thinking about archaeology

Singing statues

If you ever wondered how the statues on Easter Island were moved from the quarry, or especially if the thought never entered your head, you really must watch this video on the Nature website – and stick with it to the end. Whether it’s what actually happened is anybody’s guess – as it is with every theory of this type – but it’s wonderful to see!

Nature’s report is based on an article in Journal of Archaeological Science by Carl Lipo, Terry  Hunt & Sergio Rapu Haoa, “The ‘walking’ megalithic statues (moai) of Easter Island”. It’s worth looking at that too: the free content includes a lot of long-captioned illustrations.

You can see Lipo and Hunt (L and R above) addressing the National Geographic Society here, Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo: The Statues That Walked. They have been regularly making controversial claims and interpretations for Easter Island’s archaeology. Other archaeologists researching the island have objected strongly to some of the things they are saying. It’s all good stuff. The history of archaeology on the island is full of things that should not have happened, with much in common with events at Stonehenge. With hindsight, there have been too many small excavations with ill-defined aims, often poorly conducted and often not fully analysed and published, while basic archaeological fieldwork – good surveys of the monuments, for example – has been skimped.

If we are to understand this extraordinary place, we need just the sort of debates that Hunt and Lipo are stirring up. They open up big questions that remain unanswered. They focus attention on the archaeology, what it has achieved and what it might still do. A world heritage site, Easter Island needs what Stonehenge did finally get: a comprehensive analysis and publication of all previous fieldwork, going back into the 19th century; a publicly discussed research agenda contributed to by everyone with an interest in the island’s archaeology and history, and fully published; and coming out of this, ambitious, cutting edge, quality fieldwork that sets out to tackle key issues – which should include excavation on a scale we’ve seen recently around Stonehenge. There are several projects in progress, including Rapa Nui Landscapes of Construction based at UCL and Manchester University. None of what I’m suggested need affect any of these, but all of them, and us, would benefit.

And as a footnote, the best walking statue of all – though it lacks the music.

One response

  1. Thor Heyerdahl detailed this method in his book ‘Aku Aku’ many years ago.

    October 25, 2012 at 5:08 pm

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