National Geographic : 2012 Jul
Rapanui than palm forests were. But they were wind-lashed, infertile elds watered by erratic rains. Easter Island was a tough place to make a living. It required heroic e orts. In farming, as in moai moving, the islanders shi ed monu- mental amounts of rock---but into their elds, not out. ey built thousands of circular stone windbreaks, called manavai, and gardened inside them. ey mulched whole elds with broken volcanic rocks to keep the soil moist and fer- tilized it with nutrients that the volcanoes were no longer spreading. In short, Hunt, Lipo, and others contend, the prehistoric Rapanui were pioneers of sustainable farming, not inadvertent perpetrators of ecocide. "Rather than a case of abject failure, Rapa Nui is an unlikely story of suc- cess," Hunt and Lipo argue in their recent book. It's called e Statues at Walked, and the Rapanui enjoy better spin in it than they do in Collapse. Hunt and Lipo don't trust oral history accounts of violent con ict among the Rapanui; sharp obsidian akes that other archaeologists see as weapons, they see as farm tools. e moai helped keep the peace, they argue, not only by signaling the power of their builders but also by limiting population growth: People raised statues rather than children. What's more, moving the moai required few people and no wood, because they were walked upright. On that issue, Hunt and Lipo say, evidence supports the folklore. Sergio Rapu, 63, a Rapanui archaeologist and former Easter Island governor who did graduate work with Hunt, took his American colleagues to the ancient quarry on Rano Raraku, the island's southeastern volcano. Looking at the many moai abandoned there in various stages of completion, Rapu explained how they were engineered to walk: Fat bellies tilted them forward, and a D- shaped base allowed handlers to roll and rock them side to side. Last year, in experiments funded by National Geographic's Expeditions Council, Hunt and Lipo showed that as few as 18 people could, with three strong ropes and a bit of practice, easily maneuver a 10-foot, 5-ton moai Chilean newlyweds in festive paint and feathers (at right) celebrate marriage Rapanui style. Nearly two-thirds of the 50,000 visitors to the island in 2011 were from Chile. n Society Grant Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo's moai experiment was funded by your Society membership.