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Often called mo'ai, these are gigantic stone monoliths located on Easter Island. Plural for the word moai is also moai. "Moais" is incorrect.

887 moai can be found on Rapa Nui, but many of them are in bad condition: tumbled, broken or unfinished. Some statues are placed on ahu platforms and others are either scattered in groups on a wider area or are completely alone. An ahu usually had many moai on it.

Many statues have shoulders and chest, some have arms, some have fingers and a single one even has legs.

397 of the statues are at the Rano Raraku quarry with the remainder placed along the shores, except Aku Akivi which is inland. The Moai face inland and it is believed that the statues were positioned that way to watch over the villages.

Specialists believe that the statues were built between 1250 and 1500 AD but it is still not known how exactly or why these immense statues were built...

Characteristics and figures

Strangely, the moai statues are asymmetrical. Their heads are 3/5 larger than their bodies.  

It is believed that they represent locals, ancestors of those who built them. Why they were built is not known, but it is speculated that they might have been constructed to bring homage to the dead deified ancestors of the Rapa Nui people.

They are built of hard volcanic rock, no-one knows how they were carved out and placed into position. The biggest moai is one that was unfinished. If it were completed, its size would have been 21.6 meters tall and probably up to 270 tons heavy.

The largest to be erected is Paro of Ahu Te Pito Kura, 10 meters in height, approx 80 tons. The heaviest moai is a shorter one located at Aku Tongariki. It weighs 86 tons. 

Only 1 of all moai statues has legs. This is the famous small kneeling moai, called Tukuturi. The material used for its carving was red scoria rock from the place called Puna Pau, yet he was placed near Rano Raraku. Some believe that Tukuturi is related to the Tangata Manu (Bird Man) cult. There are specialists who think this is the last moai made.

There are exactly 887 moai on Rapa Nui. 834 moai are made from tuff (compressed volcanic ash), 13 from basalt, 22 from trachyte and 17 from red scoria rock (which is a softer stone).

A total of 288 moai were successfully transported to the ahu platforms. The Rapa Nui people built special connecting roads for this purpose. 92 moai have been found in positions indicating that they were in the transportation stage, which for some reason was interrupted. Perhaps because the trees left on the island were insufficient for creating the necessary equipment for moving them.

Interestingly some moai have complex eyes made of 2 different types of rock. A whiter rock for the eyeball and a black-coloured obsidian rock for the pupil. Painting the eyes would have been a lot easier, but for some reason the craftsmen of Rapa Nui thought that the statues would be more human-like if they made white sockets into which they insert the darker pupils. 

The quality of work and current stage

Despite the hard volcanic rock material, these statues are remarkably well carved. With good precision, they somewhat resemble each other, but one can see many different faces among them. The faces are beautifully carved, are true works of art.

Unfortunately during tribal conflicts many of the statues were pulled down. At the time when the first Europeans stepped on Rapa Nui, the moai were still in place, intact. Then, later visitors reported they have found destroyed and tumbled moai.


These are the platforms upon which some of the moai were placed. It is still unknown why some moai are on platforms, lined up side by side, while many are simply scattered around the shores and in the Rano Raraku area.

Each ahu is made of a large number of smaller stones, which are put together in such a way that they form a long platform on which moai statues can stand. Often the ahu were burial places where important personalities' graves were built.

In total 313 ahu were built and only 125 were moai-carrying ones, most of which only had a single statue on them. Some of these platforms were destroyed during the tribal wars, while Ahu Tongariki was swept inland by a tidal wave (tsunami). Later many of them were restored by specialists.

Interestingly there were several empty ahu platforms found. Some speculate that there might have been wooden moai as well, that would have perished over time, maybe during the conflict or because wood could not cope with the weather for so many hundreds of years. Another possibility is that when all trees were cut down on the island, the locals turned to the wooden moai and simply used them as raw material. 

The elements of the ahu:
reinforced back wall (usually faces the ocean), on average over 1 meter high
front retaining wall
ahu-holding platform between the two mentioned above with a stone slab on it for increased resistance
inclined ramp in the front
pavement in front of the ahu

The inside of the ahu was rock-filled but often there were burial chambers inside of the ahu, under the inclined ramp.

The ahu were usually built close to the beaches, very few were constructed inland. An inland formation is that of Ahu Akivi for example. But even this one isn't very deep inside the island. It is not known why it was so important to place the statues on the edges of the land, close to the ocean.

The ahu are located distributed quite evenly along the coast, especially on the northern and eastern parts. Few or none are located in the western parts.

It was reported in 1880 that there were several moai on an ahu on Rano Kau's cliffs, but the Routledge Expedition in 1914 found them tumbled to the beach.

Pukao (Topknots)

In English these are called "topknots" and look like red hats on the heads of the moai. Locally, these are considered to be the ‘hair’.

The pukao were made of red scoria volcanic rock, which is more fragile than the moai's usual hard material. This is why many of these hats broke easily when the statues were pulled down during the conflict.