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Time To Save The Face

Faces – guarding the coastline of Easter Island in Chile – are becoming increasingly faded. Perhaps, another 100 years… and then, no one could recognise them! Conservation experts are worried about the situation.
Easter Island – or Rapa Nui in local language – is a remote volcanic island in Polynesia that is famed for archaeological sites. There are nearly 1000 monumental statues – called Moai on the island – which were created by inhabitants during the 13th-16th Centuries. Moai – the carved human figures with oversize heads – often rest on massive stone pedestals, called Ahus.


Moais in Rapa Nui National Park on the slopes of Rano Raruku Volcano on Easter Island.

The Moai were installed near the hilly areas on Rano Raraku wetlands. However, those are not in good shape! Local residents have discovered white spots on the Moai, as the faces are covered by lichen, a composite organism that arises from algae or cyano-bacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship. Sonia Haoa, an archaeologist and Easter Island native, has prepared an inventory of the heritage. She has claimed that about 70% of the more than 1,000 statues are badly affected by lichens. However, conservation experts believe that the statues can still be protected, if it is possible to remove the mud-like layers from those Giant Heads immediately.
Tahira Edmunds, the Adviser to Chile’s National Forestry Corporation, has said that she and her colleagues are trying hard to restore the Moai. She further admitted that the deterioration was extremely shocking, saying: “I imagine that in a century more, these Moai will basically be rectangular figures.” Edmunds told the press that the Corporation would soon remove the lichens from Moai and put certain chemicals on them, stressing that the move could save the statues made of volcanic rocks from marine moisture.


A view of Moai statues at ‘Tongariki’ Bay on Easter Island, 2,340 miles west of Santiago, Chile, October 20, 2003.

Meanwhile, Haoa claimed that Easter Island has at least 30,000 archaeological sites spread across 166sqkm and most of the sites are exposed to the environment. She stated that the Corporation would require nearly USD 500 million to take care of the Moai, adding: “You will never be able to entirely prevent the impact of time or the weather, but you can hold it back, so that more people can see them first.
For his part, Mayor Pedro Edmunds Paoa stressed that as it’s not possible to spend the entire government funding and tourism revenues for the protection of Moai, nations – whose explorers took some of Easter Island’s statues centuries ago – should make royalty payments for this purpose. According to the mayor, the local administration has already discussed the issue with British Museum.


An ancestor figure Moai known as Hoa Hakananai’a stands at the entrance to the Wellcome gallery in the British Museum in London.

It is to be noted that the British sailors had removed 7ft-tall basalt statue of ‘Hoa Hakananai’ from Easter Island more than 150 years ago. Later, the statue found its place in the British Museum. After the Chilean government requested the Museum to return the hefty statue in November 2018, the British authorities said that they would be happy to consider a long-term loan of the Moai.

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