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Easter Island

There are nearly 900 maoi on Easter Island.

©iStockphoto.com/awc007

Giant stone statues, up to three stories tall, don't carve and move themselves. How, then, did the original inhabitants of Easter Island, whose only tools were stone, bone and coral, manage to accomplish such a monumental task? This question has plagued the Western world since the Dutch sea captain Jacob Roggeveen landed on the island on Easter Day, April 5, 1772.

Linguists and archaeologists believe that Easter Island's first residents were Polynesians who arrived by canoe sometime between 400 and 800 A.D. Their numbers flourished between 1000 and 1680, peaking at a high of about 9,000 by 1550 [source: NOVA]. It was during this time of prosperity that these early residents undertook the massive monument-building project that would make the island famous.

The builder's ancestors refer to the massive statues on Easter Island as "moai" and the base on which they sit as "ahu." They average 13 feet (4 meters) in height and weigh in at a whopping 14 tons (12,700 kilograms), and were carved from rock quarried from a volcanic crater on the island's eastern end, known as Rano Raraku. All together, there are 887 moai on Easter Island. Of those, 397 remain in Rano Raraku, and 92 lie in transit outside the quarry. Only 288 were successfully transported to an ahu [source: NOVA]. Numerous methods have been suggested to explain how the early inhabitants moved these stone monuments -- sleds, rolling logs, and even extraterrestrials -- but the exact technique is still unknown.

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