London, May 24 (ANI): British archaeologists claim to have uncovered the secret behind Easter Island's fallen idols.
Polynesian legend has it that the stone monoliths of Easter Island were installed by a king who invoked divine power to command the statues to walk.
Archaeologists have long believed that they were heaved into position along a network of purpose-built tracks.
But now a British archaeological expedition to Easter Island may upset a 50-year-old consensus about the role played by the island's ancient road system.
The team, from London and Manchester, analysed the toppled minimalist statues, which researchers have long believed were abandoned on the roadside after they could not be hauled from inland quarries to their final vantage points overlooking the coast.
There are nearly 1,000 statues on the island, most on platforms on the island's perimeter, with others inland in an apparently random fashion.
In 1958 Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdhal suggested ancient Polynesians had simply left the broken statues beside the track and they had no specific spiritual purpose.
But new evidence gathered by researchers from University College London (UCL) and Manchester University, has shattered this theory.
According to the team, each of the tumbled statues had a stone platform and would have had an important position on the road system as part of a religious avenue.
The finding suggests that rather than serving only as a transportation route for coast-bound statues, the system of tracks criss-crossing the archipelago played a more significant role.
While researchers have long believed that the quarry in an extinct volcano, Rano Raraku, where the statues were carved, was merely a workplace from which the roads fanned out to the coastal sites, the latest findings reveal that the volcano was a sacred site.
"Ever since Heyerdhal, it has been assumed that the roads were used for transportation and little else. But what we know now is that the roads very much had a ceremonial function and the quarry was where the islanders would go because it was a sacred centre," the Independent quoted Dr Sue Hamilton, of UCL, as saying.
Dr Hamilton added: "The statues by the roadside were not abandoned. They had individual platforms and faced in towards the road. They ended up on the ground after falling over in the intervening centuries but we think it is beyond doubt that they intended to stand where they were found. Volcano cones were considered as points of entry to the underworld by the ancient inhabitants of the island. It seems that the volcano was a holy place. It was the birthplace of the statues and people would come to it rather like a cathedral.
"If you just focus on one part of the story of Rapa Nui [the tribal name for Easter Island], then you will miss the wider history. We will not get the answers to how the statues were moved; we need to consider them in the context of their landscape and its spiritual dimension." (ANI)