Among the most famous works of art in the world are the moai–the proper name for the giant stone heads that still populate Easter Island long after its former inhabitants, their creators, disappeared. But as is so often the case with things legendary, the story we usually hear is not the full one–there is more to the moai than meets the eye. For starters, they have bodies. That’s right–every one of the 887 stone figures sports a torso, arms, and in some cases even legs to go along with those enormous heads (which, taking up about 2/3 of each sculpture, are admittedly prominent noggins.) But this fact is mostly buried because the bodies are, having been covered in soil and rock not by their creators–according to archaeologists with the Easter Island Statue Project–but by the joined caprice of weather and time.
For that weather the statues–the tallest of which stands at 33 feet and weighs over 82 tons–were originally prepared: they once wore large red hats carved of scoria stone from the island’s Puna Pua quarry. We know this because many of the figures’ buried lower strata contain illustrative petroglyphs carved by the sculptors of these silent colossi, of whom little is known apart from the fact that they were willing to sacrifice much for their art. By the time Europeans arrived at the island in the 1700’s, the local people had long-since set in motion their ecological demise, having almost completely laid bare an island that scientists say was once covered in forests. Why? They needed the timber to construct and transport their statues. // Patrick Barrett