UH professor wins book award for research on Easter Island

HONOLULU — Terry Hunt, a University of Hawai‘i at Manoa Anthropology Professor and Director of the Manoa Honors Program, has gained national recognition for his book, “The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island,” which rewrites Easter Island’s past — not as a story of collapse, but one of a remarkable success.

Hunt co-authored the book, released in 2011, with Carl Lipo, a Professor of Archeology at the University of California Long Beach.

The book was recently named winner of the 2012 Society for American Archaeology Book of the Year Award in the Public Audience category.

Hunt and Lipo’s research on Easter Island is the cover story of National Geographic magazine’s July issue. In addition, the duo’s research will be the subject of a NOVA-National Geographic TV Special, “Mystery of Easter Island,” that features the experiment of walking a statue. It will air on PBS stations nationwide in November.

“Our book rewrites the island’s pre-European history, and we also tell our own story of discovery,” said Hunt, adding that the book dispels common speculation that Easter Island’s Polynesian civilization suffered an environmental catastrophe and collapsed before Europeans arrived.

Hunt and Lipo’s findings are the culmination of more than a decade of research, including several UH Manoa archaeological field schools training more than 100 students.

There are nearly 1,000 statues known as moai on Easter Island, each weighing 14 tons on average and leading many archaeologists to assume that a large population must have existed to carve and transport these giants. This large population, some reasoned, destroyed their environment and met their demise by their own reckless actions.

However, Hunt and Lipo demonstrate that as few as 18 people can “walk”   a five-ton statue based on their own experiments. Several UH Manoa students participated in experiments conducted at Kualoa Ranch on O‘ahu in June and November 2011, moving the five-ton statue more than 100 yards in just 40 minutes. A video of the experiment is available at the National Geographic website.

Older theories imagined that the massive statues were moved by chopping thousands of trees for sleds and hauled by hundreds of workers. Hunt and Lipo’s conclusion — stating that the Polynesians of Easter Island were “very resilient people” — contrasts those of some popular writers.

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