top of the Moai?
Since the early 1700s, when Europeans first set foot on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, off the coast of Chile, the imposing stone statues have been objects of fascination. The biggest question, how the statues were moved into place, has remained unanswered.
Volunteers try to  walk  a Moai. Some scientists think this is the way the islanders moved the large...
Volunteers try to "walk" a Moai. Some scientists think this is the way the islanders moved the large stone statues.
Blue Globe
Some scientists believe the statues were "walked" into place. While the theory of walking the Moai into place has gained some followers, it is still far from being accepted by the majority of researchers.
A much more accepted theory is that the islanders cut down the island's trees, using the trunks to roll the gigantic stone figures across the landscape, effectively destroying the environment they depended on, and leading to the collapse of the Easter Island civilization.
A View of the Monuments of Easter Island  Rapanui  Oil on panel (1775).
A View of the Monuments of Easter Island, Rapanui, Oil on panel (1775).
William Hodges (1744-1797)
The mysterious 'red hats' on some of the Moai
A paper presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, in San Francisco, California the week of April 16-19 proposed the theory that the pukao, or red hats sitting atop some of the Moai on Easter Island were rolled up ramps.
Some of the Moai wear red hats made of volcanic rock. These hats have a small indentation on the underside that prevents the pukao from falling off the forward-tilting statues. They are very big and bulky, sort of like Russian fur hats, and some of the pukao, especially on the larger statues are very heavy, being six-and-a-half feet (two meters) in diameter and weighing 12 tons (1,890 stone).
There is also speculation into why the pukao were red. Was there a religious or possibly ritualistic meaning in the color? Historians and ethnographers also disagree on the pukao being called "hats." They say the Rapa Nui word, "pukao" means "topknot." It is now generally accepted that the pukao is hair.
Pukao are the topknots formerly Placed on top of some moai on Easter Island. They Were all carved fr...
Pukao are the topknots formerly Placed on top of some moai on Easter Island. They Were all carved from a very light red volcanic scoria stone, Which was quarried from a single source at Puna Pau.
Travel Shorts
Researchers, including one of the co-author's of the study, Sean Hixon, an undergraduate student in archaeology and geology at the University of Oregon, found over 100 pukao, some on statues, and many more littering the island. Hixon says rolling the pukao up an inclined ramp could have been easily accomplished, and with only a few people.
The research team actually tried and documented three ways the pukao may have been placed atop the Moai. The different methods tried included, rolling a "hat" up a ramp, building a tower, using a pulley system and putting the ‘hat’ on the statue before raising the whole statue as one.
Moai of Rapa Nui.
Moai of Rapa Nui.
Hixon proposes that it would take less than 10 men to roll a pukao up an inclined ramp to place it on top of a Moai. He says the oblong shape of the pukaos kept them from rolling back down the ramp easily. The research team thinks this was the most likely method used to place the hats, but do admit the other methods they tried would have also worked.
But the best thing about this study is that maybe we have been given a little more to think about. How did the islanders really move those statues, and how did they get those heavy headpieces on top of them? The people of Rapa Nui and their mysterious Moai are an archaeological treasure, and one to be protected.
More about Easter island, Hats, giant statues, rolled into place, ramps
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