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Archaeologist Featured in National Geographic and NOVA

Professor Carl Lipo poses in front of a Rapa Nui statue

Professor Carl Lipo poses in front of a Rapa Nui statue. Photo courtesy of Carl Lipo

After 10 years of research, archaeology Professors Carl Lipo of CSULB and Terry Hunt of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa published their investigations of the Easter Island (Rapa Nui) civilization in the book The Statues That Walked, which led to a July National Geographic magazine cover story and a NOVA/National Geographic TV documentary that aired in November.

Rapa Nui once contained lush forests and later experienced an ecological and social collapse, but Lipo and Hunt discovered strong evidence that the destruction was largely the result of rats that came aboard early Polynesian settlers’ boats rather than from inhabitants overcutting trees. And, over time, natives’ contact with Europeans exacerbated the island’s downfall.

Another key finding is that island residents likely moved iconic moai statues by a back-and-forth “walking” motion rather than on tree trunk rollers as other scientists proposed.

“What we found is that the statues found in transport along prehistoric roads have features that could only be explained if the statues were standing and being moved before falling over,” Lipo said. Through an experiment funded by National Geographic’s Expedition Council using a replica moai, “To our great amazement, it worked: the statue walked!”

Lipo said he and Hunt will continue their Rapa Nui research, which also involves students from both
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