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Walking with Giants: How did huge stone moai move across Rapa Nui?

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How do you move a 14-ton stone monolith over miles of rough island terrain? How do you move 900 of them, some weighing as much as 82 tons?

For generations, archaeologists and anthropologists have asked these questions about Rapa Nui‘s giant moai (statues), carved with toki (chisels) and erected by the Rapa Nui people sometime between 1000 C.E. through the 1600s.

Many scientists and historians have imagined possible transportation methods, considering the tools and materials available on the island at the time, but not all of the theories align with Rapa Nui oral tradition, which simply reports that the ancient statues walked.

stop-motion moai

Walking with Giants, this National Geographic stop-motion animation from 2012, explores five theories of how these volcanic stone figures might have moved from their Rano Raraku quarry origins to their locations around Rapa Nui, sometimes called Easter Island by foreigners.

The video ends with 18 people “walking” a 4.4-ton replica moai with ropes and rhythmic rocking, a theory proposed by archaeologist Carl Lipo. The Indigenous term for this method is neke neke, which reportedly translates as β€œwalking with no legs.” Watch a longer video of the 2012 demonstration below:

Yet Jo Anne Van Tilburg disagrees with that technique. As the longtime Director of the Easter Island Statue Project and the director of a series of rare moai excavations, Van Tilburg believes that moai were rolled horizontally along logs, as demonstrated by her team in 1998:


PBS NOVA has a summary of the theories. Take a closer look at the Moai in the The British Museum. Related reading.

Watch these related videos next on TKSST:
β€’Β How did Polynesian wayfinders navigate the Pacific Ocean?
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β€’Β How were the pyramids built?
β€’Β The Terracotta Warriors, China’s world record display
β€’Β What will The British Museum do with the stolen artifacts in their halls?

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