The Traveling Moai, Rapa Nui

The Big Picture Portfolio, #3

The Traveling Moai, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) near Rano Raraku
Known as the “traveling” moai, its stoic expression and permanent appearance hides a secret. First it was quarried and moved out of that crater in the background, but more recently it has literally toured the world. A real rolling stone!


What: A moai, or stone statue carved to resemble a human head and torso

Where: The island of Rapa Nui (also known as Easter Island) in the South Pacific Ocean

Notable Date(s): ~

Culture(s): Polynesian

Seen As: Artifact, landscape



You’d think artifacts of this size would be pretty easy to keep track of, but that’s not quite the case.

Heyerdahl (I think on his 55-56 trip to the island with Skjolsvold and buddies) was working a bunch at Anakena.  But Skjolsvold may have been doing some work at Tongariki.  Heyerdahl decided over at Tongariki that he’d try moving a moai “refrigerator style”… that is “walking” a moai.  So he used the traveling moai (one of many that was just heaped up at the site).  His experiments worked, but also did some damage to the statue (I think if you look closely you can see rope marks on the head and belly).

Some time after that (maybe 1960’s-ish) the Japanese (working with Chile, and maybe Poland??) were restoring Ahu Tongariki.  The Japanese made a huge investment by bringing a crane to the island for the restoration (crane is still there and used today).  In return, the island sent the traveling moai with the Japanese to go on display during the World’s Fair at Osaka (1970, i think).  Subsequently, the moai was returned to Rapa Nui.

I’m not real sure on this one, but it may be the ONLY moai that has ever left the island for display in another country and actually returned to Rapa Nui.

That’s from Britton Shepardson, an archaeologist who’s done a significant amount of work on Rapa Nui over the past decade or so and also been busy on the educational side of things. Interesting stuff.


It appears that I’ve been Should Be Digging for a long time, even if I didn’t have this blog. This particular shot comes from a field season spent on Rapa Nui in the summer of 2005.

As far as photography and archaeology goes, Rapa Nui has got to be one for the best places on the face of the planet to combine the two. The sheer magnitude of the archaeological record, coupled with the landscape of such a remote island and special people, is really all too much to be able to put into words. But don’t take my word for it.

A special place, in the past and in the present.


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