A previously unknown moai statue has been discovered in the dried-out lakebed of a volcano crater on the island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), a protected national park, which lies 3,500km west of Chile.
Moai are monolithic stone statues with elongated human faces, thought to have been created by Rapa Nui’s ancestral inhabitants more than 500 years ago. There are more than a thousand moai on the island, most of which have been carved from tuff, a rock formed of ash from the quarry of the Rano Raraku volcano.
The statue was found by a team of research volunteers from three Chilean universities collaborating with the Heritage and Conservation Unit of the Ma’u Henua Indigenous Community on a project to restore the marshland inside the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano. Investigative work at the site was triggered following a forest fire that broke out on the island last October and caused charring to several moai.
The new moai was found lying on its side, semi-buried in the middle of a lagoon that is now dry, with its upper section facing north. Its discovery was surprising, as no other moai has been found in the lagoon. Measuring 1.6m tall and 0.9m wide, the statue is smaller than most of the other moai and, despite some erosion, its main facial features are identifiable.
For the last 200 to 300 years, the lagoon has been at a depth of around 3m, and has only been accessible since it began to dry up in 2018, as Ninoska Avareipua Huki Cuadros told AFP. It has therefore been suggested that the moai was left there some centuries ago.
While the Ma’u Henua Indigenous Community, which manages the Rapa Nui National Park, secures the necessary resources to continue studying the monolith, it remains in place at the lagoon, which is now under protection.