Archaeologists discovered an interesting secrete below the famous Easter Island heads, and found that the heads have hidden bodies below the ground, potentially offering further knowledge of the ancient civilisation that built them.
The statues, which are known as Moai by the Rapa Nui people who created the figures in the tropical South Pacific directly west of Chile, were carved from stone which was found on the island between 1100AD and 1500AD.
Nearly half of these magnificent creations are still at Rano Raraku, the main moʻai quarry, but hundreds were transported from there and set on stone platforms called ahu around the island's perimeter.
The moʻai are believed to be the living faces of deified ancestors, but over time, archaeologists have discovered that parts of the statues have become buried into the sediment and rock. However, the island itself was formed by successive Pliocene and Holocene volcanic flows consisting of basalt and andesite and thus, volcanic tuffs were deposited in the volcanic crater, which is the primary stone used for carving the monolithic Moai statues. These events enveloped the statues and gradually buried them to their heads as the islands naturally weathered and eroded through the centuries.
A team of experts at UCLA developed the Easter Island Statue Project to better study and preserve the artifacts which have been famous for over centuries.
Through this work, researchers dug around several of the heads to reveal the underlying torso and body.
Jo-Anne Van Tilburg, a researcher at the University of California, said in 2012: "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. These are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues. This suggested to people who had not seen photos of other unearthed statues on the island that they are heads only."
In total, the team documented and studied almost a thousand statues on the small Pacific Island. The project spanned nine years whereby the team was determined to discover the meaning, function and history of each individual statue.
Throughout the project an abundant red pigment was found at the human burial sites of several individuals, suggesting that the statues were painted red likely during ceremonies. These burials often surrounds the statues, suggesting that the Rapa Nui buried their deceased with the family's statue.
After approvals, the archaeologists excavated two of the Easter Island heads to reveal their torso and truncated waist. The heads had been covered by successive mass transport deposits on the island that buried the statue’s lower half. While excavating the statues the team found etched petroglyphs on the backs of the figures, commonly crescent shaped to represent Polynesian canoes.
It is believed that the canoe motif is likely the symbol of the carver's family, providing clues as to different familial or group structures on the island.
In order to carve and place the statues upright, the Rapa Uni used large tree trunks that were placed into deep holes then used rope and the large tree trunk to lift the statue upright in place.
The Rapa Nui carved the heads and front side of the statues while they were lying on the ground, then completed the backs after bringing the stone statues to the upright position.
The tallest of the statues comes in at 33 feet high and is known as Paro.