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Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, is a tiny speck of land - an island in the vast South Pacific some 5hrs flight west of Santiago, making it the most isolated inhabited place on the planet. Without doubt; this is one of the most fascinating places on this Earth. Massive stone statues, known as moai, are the most striking evidence of a civilization that once was great, but which collapsed after raping the island of most of its natural renewable resources, and subsequent internal fighting among its inhabitants.

The legends of Easter Island say that Hotu Matua came first came ashore here at Anakena Beach and that this was the island's first settlement. Excavations of the site have confirmed that it had been occupied for a very long time. The current ahu is built upon the remains of several others and the same precise stone work is found in the buried ahu as that of Ahu Vinapu. Again, this is curious because one would expect the more advanced stonework work have been done during later periods of the island's development.

What is striking about the statues at Ahu Naunau are the red scoria headdress's (known as Pukao) that fit on the moai heads. These were carved from a different quarry than those of the moai that contained a large quantities of the red lava rock. Many of the moai on the island originally had pukao and they are found alongside the fallen statues in many sites. It is believe that they where installed by building a ramp of stones up the side of an erected moai and then rolled up where they could be placed on the top. Afterwards the ramp was disassembled.

As for why the Rapa Nui began putting the pukao on selected moai remains a mystery. Heyerdahl, referring too the mysterious red headed race that was reported on the island concluded that they represented topknots of red hair. Other archeologists point to the tradition of placing a large stone on the image of a dead leader as a sign of death and mourning.

The statues at Ahu Naunau are also known for the detailed carvings on their backs. Along with traditional loin cloth reliefs are fishhook patterns that are found on none of the other statues.

The detail work in the statues at Ahu Naunau is truly remarkable. Precisely chiseled facial features, the now familiar long ears and thin lips are all carved on the Ahu Naunau statues to a degree not seen at other sites. Although, not the biggest of the moai, they are clearly the most refined. A fitting tribute if this is, indeed, the site of Rapa Nui's first settlement.

It was at Anakena that one of the island's secrets was finally discovered. Archeologist long puzzled over the deep eye sockets of the moai that had been erected. Could it be that the moai had in fact had eyes?

In 1978, a student named Sonia Haoa found fragments of worked coral and a red disk made out of scoria, the same material used to make the pukao. When fitted together they made an unmistakable eye. She brought the fragments to archeologist Segio Rapu who discovered they fit precisely in the eye socket of a moai. So, the moai did have eyes, although, it is unclear if they were permanent fixtures of the statues or placed in them only on ceremonial occasions as is done now on the island with replicas of the eyes.

"In the middle of the Great Ocean, in a region where no one ever passes, there is a mysterious and isolated island; there is no land in the vicinity and, for more than eight hundred leagues in all directions, empty and moving vastness surrounds it. It is planted with tall, monstrous statues, the work of some now-vanished race, and its past remains an enigma..."
Pierre Loti, Isle de Paques, 1872

More about Easter Island at: www.wikipedia.org



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