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Do the Easter Island Heads Really Have Bodies?

easter-island-headsEaster Island “heads” on the slope of Rano Raraku volcano.

An email containing photos of a startling excavation project has inundated inboxes in recent weeks. According to the email, the mysterious Easter Island statues — hundreds of huge, ancient carved stone heads that guard the hilly Pacific island landscape — actually have bodies. The email says archaeologists are now unearthing the statues’ bodies, which were gradually buried by 500-plus years of erosion.

But are the surprising images, and the excavation project they depict, actually real? Are the famous Easter Island heads really full-bodied figures?

Turns out, so many people have been seeking an answer that “we were swamped by over 3 million hits and our site crashed,” said Jo Anne Van Tilburg, director of the Easter Island Statue Project , which has indeed been excavating two of the statues’ buried bodies since 2010. Photos of the dig posted on the project website four months ago, and older photos taken of full-bodied Easter Island statues that were excavated in the 1950s, have been collected together in a chain email, driving the recent surge of interest in the excavation project, and confusion about what’s real.

“The reason people think they are [only] heads is there are about 150 statues buried up to the shoulders on the slope of a volcano, and these are the most famous, most beautiful and most photographed of all the Easter Island statues,” Van Tilburg, who is also a fellow at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, told Life’s Little Mysteries. “This suggested to people who had not seen photos of [other unearthed statues on the island] that they are heads only.”

head-bodyBack of one of the statues being excavated, showing petroglyphs.
Credit: Easter Island Statue Project


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