Scientists have unlocked yet another secret of the enigmatic ancient monuments on Easter Island. There are around 900 of the famous statues, called moai, placed in specific locations on the island. Researchers have long wondered why the monuments were placed where they were. Now, scientists from six U.S. institutions believe that they have found the answer.
The researchers discovered that the ahu platforms the moai were built on were placed to indicate the location of freshwater sources, which are limited on the island. The team used spatial modeling techniques to analyze the natural resources available in an isolated area of the island containing 93 ahu. Out of the three types of natural resources reviewed, freshwater locations were the most closely correlated with the locations of the ahus.
Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at Binghamton University, State University of New York, said in a statement, “When we started to examine the details of the hydrology, we began to notice that freshwater access and statue location were tightly linked together. It wasn’t obvious when walking around–with the water emerging at the coast during low tide, one doesn’t necessarily see obvious indications of water.” He continued, “Places without ahu/moai showed no freshwater. The pattern was striking and surprising in how consistent it was.”
Previous research had found that groundwater discharge in coastal areas was a key factor in the moais’ locations on Easter Island’s coast. This new research showed that they were also situated near inland caves and other fresh water sources. Researchers are now planning to complete a full survey of the island.
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui in the local language, is a remote Pacific island located more than 2,000 miles off the coast of Chile. Scientists have estimated that Polynesian seafarers first arrived on the island approximately 900 years ago. Easter Island’s population may have been as high as 20,000 at its height, but was around 3,000 when the Dutch arrived at the island in 1722.