The Famous Easter Island Head Statues Actually Have Bodies


This funny image with two of the famous Easter Island statues sitting with their body and folded arms under the ground is not as far from reality as one might think.

We all have seen the iconic images of the Easter Island heads – at least on photos and videos. Yet, not many of us know that those heads actually have hidden bodies buried underneath the earth.

According to Van Tilburg, a researcher at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, “The reason people think they are [only] heads is there are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues. This suggested to people who had not seen photos of [other unearthed statues on the island] that they are heads only.”

A team of archaeologists at UCLA developed the Easter Island Statue Project to better study and preserve the statues of the Rapa Nui, the people who carved these figures between 1,100 and 1,500 CE from stone found on their islands situated in the South Pacific. Through this work, the team excavated several of the heads to reveal the underlying torso and body.

The heads had been covered by successive mass transport deposits on the island that buried the statues lower part. These events enveloped the statues and gradually buried them to their heads as the islands naturally weathered and eroded through the centuries.



A total of almost 1,000 statues on the small Pacific Island have been documented and studied in the framework of the project which spanned 9 years. The team determined, as far it was possible, the meaning, function and history of each individual statue.

They found etched petroglyphs on the backs of the figures, commonly crescent shaped to represent Polynesian canoes. The canoe motif is likely the symbol of the carver’s family, providing clues as to different familial or group structures on the island.

Abundant red pigment was found at the human burial sites of several individuals, suggesting that the statues were painted red likely during ceremonies. These burial sites often surround the statues, suggesting that the Rapa Nui buried their dead with the family’s statue.

via TechblogForbes

59 COMMENTS

  1. This sounds like it was plagiarized from a 2nd grade homework assignment. Worst article on the Moai ever! Common knowledge they had bodies, and doesn’t mention that they also had eyes.

    • Why so insulting? Not everyone is aware of the details regarding the Moai. This article provides a succinct introduction.

    • And thus its conversion into an USA/ANZAC vassal state such as so many others the South Pacífic over. No thank you. Disclaimer: I am not Chilean, simply a sensible person.

  2. They built these statues big as hell so thay they would last and be seen so it seems to me us diggong them back out is exactly what they wanted for thw ? to see there craftsmanship they are over three thousand years old trust if they ate burial ground God has long since brought them home. People always speak on trivial things never mind there own homes could be on burial grounds they were everywhere

  3. This isn’t exactly news. A number of Moai are still laid out full length in the quarry and Thor Heyerdahl was experimenting with “walking” the entire statues to determine how they were moved back in the 1980’s.

  4. I am curious about the difference in the expertise of the carving of the statue as a whole and that of the canoe on its back. It seems to be the done by a master sculptor and a child – just totally different levels of precision.

    • Totally agree on the carving of the canoe; it doesn’t match the other carvings. What’s more the canoe seems to have three masts! But it seems Polynesian canoes only had on mast with very simple rigging. Would it be possible that this was carved in more recent history but before the body was totally engulfed in earth by a traveler that has sailed to the island???

      • Polynesian voyaging canoes had two masts, and it is possible that there were some that had three. Don’t underestimate the skill of the polynesian navigators, they were likely the best in the world. Many don’t know that when the Pacific was colonized, it was routine to burn the voyaging canoes. Some islands hid them, but most were burn’t. What many of the images on the moai represent may be distances to Hawaii, Tahiti, or Aotearoa (New Zealand) where the Maohi (Maoli, Maori) voyaged to. In terms of lashing and knots, Pacific Islanders are likely to have exchanged with many of the west coast first nations their lashings and knots, as they have much similarity, whereas the inland peoples don’t have those knots.

        There was a lot of movement of peoples before the European settlers destroyed much of the cultural artifacts. Rapanui also hove the chants of how to enter Hawaii. In Hawaii, those chants no longer exist.

    • I think maybe it’s like when you’re busy doing a house project and your little un is all, can I help?? Sure son…chisel a canoe. JUST 1 CANOE!

  5. Wasn’t it discovered that the Easter Island statues surrounded a depression that used to be a lake of drinkable water? Seems it was suggested they might have been installed to guard the precious water.

  6. Very informative! That’s what i thought so too, that there’s something underground. Is there an opening on the statue? or maybe the head could be removed? Because the body could be likened to a coffin. It could be hollow inside where they could burry their dead family member? Just curious.

  7. If the enquiry mind didn’t dig to find out what’s below the head we would still believe that they were only heads and no body attached. This is not desecration of a burial ground. Nothing was destroyed.

  8. These may be burial grounds and it is your very own personal opinion about the whole idea of surveying the sites but your opinion is yours. But in my opinion we dont knoe near enough about some of the dead cultures such as that of these amazing statues. If we got to dig up sites from 100+ years back to understand it better then so be it may the souls be and remain at rest.

  9. The first image on the top scared me. I thought it was real until I read the text underneath, and I was just like ‘Whoa. Those statues be huuuge’. But no. The silly one with the crossed arms was most likely photoshopped.

  10. Very interesting to learn about the ancient Pacific Islanders. The Hawaiians, Samoans, Tongans, and Figi Islanders were probably their descendants.

  11. Sounds like there’s more to this than anyone may expect. In my opinion you should stop disturbing burial grounds. How would you like it?

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