Images from the 2012 excavation of Easter Island’s iconic statues reveal the renowned heads are not only connected to giant bodies, but the bodies are covered in mysterious designs and symbols, which researchers have likened to tattoos.
With a study last week which claimed to have definitively worked out just how the Easter Islanders managed to lift the hats to the heads of the Moai statues, the next puzzle to solve is what exactly these body designs are all about.
News.com.au reported that a previously unseen series of photographs show in fascinating detail the excavated bodies of the distinctive stone humanoids. Archaeologists were surprised to find that the stone bodies, shielded from environmental weathering beneath the soil, are decorated with ancient details —whirls and crescents believed to be tattoos.
Researchers say the crescent shapes might represent the canoes of local Polynesians, though this is just one theory.Director of the Easter Island Statue Project, Jo Anne Van Tilburg says, “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.
Academics speculate the stylized figures represented ancestors or high status tribal figures. It is theorized that the stone was quarried on the island, and next it was carved and decorated at the quarries, and then finally the statues were “walked” slowly across the islands to their final positions as guardians protecting against disaster.
Easter Island was settled between 300 AD and 1200 AD by Polynesians who eventually became the Rapa Nui. Between the 10th and 16th centuries the island community expanded steadily, with settlements being set up along practically the entire coastline. Following this period, however, the population took an extremely rapid decline dropping from 15,000 to approximately 2,000. Past theories explained their demise as the result of economic and social crises due to environmental deterioration: deforestation leading to land erosion. However, recent studies suggest the arrival of Europeans in the 1700s, and slavery and smallpox , are factors which probably devastated the population of the Rapa Nui.
Work continues on the island through university-led research, and the Easter Island Statue Project , along with assistance from the Rapa Nui people.
Galleries of images of Easter Island discoveries can be seen at the EISP.org site, and others are currently being viewed on social media site Imgur .