Easter Island – Rapa Nui

statues outside Rano Raraku

I fulfilled a childhood dream in 1994 and spent a month on Easter Island, staying with a family in the town and camping around the sites. I hope to return. In the meantime, I recently took part in a major study of Hoa Hakananai’a, the large Easter Island statue on display in the British Museum. I will post links here to our peer-reviewed papers as they are published.

Important online resource

In a blog dated August 1 2014, James Miles has posted links to some interactive models of Hoa Hakananai’a deriving from his digital work on the statue. The opportunities they give to examine the statue are stunning and unprecedented. Here you can explore (and question) our interpretation of the statue and its carvings, as described in peer-reviewed articles listed below, and can search for your own discoveries and insights. See also my blog here.

We recently updated the Wikipedia page for Hoa Hakananai’a, heavily referenced so every point can be verified, and ready for others to add more. Until October 10, you can watch Easter Island Heads (yes, that’s what they called it) in More4’s 2014 Treasures Decoded Series, first broadcast on September 10. The film features re-enactment on a Welsh hillside with a full scale 3D-printed model of Hoa Hakananai’a, and James Miles at his computer desk.

Hoa Hakananaia'a is steadily buried, while standing at the south-east tip of the island

More on Hoa Hakananai’a: paint, petroglyphs and a sledge, and the independent value of archaeological and historical evidence, by Mike Pitts, Rapa Nui Journal 28.2 (2014), 49–54

New applications of photogrammetry and reflectance transformation imaging to an Easter Island statue, by James Miles, Mike Pitts, Hembo Pagi and Graeme Earl, Antiquity 88 (2014), 596–605

Hoa Hakananai’a: a new study of an Easter Island statue in the British Museum, by Mike Pitts, James Miles, Hembo Pagi and Graeme Earl, Antiquaries Journal 94 (2014), 291–321 © Cambridge University Press/Society of Antiquaries of London

Hoa Hakananai‘a, an Easter Island statue now in the British Museum, photographed in 1868, by Mike Pitts, Rapa Nui Journal 28.1 (2014), 39–48

RNJ may2014


The journeys of Hoa Hakananai’a (Oct 25 2016): short piece on the siting of the statue outside the British Museum

Brian Cox, master of the universe (Oct 24 2014): short piece about a TV programme on Easter Island

Easter Island – alive and well in Soho? (Apr 13 2014): Rapa Nui murals featured in World of Interiors in 1986

En route for Easter Island (Jan 15 2014): a century after the Mana was docked on the coast of Chile, a Google doodle featured Hoa Hakananai’a

More Easter Island photos (Apr 10 2013): a selection of Kodachromes I took on Rapa Nui in 1994

Hoa Hakananai’a in British Archaeology (Apr 10 2013): short piece on a magazine feature about our research

Singing statues (Oct 24 2012): on a theory of how they were moved – what actually happened is anyone’s guess, but it’s wonderful to see

Night at the Museum 2 (Feb 17 2012): second day of our survey of Hoa Hakananai’a

Last night in the Wellcome Gallery (Feb 16 2012): Graeme Earl, James Miles, Hembo Pagi and I begin a new study of Hoa Hakananai’a, the large Easter Island statue on display in the British Museum

Do you have ancestors who went to Patagonia? (Sep 10 2009): in 1913 the Mana, led by Katherine and Scoresby Routledge en route for Easter Island, sailed through the Straits of Magellan. This is a plea for information about the varied crew (with responses)


5 thoughts on “Easter Island – Rapa Nui

  1. Dear Mr. Pitts,

    In your article (Mike Pitts 2014 → Rapa Nui Journal, 28(1), pp. 39-48, Hoa Hakananai’a…), there are two very interesting photographs showing crew-members of HMS Topaze (Figs. 8 and 9, page 46).

    Since I am writing (in tandem with another colleague) an article regarding a newly “re-discovered” indigenous artifact, which was collected by Lt. J. G. Kell [another crew-member of the said British vessel] on Rapanui, I wonder if you are able to identify Mr. Kell in one of these photographs (or find a likeness of him elsewhere).

    I suspect that perhaps Christie’s (2019) already made such an attempt, without success, since they sold the moai kavakava he collected; it would have been to their benefit to have included a photograph of Kell.


    Congratulations on your great work,

    Sincerely, and many thanks,

  2. Thanks Tomi. I’d missed that Christie’s sale. Do you know Lt Kell’s full name? Or anything else about him?

    1. Hello Mike, There is not much information on Lt. Kell (to put it in euphemistic terms). However, we have been able to check in person two “unknown” (so far) Rapanui artifacts collected by Kell during the ‘Topaze’ visit. Hopefully, an article will be published next year.

      The matter is that Lt. Kell remains unidentified even in the photographs reprinted in the article of 2014.

      Thanks for the posting, Tomi

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