Archaeologists Believe They Have Finally Cracked The Mystery Behind The Hats Found On Easter Island Statues

A clever technique known as parbuckling helped Polynesians to successfully place hats on the heads of the Easter Island statues.

New research shows how the hats may have been placed on Easter Island statues.
LA Tercera / AP Images

A clever technique known as parbuckling helped Polynesians to successfully place hats on the heads of the Easter Island statues.

Archaeologists have long been wondering just how the builders of the moai statues on Easter Island managed to get solid rock hats upon the heads of these statues, and new research may finally have solved this great and long-standing mystery.

When the Polynesian Rapa Nui people erected their statues on Easter Island, they also decided to place hats upon them, and these rock hats would easily have weighed several tons, as Science Alert reports.

Binghamton University anthropologist Carl Lipo explained that learning how the hats successfully made their way onto the Easter Island statues has always been a big question for scientists when considering the island.

“Of the many questions that surround the island’s past, two tend to stand out. How did people of the past move such massive statues, and how did they place such massive stone hats (pukao) on top of their heads?”

Now that researchers have solved the first mystery and know how the statues were shuffled along, determining how the moai statues ended up wearing hats was next on the agenda for scientists.

According to new research, Lipo believes that the Rapa Nui builders most likely would have rolled these 12-ton cylindrical pukaos from the location where the rocks had been cut all the way to where the moai statues were waiting for them.

Once the stone hats had been rolled across the island, researchers believe that the Polynesians would have employed a clever technique known as parbuckling to get these hats, or pukaos, on the heads of the Easter Island statues.

According to Lipo, this method of using a ramp with ropes made this otherwise daunting challenge possible.

“In parbuckling, a line would have been wrapped around the pukao cylinder, and then people would have pulled the rope from the top of the platform. This approach minimizes the effort needed to roll the pukao up the ramp. Like the way in which the statues were transported, parbuckling was a simple and elegant solution that required minimum resources and effort.”

Even though the solution to this puzzle might seem easy now, to determine whether it was even possible to begin with, researchers employed the use of 3-D models to look at 50 of these hats, as they noted in their new study.

“Transport equations based on Newtonian physics, human strength estimates, and estimates of moai height and pukao mass at four different ahu verify that pukao transport by rolling up a ramp is physically feasible with 15 or fewer people, even in the case of the most massive pukao (about 12 metric tons). Instead, we see moai and pukao carving and their transport as vivid cultural expressions of groups in a challenging and competitive environment. Multiple lines of evidence, including the ingenious engineering to ‘walk’ statues and top them with massive stone hats, point to Rapa Nui as an odd story of success in a most unlikely place.”

You may notice that most of the statues on Easter Island aren’t wearing hats now and this is mainly down to erosion and weather, causing the pukaos to fall to the ground where many have remained for centuries.

The new study revealing how the builders of the moai statues on Easter Island were able to give these statues hats can be read in the Journal of Archaeological Science.