AWAKENING THE GIANT
“El Gigante” (The Giant) — estimated at over 270 tons — is a fully-formed statue still attached to bedrock in the quarry on Easter Island. How did the ancient islanders intend to erect this giant, using the technology of their time?
El Gigante, Awakening the Giant
Of Easter Island’s nearly thousand “moai,” the large stone statues for which the island is famous, the largest ever erected in antiquity is today called “Paro,” and weighed about 82 tons. Atop it’s head, an 11.5-ton “pukao,” or hat, for lack of a better description, once sat increasing the monument’s overall height to nearly 12 meters (38 feet). For decades, researchers have pondered the methods that the “Rapanui” islanders might have used to extract such enormous stones from the quarry beneath the volcanic cone of Rano Raraku, transport them as much as 20 kilometers (12 miles) across the island and erect them facing inland from atop raised seacoast platforms called “Ahus.”
All of the standing moai were thrown down during native unrest centuries ago, but a few have since been re-erected by archaeologists using modern methods. Various theories have been advanced proposing possible ancient techniques to accomplish the same end, and a few have been successfully demonstrated using relatively small (10-ton +/-) replicas. Until now, however, no one has tackled by far the most daunting challenge on the island: “El Gigante,” The Giant. Although still attached to bedrock in the quarry, this fully-formed statue would have been the largest ever erected, standing 20 meters (66 feet) tall, and likely crowned by a 40-ton pukao. It’s weight is estimated to be at least 270 tons, more than three times that of Paro. How the Giant might have been extracted, moved and erected using rudimentary methods is the subject of this study.
Also available in the “Rapa Nui Journal,” Vol. 26, No. 2, October 2012, published by the Easter Island Foundation.
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Although still in the quarry and firmly anchored into the volcanic bedrock near the base of Rano Raraku’s southeastern cliffs, the “Giant” is nevertheless almost fully formed such that its finished dimensions are clear. Once erected, it would have stood an impressive 21 meters, the height of a six story building. Its weight, however, has been estimated at nearly three and a half times as much as the largest statue ever erected by the islanders, a staggering 270 tons! For comparison, that’s almost exactly what a giant Boeing 777 airliner weighs, fully loaded and fueled for takeoff. So daunting are these numbers, that some have concluded that the native Rapanui never planned to move El Gigante at all, and instead intended that it remain forever in its current resting place at the base of the quarry cliffs. The prospect of doing otherwise is further complicated by the islanders’ insistence that the statues “walked” upright from the quarry to their ahu platforms aided by a mysterious supernatural force they call mana. Exactly what part this magical power might have played in the actual transport scheme remains unknown.