We associate the Rapa Nui culture with the iconic Easter Island statues comprising around 887 human figures constructed over a period of 250 years from circa 1250 – 1500 AD. And interestingly enough, on the mythological side of affairs, the native Polynesian lore does tend to favor its fair share of metaphorical conflicts and battles – which have led many scholars to hypothesize that the Rapa Nui people were essentially a warrior culture. However, a recent assessment of the famed giant stone hats (known as pukao) on the statues (or moai) suggests that the Rapa Nui, instead of confrontational patterns, boasted a rather “supportive and inclusive community”.
Now in spite of their conspicuous nature, these massive pukao headgears, made from a volcanic rock known as red scoria, are relatively ‘under-studied’ in the field of archaeology. As for the symbolic purpose, some of these hats were placed atop the heads in reverence of their predecessors – since the moai themselves were carved as ‘living’ faces of the deified ancestors (or aringa ora ata tepuna). And in terms of the processes involved in positioning these multiple-ton weighing sections atop the statues, the Rapa Nui possibly used various techniques, like a ramp system for rolling the segments to the top or even building a tower and pulley to pull the tethered segments from the ground level.
In any case, pertaining to the recent analysis conducted (by a team of researchers, including a professor at Binghamton University) on 70 multi-ton giant hats spread across the island, the assessment revealed previously unknown drawings carved into the red pukao. The experts were able to discern these almost-hidden etchings by utilizing original photography to produce 3D computer models. According to Carl Lipo, anthropology professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program at Binghamton University –
With the building mitigating any sense of conflict, the moai construction and pukao placement were key parts to the success of the island. In our analysis of the archaeological records, we see evidence that demonstrates the prehistoric communities repeatedly worked together to build monuments. The action of cooperation had a benefit to the community by enabling sharing of information and resources.
The aforementioned techniques of positioning the pukao do allude to an organized logistical system that possibly brought together different elements of the Rapa Nui society. And while all these notions are still in their conjectural levels, the newly discovered details could provide researchers with more archaeological insights into the enigmatic history of the Rapa Nui. As Carl Lipo added –
Every time we look at the archaeological record of the island, we are surprised by what we find. There is much more to be learned from this remarkable place — important answers that shed light on the abilities of our ancestors, as well as potential ideas for contemporary society about what it takes to survive on a tiny and remote island.
The study was originally published in the October (2017) issue of the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice.
Source: Binghamton University