An analysis of so-called pukao — colossal stone hats of monumental statues (moai) on Easter Island — provides evidence contrary to the widely held belief that the ancient civilization had a warrior culture.
Pukao are large, cylindrical stones made from a volcanic rock known as ‘red scoria.’
Weighing multiple tons, they were placed on the heads of the moai during prehistoric times, consistent with the Polynesian traditions of honoring their ancestors.
Professor Carl Lipo from the State University of New York, Binghamton, and his colleagues from Pennsylvania State University, California State University, and the University of Oregon produced the first study analyzing the pukao and their significance.
The researchers created 3D images of 50 pukao that once adorned moai and compared them to 13 additional stone hats located in Puna Pau, the island’s red scoria pukao quarry.
They discovered that there are far more drawings carved into pukao than was previously thought.
“With the building mitigating any sense of conflict, the moai construction and pukao placement were key parts to the success of the island,” Professor Lipo said.
“In our analysis of the archaeological records, we see evidence that demonstrates the prehistoric communities repeatedly worked together to build monuments.”
“The action of cooperation had a benefit to the community by enabling sharing of information and resources.”
“Every time we look at the archaeological record of the island, we are surprised by what we find,” he added.
“There is much more to be learned from this remarkable place — important answers that shed light on the abilities of our ancestors, as well as potential ideas for contemporary society about what it takes to survive on a tiny and remote island.”
The team’s results are published in the journal Advances in Archaeological Practice.
“While Easter Island is famous, the archaeological record of the island is not well-documented,” Professor Lipo said.
“We believe that scientists can learn a great deal from the pukao by examining this new information.”
Sean W. Hixon et al. Using Structure from Motion Mapping to Record and Analyze Details of the Colossal Hats (Pukao) of Monumental Statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Advances in Archaeological Practice, published online October 5, 2017; doi: 10.1017/aap.2017.28
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