The Moai of Easter Island

Watercolor and ink drawing of Moai by Susan Sternau

Watercolor and ink drawing of Moai by Susan Sternau

I invited fellow author and friend Susan Sternau to be a guest blogger today, to describe a day from her recent trip to Easter Island.  I am pleased to share Susan’s travel adventure below.


As background, it is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and lies 2,300 miles west of Chile in the South Pacific Ocean.  Easter Island, a World Heritage Site, is famous for 887 stone statues, called moai, created by the Polynesians, or Rapa Nui, who lived there.


Book for sale on website or Amazon

Book for sale on website or Amazon

Susan A. Sternau is the author and illustrator of Easter Island Sketchbook:  An Artist’s Journey to the Mysterious Land of Giant Stone Statues.  If you are interested in learning more, please follow these links to her website or Amazon.  Her book has more than 65 watercolor and ink paintings with vivid, remarkable images and insightful, informative captions.  Here’s Susan:


“Visiting Rano Raraku on Easter Island: A Quarry Frozen in Time” by Susan A. Sternau


Moai excavation

Moai excavation; photo from Easter Island The Mystery Solved (1989) by Thor Heyerdahl

One of my favorite days on Easter Island was visiting Rano Raraku — the quarry on the side of a volcano where all the statues were made. We ate our boxed lunch in a picnic gazebo during a downpour. Then the sun came out and we walked up a path on the side of a volcano dotted with moai statues in all shapes and sizes. The dark volcanic rock of the quarry contrasted beautifully with the smooth green hills. The ocean was nearby, and when we rounded the side of the hill, the restored Tongariki site was visible below.
The quarry path curves around one side of a volcanic cone. (The other side of the cone is a steep cliff face). It is incredible to realize that all the statues that we are seeing as heads or partial heads are actually complete figures, some up to thirty feet high. They have been buried over the years in sediments that have washed down the slopes during heavy rains. 
Recently I saw photos of Thor Heyerdahl’s party standing in their excavations. The men are completely dwarfed by the statues they have uncovered. These are the same figures we are seeing today, but they have been reburied as though those excavations never occurred.
There are more than 900 moai on Easter Island and over 300 are still at the quarry. All the carving was done with a hard stone tool called a “toki.” Statues were begun as a long box shape that was literally “blocked” out of the stone. The head and torso were carved facing up to the sky. Eventually the block was undercut and the statue was propped upright so carvers could finish the back.
You can see statues in all stages of completion, some still lying on their backs attached to the hill, and many standing upright, still waiting to be moved to their final location on the coast. There is a sense of work interrupted, as though the carvers just took a really long lunch break, but are expected back at any moment. Time has passed, lichen, wind, and rain have smoothed some of the features, but you somehow expect to hear the rhythmic chink of stone against stone resume again shortly.


Text and images copyright 2014 by Susan Sternau.  All rights reserved.





10 thoughts on “The Moai of Easter Island

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s