The enormous stone heads on Rapa Nui, commonly called Easter Island, are recognized worldwide.
Many of the iconic stone statues, known as the “moai,” were charred in a fire last week. And while authorities initially believed the fire was caused by lava from the nearby Rano Raraku volcano, they now suspect it was the work of an arsonist.
Ariki Tepano, director of the indigenous Ma’u Henua community that manages Rapa Nui National Park, wrote that the damage to the moai is “irreparable” and that they “are totally burned and you can see the effect of the fire on them,” in a Facebook post.
Rapa Nui Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa told Chilean Radio PAUTA that the fire was no accident.
“All fires in Rapa Nui are manmade,” Edmunds Paoa said.
Easter Island’s Iconic Stone Heads
Rapa Nui, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the world’s most remote inhabited island. It lies nearly 2,200 miles off the coast of Chile in South America.
It is believed that Polynesian sailors settled in Rapa Nui sometime around the year 300. Then, from the 10th to the 16th century, the society built shrines and put the towering moai in place, according to UNESCO.
While there are hundreds of ceremonial platforms and thousands of structures for agriculture, funerals, and housing, it is the moai that continue to draw visitors. Indeed, the moai — which were carved from hard basalt by hand after removing the rocks from lava tuff — range in height from around 6 feet tall to 65 feet tall.
Amazingly, there are about 900 statues of the moai on Rapa Nui
Now, if you’re wondering why only heads were carved for the statues, here’s a surprise: The moai, some of which weigh up to 70 tons, also have bodies — and some even have legs. The Rapa Nui people carved the statues and then lowered them down into deep holes they had already dug.
The Stone Statues’ Fate
Right now, it’s difficult to tell how much damage was done to the moai. The fire itself burned nearly 250 acres of the national park.
Carolina Pérez Dattari, Chile’s undersecretary of cultural heritage, explained that authorities from Chile’s National Monuments Council (CNM) “are on the ground assessing the damages” to the moai, according to CNN.
In the meantime, Rapa Nui National Park, which itself is home to 386 moai, is closed while authorities investigate the fire and conservationists evaluate damage to the moai. The problem is that, even though they are carved from stone, high temperatures from a fire’s heat can cause the stone to fracture.
Mayor Edmunds Paoa told Radio PAUTA that more than half of the moai remaining in Rano Raraku, where all of the moai were carved, are cracked.
“When the stone cracks, with a heavy rain or over time, it is released, it falls, and it ceases to be stone,” Edmunds Paoa said. “It then becomes sand.”
He went on to reiterate that damage to the moai “is irreparable.”
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