Researchers think they have discovered a reason for the mysterious existence of the statues on Easter Island, the Guardian is reporting. The giant stone figures on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, have baffled historians for centuries now. They are referred to as “moai,” they reside on platforms, called “ahu,” and they appear to be distributed randomly across the entire island. There are around 300 of these sculptures, the earliest of which appears to have been created sometime in the 13th century. While many theories have swirled around the existence of these statues — ranging from ritualistic ceremonies to alien life — scientists believe that the location of the statues may indicate a more practical reason for their existence.
Researchers discovered that these statues tend to reside near sources of fresh water. Further analysis indicates that communities may have used the size of these statues — as well as other aspects surrounding their composition — to serve as landmarks, signaling the abundance and quality of fresh water nearby.
“What is important about it is that it demonstrates the statue locations themselves are not a weird ritual place – [the ahu and moai] represent ritual in a sense of there is symbolic meaning to them, but they are integrated into the lives of the community,” said professor Carl Lipo from Binghamton University in New York.
— CNN International (@cnni) January 11, 2019
Lipo discovered the pattern of the statues’ location after he and his fellow researchers decided to look into where the earliest communities may have obtained water. The island doesn’t have any permanent streams, nor does evidence indicate that the citizens used the island’s lakes. Lipo and his colleagues discovered that fresh water passes through the ground into aquifers, eventually coming out in the island’s caves — and into the coast.
“Every time we saw massive amounts of fresh water, we saw giant statues,” Lipo explained. “It was ridiculously predictable.”
Scientists also believe that the statues were made by various communities rather than just a single one, and that perhaps tribes would create the figures to show off the amount of water they had access to — almost in a competitive way. While previous theories pointed towards communities engaging in violence to fight over resources, scientists now believe that the various tribes most likely cooperated with each other, and interacted civilly in order to survive.
“Anything that brings you together is going to make you stronger and allow you to survive,” Lipo pointed out.”I think that is the secret to Easter Island.”