Friday, May 9, 2014

Rapa Nui 2

So, I left off right before lunch on our first day. Recall we were on a full-day tour with Claudio, and had just finished touring the quarry where most of the moai had been carved. Now it was time for lunch. There is a nice visitors' center at Rano Raraku, where we ate. The tour companies have a set-up behind the center where groups pick up their boxed lunch then sit at tables under thatched roofs. No pictures, sorry, but there was the usual collection of dogs waiting around, a couple of cats and later, two horses. We did not feed the chicken bones to the horses, but the dogs loved them.
Here's a map so you can orient yourself a bit if you'd like (thanks, Wikipedia!).

Ahu Tongariki

After lunch, we went to Ahu Tongariki, the island's biggest platform, and the largest archaeological site in Polynesia. It is really huge, 220 meters (over 721 feet), with 15 standing moai. Like all the other ahu, its moai had been knocked down at some point in the past. But further damage was done by a tsunami in 1960 caused by the largest ever recorded earthquake, 9.5, that occurred in Valdivia Chile on May 22nd. The waves destroyed the ahu (platform), and carried the moai which weigh many, many tons several hundred feet inland. The restoration was done by in the 90s, and took several years to complete.

To understand how big a job this is, you need to see how the ahu are constructed, from thousands of blocks of stone (the back of the ahu):
 The front and sides (called the aprons) of these sites also have thousands of large, rounded paving stones. Figuring out where everything went was pretty tough.
The restored platform. The heaviest moai every erected is on this ahu. During the restoration, the statues were put up with cranes-that they were originally put up by wedging rocks under the front and using palm trunks to brace things is pretty amazing.

 Here's a picture of Steve and Joel in front of some of the topknots, made from red scoria, a very light-weight volcanic rock. Even so, they weigh a lot. Because of the porous nature of this rock, many of these have been damaged, and were not able to be placed back on the moai in Tongariki. And, in case you are wondering, not all moai originally had a topknot. Also, there is debate as to what the topknots are: hair? feathers? Some also say red is the color of mourning, and since these ahu are burial sites, and the moai represent actual people this is a possibility too.


Next we drove north past Poike, one of the 3 volcanoes that formed the island. It was interesting looking at the escarpment because you could see long, horizontal marks made by wave action that parallel the road. Poike was a small island on its own before the other two volcanoes erupted and the lava flows eventually formed one island so that today, the wave erosion is no longer on the coast, but faces inland.


This is one of two beaches on the island, as nearly all the coast is very rocky. This site was the home of the island's kings, and features two restored ahu. This ahu, with its 7 moai (two are in really bad shape), are unusual for the carving on their backs, as well as the very refined features of their faces.
The one below was the first moai to be raised in modern times. This was done in the 50s with rocks, palms, and human power, under the direction of Thor Heyerdal, of Kon-Tiki fame. He was sure that Rapa Nui was populated by people from South America, and convinced himself this was true based on the way stone blocks were shaped on one ahu, which he thought looked like Inca work. Subsequent research has shown that the structures on the island are far older than the Inca walls that formed part of Heyerdal's theory that there was a connection.
Please, don't walk on the moai...

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