Easter island mystery solved: How large stone ‘hats’ were placed on the famous old images



Easter island mystery solved?

Researchers say that they figured out how the ancient people of easter island 12-ton hats for the mysterious images.

Experts have worked out how the ancient people of easter island, or Rapa Nui, were able to place massive stone hats on the island of the famous images.

A team of researchers that includes experts from Binghamton University, State University of New York, worked out that the inhabitants of that island used a technique called “parbuckling” that makes use of ropes and a ramp.

“Of the many questions that are around the island in the past, two tend to stand on: How have the people of the past move these enormous statues (moai) and how did they get that huge stone hats (pukao) on top of their head?” said Carl Lipo, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, in a statement.


With limited resources at their disposal, archaeologists have wondered how the islanders were able to move the cylindrical pukao, which weigh 13.2 tons (12 tonnes), over long distances.

A moai decorated with red pukao (Sean Hixon)

After taking photos of the pukao, 3-D modeling was used to reveal important details of the giant stone hats, that are carved from red scoria, or volcanic rock.

Experts find that the pukao were most likely rolled from the quarry to the location of the moai, and rolled up large slopes with the help of the parbuckling technique.


“Parbuckling, a line would be wrapped around the pukao cylinder, and then the people pulled the rope from the top of the platform,” said Lipo. “This approach minimizes the effort that is needed to the roll-out of the statue of the slope. Just like the way the statues were transported, parbuckling was a simple and elegant solution that requires a minimum of resources and efforts.”

A restored image platform with standing moai on the south coast of Rapa Nui. Note that one of the moai is decorated with a red scoria pukao. (Sean Hixon)

Earlier theories about pukao transport in the slide of the stone hats on a slope or gradually build up a pile of stones under them.

“Easter island is often treated as a place where the prehistoric man acted irrationally, and that this behavior led to a catastrophic ecological collapse,” said Lipo. “The archaeological evidence, however, shows us that this picture is very flawed and badly misrepresents what people did on the island, and how they were able to succeed on a small and remote place for more than 500 years.”

Experts from Penn State, the University of Oregon and the University of Arizona has also participated in the research. The pukao studt was published in The Journal of Archaeological Sciences.


The remote island in the Pacific ocean, which is located more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile, it is still a source of fascination for historians. In 2016, research into artifacts of the island questioning the theory that the ancient civilization was destroyed by the war.

Experts, also from Binghamton University, studied hundreds of ancient items found on the shores of easter island. Previously, the artifacts were supposed to be spear points, but the analysis shows that they were likely general purpose tools.

Carved from obsidian, or volcanic glass, thousands of triangular objects, known as mata’a, the nest of the surface of the island.

Some scientists have calculated that at its peak, easter island population may be as high as 20,000, but fell in the course of centuries after the island, trees and palms are cut down to build canoes and to transport the famous giant statues. One theory suggests that the deforestation led to soil erosion, affect the island’s ability to support wildlife and agriculture, and the collapse of civilization.

When the Dutch arrived on the island in 1722, the population of 3,000 or less. Only 111 inhabitants living on easter island by 1877.

However, other experts have questioned whether the easter island ever in favour of a large population, the quote in place of the arrival of the Europeans, who brought disease and took islanders away as slaves.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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