Ahu Tongariki: A key site on Easter Island
Introduction to Easter Island
When I arrived at Explora Rapa Nui our guides told us there were three key sites to visit on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). These were:
- Ahu Tongariki
- Ara O Te Moia (the quarry)
- Rano Kau (the crater) and Orongo.
This post will focus on Ahu Tongariki. The other two sites will be covered in later posts.
Easter Island is triangular in shape with one part of the triangle being on the northern side, the second part being on the western side and the third being on the south-eastern side. For a map of Easter Island click this link.
The island is said to be the most remote inhabited island on earth. It is approximately five hours air travel from Santiago, Chile. Santiago provides the most frequent air service but it is also possible to get there via Tahiti.
The estimated resident population of Easter Island in 2012 was 5,761. This is an increase of 2000 residents since the official 2002 Census. The majority of the population are of Rapanui, Chilean ethnicity with a significant minority being ‘Amerindian’.
Interesting points about Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki includes moai (statues) that are considered to be on the most important platform (ahu) on the island. It is certainly the largest platform. However, some moia at the site are not on the platform.
This site was the first one we visited in the first afternoon on the island. It isn’t clear from the photo above but the sea is only a short distance behind the platform. The moai on most platforms face away from the sea so this site is typical. You will note there are 15 moai on the platform. The moia second from the right has a topknot on it – when present they are typically composed of this reddish scoria.
The site is a common location for sunrise photos. The day I visited the site for sunrise photos (in early February) the sun rose off to the left hand side and behind the moai. Unfortunately the low cloud cover was heavy on this morning so the results were not great. The moia on the platform face sunset during summer solstice.
There were also other moia at the site: two photos are shown below. In the first, the moia is at the entrance to the site. This is known as travelling moia. The hill in the background is the dormant volcano Poike.
You wil observe the offset head on travelling moia. The offset head is thought to be important in transporting the moia. A commonly held theory is that ropes were attached to the moia which were then rocked and ‘walked’ towards its final location. The offset head helps maintain the centre of gravity in this transportation process. Other aspects that provide support to this transportation theory are:
- the moia found along the transport roads have larger stone platforms than those on platforms – providing more stability during transportation
- those moia that have toppled over are usually found face down when headed uphill and on their back when headed downhill.
The following photo shows the moia on the platform that has the topknot peaking through the gap formed underneath the nose of the foreground moia that is lying on its back.
Location of Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki is on the south-eastern side of the ‘triangle’ and is located near the north-eastern corner of the island. The site is near two dormant volcanos: Poike and Rano Raraku. It includes moai that are considered to be on the most important platform on the island. The photo below was taken from the quarry which is located at Rano Raraku – the platform in the distance is Ahu Tongariki thus demonstrating its proximity to the quarry.
History of Ahu Tongariki
Ahu Tongariki was the main centre of the eastern confederation of Rapa Nui. It is thought the moia were toppled between 1770 and 1774 as Spanish explorers reported seeing them upright at the former time and Captain Cook found them toppled at the latter time. This moai toppling, which continued into the mid 1880s, was thought to be due to civil unrest.
In 1960, a tsunami resulted in Ahu Tongariki being swept inland. The tsunami occurred after an earthquake off the Chilean coast.
Ahu Tongariki was restored as part of an Archaeologist led project in the 1990s. The work was carried out under a five year contract with the Chilean Government.
Ahu Tongariki combines well with a walk along the northern coast
After we left Ahu Tongariki we went on a short drive to the other side of Poike and then set off on foot along the northern coast. This was also a good introduction to Easter Island as we came across some fascinating but typical sites along the way.
The first point of interest was evident when we turned round and looked back on Poike: see the photo below (note the three volcanic cones).
By this time it was approaching dinner time and we came across a number of locals cooking their evening meal. The following fish was as fresh as it gets – straight from the sea to cooking.
Roaming horses are found all over Easter Island and it wasn’t long until we saw some.
While we were encountering these day to day aspects of Easter Island life, on our right side we had the fascinating coast line to look at. Take note of the housing in the background.
The Ahu Tongariki site is a ‘must see’ on your visit to Easter Island. I found it to be a good place to start my Easter Island visit as it introduces you to a number of key points about the moia.
The visit was also enhanced by having a guide to provide information about what I was looking at.