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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge

Technology Through Time: Issue #15, Easter Island

They called it the Navel of the World, and for its inhabitants, Easter Island was the only inhabited scrap of land on an ocean planet. Even their enigmatic statues encircle the island with their backs to the sea.


Easter Island, Chile
Latitude: 27 05', South.
Longitude: 109 20', West.


Over 880 statues called moai (pronounced 'mo eye') can be found on this isolated island, located 2,300 miles from the coast of Chile. The statues range in size from a few feet to over 30 feet, and weigh up to 150 tons. They were built sometime after the island was colonized in 300 C.E.. Each statue was hewn out of hard volcanic material from quarries near the Rano Raraku volcano. The statues are thought to honor their deity Make Make, or represent chieftans of the two or three tribes that inhabited this island. Originally the island was heavily forested for the construction of statues and campfires, but the rapid growth of the human population quickly denuded the island. About 250 years ago, warfare between the two tribes of 'Easter Islanders' led to the toppling of most of the statues. Very little is known about the earlier inhabitants whose very existence was not realized until 1774 when Captain Cook visited it and gave it its modern name.


Although the vast majority of the Moai are located on the beaches and face inland, the seven moai at Ahu Akivi were built around 1460 C.E. and face the point at which the sun sets during the equinox. Each measures 14 feet tall and weighs 12 tons. It was restored in 1960 by archaeologists William Mulloy and Gonzalo Figueroa. It is commonly said that the remarkable aspect of Ahu Akivi is that the moai also are the only ones that face out to sea, however from their central location on the island, all sight-lines are towards the ocean. Easter Island oral history from the fewer than 700 remaining natives do not indicate a deep interest in astronomical knowledge. Hieroglyphic writings have survived that might fill-in this information, but have yet to be translated.



Image Gallery:

Easter Island

Photo Credit:

Dr. James De Buizer
(Gemini Observatory)

Technology Through Time Bulletin Board Activity

This bulletin board activity is designed to focus student attention on the role that sun watching has played in humankind's survival through time. As part of this display you may wish to use your own world map ordownload one we have created for you.

Related Easter Island Links