Until Just Recently, People Thought The Easter Island Statues Only Have Heads
An email that made the rounds in May 2012, contained photos of a startling excavation project at Easter Island. According to the email, archaeologists were in the process of unearthing the statues' bodies, which were gradually buried by 500-plus years of erosion.
But is the excavation project actually real? Are the famous Easter Island heads really full-bodied figures?
"The reason people think they are 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," said Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project. "This suggested to people who had not seen photos of that they are heads only."
In fact, archaeologists have studied the statues on the island for about a century, and have been aware of the torsos beneath the statues' heads since the earliest excavations in 1914.
The statues, whose traditional name is "moai," were carved from volcanic rock between A.D. 1100 and 1500 by ancient Polynesians. They range in size, with the tallest reaching 33 feet (10 meters).
Although their significance is still somewhat of a mystery, the moai are thought to have been representations of the indigenous peoples' ancestors. Tribespeople would probably have carved a new statue each time an important tribal figure passed away, Van Tilburg said.