A wildfire has damaged Easter Island’s iconic Polynesian ‘Moai’ statues and over 100 hectares of UNESCO World Heritage land, according to officials’ statements.
News outlets are reporting both volcanic and human activity as possible causes of the blaze which started last Monday and tore across wetlands on one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth. The nearest land is Pitcairn Island, 2075 km away. Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa has blamed arson. “All the fires on Rapa Nui are caused by human beings,” he told local broadcaster Radio Pauta.
According to a statement by Ariki Tepano, director of the indigenous Ma’u Henua community which manages Rapa Nui National Park, the damage to the sacred figures was “irreparable” and “beyond what the eyes can see.”
Unfortunately a forest fire that tore through part of Easter Island has charred some of its fabled monumental carved stone figures yesterday. pic.twitter.com/1JeSiL338f— Historic Vids (@historyinmemes) October 7, 2022
Exposure to high temperatures can alter the structure of the statues creating “big fractures that affect the Moai’s integrity,” said the National Monuments Council (CNM), who are assessing the damage.
Created between 1250 and 1500 AD by the Rapa Nui people, the Moai were carved from tuff, or compressed volcanic ash. Averaging 4 metres in height and over 12 tonnes, the statues have oversized heads, and are often referred to as ‘heads’ even though they are whole body figures, buried to their shoulders – which in the past has protected them from erosion.
There are over 900 figures, many of them still at the volcanic quarry where they started life. 386 of them are located in the national park, which has remained closed while investigations are carried out.