A team of researchers working on a project to restore marshland in the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano on Easter Island has discovered a previously undiscovered moai. The moai is one of the island’s distinctive stone statues that were created more than 500 years ago by the Rapa Nui people, the island’s ancestral inhabitants who came from Polynesia.
The newly found moai was discovered lying on its side in the dried-out lake bed around the Rano Raraku volcano, where several other statues were damaged by fire last year. The statue is 1.6m (5.2ft) tall, smaller than the hundreds of other similar statues on the island. It was described by the Ma’u Henua, the indigenous community that looks after the site, as “full-bodied with recognizable features but no clear definition”.
Archaeologist José Miguel Ramírez, who was part of the team that discovered the statue, said that it was the first time that something had been found in the basin. He suggested that the Rapa Nui may have tried to move the statue during a previous time when the lake was dry. However, Ninoska Avareipua Huki Cuadros, the director of the Ma’u Henua, said that the lake had been three metres (9.8ft) deep for the past 200 to 300 years, meaning that nobody could have moved it in that time.
The moai are figures of spiritual devotion for the Rapa Nui, embodying the spirit of a prominent ancestor. Each one was considered to be the person’s living incarnation. The Ma’u Henua, which oversees the site, said that the discovery was significant as it was part of the history of the Rapa Nui people.
Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, is a protected national park and Unesco heritage site that was annexed by Chile in the late 19th Century. The island is famous for its moai statues, which are scattered across the island and are considered one of the world’s most impressive examples of human creativity. Scientists believe that there may be more undiscovered moai buried nearby.