Located in Hanga Nui, on the southeast coast of Easter Island and just 2 kilometers from the Rano Raraku quarry, Ahu Tongariki is the most majestic ceremonial platform on the whole island.
As in all of Polynesia, in Easter Island, worshiping ancestors was a big part of the inhabitants’ spiritual lives. The Rapanui believed that important people's "mana" (spiritual energy) continued existing after their death, and that it had the ability to influence events much after their death, a belief that became tangible in the construction of the moai statues.
This is known as the classic stage, when the Rapa Nui culture reached its maximum splendor raising enormous ceremonial altars or Ahu in which great sculptures where made craved from volcanic rock, which are the most characteristic symbols of Easter Island. The moai period extended between approximately 800 A.D. and 1860, when the conflict between the different bloodlines changed the island’s history. When a tribe’s leader or one of its important members dies, a sculpture was ordered to be created in the quarry of Rano Raraku, which would later be transported to to the respective village, so that it could project its “mana” or supernatural powers over its descendants. The moai statues were always placed looking towards their village and their descendants, not towards the sea, since their objective was not to protect them from outside threats but to extend over them a protective blanket.
Each of the statues is different, some are higher than others, some with fatter bodies and others with more skinnier ones and even in the faces, some have coarse features and others finer features. As the Rapanui became skilled in sculpting and transporting the moai statues, these became bigger and more stylized. The largest statue with a pukao (headdress) is 14 meters tall still can be found in the quarry of Rano Raraku. Once the Moai was set up in its ahu, the eye sockets were sculpted and, in a ceremonious ritual, the eyes made from white coral and red scoria were placed; from this moment on it was considered that the Moai’s mana could project over the tribe. Finally, an enormous red scoria cylinder called pukao was placed on top of its head. The meaning of the pukao is ambiguous, on one hand it is believed to have represented the tribe’s hierarchy and on the other to have symbolized the long hair that the islanders used to wear up in a bun. It’s believed that between the 15th and 18th centuries, Easter Island suffered an overpopulation crisis that caused shortages and conflicts between the 12 island tribes. The obsession of building bigger and bigger moai statues was one of the main causes of deforestation and food scarcity. These problems led to a fall in the belief of the moai’s power and their construction was not only abandoned, but some were even torn down from their ahus.
In 1960 an earthquake that measured 9.5 points on the Richter scale, which struck the Chilean coast of Valdivia, caused a large tsunami in the Pacific Ocean; with waves that reached up to 11 meters high in Easter Island, waves that hit the ahu and dragged the moai up to 100 meters inland, damaging them significantly. The restorations lasted five years, from 1993 to 1996, and were led by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino, who rebuilt the platform based on drawings by British archaeologist, Katherine Routledge. Routledge reached Easter Island in 1914, in the first archaeological expedition made to the island and gathered for 17 months collected much of the information that is now available about the original Rapa Nui culture.The restoration project, which cost over $2 million USD, was possible thanks to funds provided by the Japanese government and the help of a private company from the same country (Tadano), that sent a large crane to the island which helped stand each moaiupright. During the excavations another 17 moais were discovered to be completely destroyed and were used as a base for the current platform, as was the usual thing to do when an ahu was raised in a place where another had once stood.
In recognition of the assistance provided by the Japanese government, in 1982 the moai located at the entrance of Tongariki was sent to Japan, as a loan, to be shown at trade shows in Osaka and Tokyo. Because of this epic journey, the islanders began to call it “the traveling moai”. This moai was also one of the ones Thor Heyerdahl used to test his theories on the transportation of moais.
Another of the wonderful things about Ahu Tongariki is the indescribable spectacle that happens at dawn. Between the 21st of December, the “Summer Solstice”, and the 21st of March, the “Autumn Equinox”, the sun rises behind the Ahu, between its giant stone sculptures, creating an unforgettable sight.
The moai or Easter Island heads or Easter Island statues, represent the most important pieces of Rapa Nui art and they have become its trademark. However, in spite of their abundance, there are around 600 moai distributed throughout the whole island and 397 are in the Rano Raraku quarry, there are still plenty of unanswered questions regarding these stone giants."
Most of the Easter Island statues were sculpted out of volcanic rock from the Rano Raraku quarry. The eye sockets made from white coral and red scoria. The pukaos or moai headdresses were made from a red volcanic rock (scoria). Rano Raraku is commonly known as the “Moai Factory” There are 397 moai in this area, some half buried, some just abandoned over time. That’s about 45% of all the Moai ever created.
Rano Raraku is a volcanic crater formed of consolidated volcanic ash, or tuff, and located on the lower slopes of Terevaka in the Rapa Nui National Park on Easter Island in Chile.
Volcanic ash consists of fragments of pulverized rock, minerals and volcanic glass, created during volcanic eruptions and measuring less than 2 mm (0.079 inches) in diameter. The term volcanic ash is also often loosely used to refer to all explosive eruption products (correctly referred to as tephra), including particles larger than 2mm. Volcanic ash is formed during explosive volcanic eruptions when dissolved gases in magma expand and escape violently into the atmosphere.
1. Walk around the platform and examine the "statues" serious-looking faces. All 15 figures stand side by side and face the sunset during summer solstice. According to the geolist above could please describe the material from which the statues were build ?
2. During your examination you will see that the second moai from the right has a pukao on its head. Could you please describe the material from which that headdress was build ?. Do you know from which quarry is coming that material ?
3. How to volcanic ash is formed ?
4. How long is the ceremonial platform in m ?
5. Optional, a photo of you and/or your GPSr that was taken at the posted co-ordinates would be appreciated..
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