National Geographic News
An illustration of ancient Easter Islanders ''walking'' a moai statue with ropes.

To move each moai, two groups may have rocked it side to side while a rear group kept it upright.

Illustration by Fernando G. Baptista, National Geographic

By National Geographic staff

National Geographic News

Published June 22, 2012

For centuries, scientists have tried to solve the mystery of how the colossal stone statues of Easter Island moved. Now there's a new theory—and it rocks.

The multiton behemoths traveled up to 11 miles (18 kilometers) from the quarry where most of them were carved, without the benefit of wheels, cranes, or even large animals.

Scientists have tested many ideas in the past, figuring that the islanders must have used a combination of log rollers, ropes, and wooden sledges. Now a pair of archaeologists have come up with a new theory: Perhaps the statues, known as moai, were "engineered to move" upright in a rocking motion, using only manpower and rope.

Watch video: Easter Island statues rocking forward

Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii and Carl Lipo of California State University Long Beach have worked closely with archaeologist Sergio Rapu, who's part of the South Pacific island's population of indigenous Rapanui, to develop their idea. They've observed that fat bellies allowed the statues to be tilted forward easily, and heavy, D-shaped bases could have allowed handlers to roll and rock the moai side to side.

Last year, in experiments funded by the National Geographic Society's Expeditions Council, Hunt and Lipo showed that as few as 18 people could, with three strong ropes and a bit of practice, easily and relatively quickly maneuver a ten-foot (three-meter), five-ton moai replica a few hundred yards (a few hundred meters). No logs were required. (National Geographic News is a division of the Society.)

picture: mount everest base camp


In previous efforts to solve the mystery, Czech engineer Pavel Pavel worked with Norwegian explorer-adventurer Thor Heyerdahl and a team of 17 helpers to propel an upright, 13-foot (4-meter), nine-ton moai forward with twisting motions, keeping the statue fully upright at all times. That was in 1986. But Pavel's team damaged the moai's base and had to stop. (Related: "Easter Island Settled Later, Depleted Quicker Than Thought?")

A year later U.S. archaeologist Charles Love and a team of 25 erected a 13-foot (4-meter), nine-ton model upright on a wooden sledge and moved it over log rollers, advancing it 148 feet (45 meters) in two minutes.

(Podcast: National Geographic's Hannah Bloch on Easter Island statue theories.)

Meanwhile, for many of Easter Island's 2,000 or so indigenous Rapanui, descended from the original Polynesian settlers, the answer is simple. "We know the truth," says Suri Tuki, 25, a tour guide. "The statues walked."

Full story: "Easter Island: If They Could Only Talk," from the July issue of National Geographic magazine >>

Gavino Lee
Gavino Lee

The soil erosion also caused the downfall

jhonalex alex
jhonalex alex

Except that a lot of the moai were moved across slopes, not flat roads.   And many of them have buried bodies and are much larger than this.

jhonalex alex
jhonalex alex

Except that a lot of the moai were moved across slopes, not flat roads.   And many of them have buried bodies and are much larger than this.  Like 3 times taller.  How about we test the theory with a full size moai and move it up/down a slope <a href="">cork and bottle</a>

Manuela Pena
Manuela Pena

Who and how were the statues put on a line? It's hard for me to believe this. In my pea brain I think the Mayans did it with the help from above. They are supposed to be there just like I'm supposed to be here. I just cannot believe that someone put them there I think  something did, but not someone. Just like the dead sea, it's supposed to be there. Not here, but there. 

Bahram Abedini
Bahram Abedini

this not seems alright . as judi said it's important that why even these were built? such an effort? 12 feet long?? really? and Judi a key sign to be used in some other parts of the world? seriously? sorry but it's a desperate idea

judi donahue
judi donahue

 More important isHY they were created.The easter Island statues if you look @ ENTIRE island as a message is:  a ring of volcanic statues, some dormant + some with red erupting tops....SET within the far larger Pacific Ring of Fire,,,a ring of volcanoes some dormant + some active with red erupting tops... : )   A ring within a ring...Entire Easter Island is a MINIATURE of the Ring of Fire....THATS why they were created to tell us they knew volcanology...its a key to use to solve Giza Pyramid which is ANOTHER volcanic megalith message ! They sent the message visually because you would not know the language spoken in future but .....we all SEE the same....see my videos  google   easter island statues ring of fire....+  volcanic mirror      ...proof?  by restoring them to how they were originally created can SEE the message...

Amber Napoleon
Amber Napoleon

@Manuela Pena You think there were Mayans on Easter Island? LOL.

Also, just because we can't figure out how engineering feats worked in the past doesn't mean people weren't smart enough to accomplish them. If you're on Facebook, you've probably seen pictures posted of older devices from the 19th and 20th century, captioned something like "I bet you don't know what this is or how it works!"  Our technology may be more sophisticated today but that doesn't mean we all know how to use technology that was around before we were born. Same concept.


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