Fact Check: Was Largest Easter Island Moai Statue Never Erected?

A viral Reddit post has claimed that one of the Easter Island Moai statues was carved, but was never erected, and would have been 72 feet tall.

The Moai statues consist of large heads and smaller bodies, which are often buried beneath the ground from the neck down.

The statues were built in approximately 1400 - 1650 A.D. by the natives of this island, known as Rapa Nui, according to the official Easter Island travel guide, allegedly in honor of the chieftain or other important people who had passed away.

The tallest standing statue on Easter Island currently is only 33 feet tall.

easter island statue
Stock image of some Moai statues on Easter Island. One viral Reddit post claims that the largest ever carved statue was never erected, and measured 70 feet tall. iStock / Getty Images Plus

The Claim

The Reddit post shows a picture of one of the Moai statues still laying in the ground.

"One of the Easter Island Moai statues that was carved but never erected. it would have stood 72ft tall (the tallest standing is 33ft high) and weighed more than 2 Boeing 737's. This also shows how the figures were carved," wrote user u/Status-Victory in the title of the post, which has more than 87,000 upvotes.

The Facts

It is estimated that there are around 1,000 statues, each weighing up to 86 tons and reaching up to 33 feet, though on average the statues are around half of that. Ninety-five percent of the Moais were carved from the volcano Rano Raraku, the island guide states.

The largest Moai statue was indeed carved but never erected, according to experts.

"There is an exceptionally 'tall' statue on Rapa Nui, known locally as El Gigante and said to be 20m long (66 feet). If you put the largest known stone 'hat' on top of that, you'd get 72 feet," Mike Pitts, an editor at British Archaeology magazine, told Newsweek.

According to Pitts, El Gigante is still attached to the quarry rock at Rano Raraku, lying on its back.

"It's unlikely that it was ever going to be erected—either because that was never the plan (some archaeologists argue that the many statues in and around the quarry were designed to stay there), or because it was just too large to maneuver out and was abandoned. Quite a carving nonetheless!" Pitts concluded.

"[Te Tokanga or "El Gigante"] is estimated to weigh between 160-180 tons," Dale Simpson, an associate professor in sociology and anthropology at North Central College, told Newsweek.

Boeing 737 aircraft weigh between 45 and 90 tons depending on how full they are, for comparison.

"Oral tradition denotes that Te Tokanga was to be erected at Ahu Tahira in Vinapu, as that ahu (ceremonial platform) had the strongest seawall to support the massive weight of the statue," Simpson said.

"However, others have noted that Te Tokanga, like many other late-stage Moai on the flanks of Maunga Eo, were never meant to leave, as they were destined to stay there and create a truly sacred site, almost like an ahu."

El Gigante is not the only statue that was never completed, with many others never having been erected on the island.

"There are about 400 statues in the quarry in various stages of completion, and they were never transported," Terry L. Hunt, a professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, told Newsweek.

"Never completing nor transporting them would be for several reasons: form, irregularities in the volcanic tuff (cracks or large boulder inclusions)—such "flaws" might not be discovered until carving the tuff had revealed them.

"By form I mean that some moai did not meet the requirements of transport by 'walking.' They would require the correct center of gravity and forward lean to facilitate the 'walking.'

"Note: the largest moai ever transported and erected was about 10+ meters (about 30 feet)."

The Ruling

True

True.

El Gigante was indeed carved but never erected, and measured 70 feet fall.

It was not, however, the only Moai statue to have been left in the ground, with hundreds of others having never been erected.

The reasons for this are unknown, though some archaeologists theorize that they were never meant to leave the ground at all.

FACT CHECK BY NEWSWEEK

True: The claim is verifiably correct. Primary source evidence proves the claim to be true.
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