British find source of Easter Island red hats

moaihatsSome of the famous monolithic figures called moai which have come to characterize Easter Island, wear styling cylindrical head pieces. They seem to have been added to certain moai in later generations, nobody really knew what they signify or where they came from.

A pair of British archaeologists — the first to excavate on the island since Katherine Routledge in 1914 — have found some answers about the red hats.

Dr Colin Richards from the University of Manchester and Dr Sue Hamilton from University College London have discovered the existence of a road used to transport the outcrops of volcanic rock leading to a previously unstudied “sacred” quarry where the material was mined. They have also found an axe believed to have been left at the quarry as an offering confirming the site’s quasi-religious meaning to the ancient Polynesians. Dr Hamilton believes the “hats” may have represented a plait or top knot worn by the elite chieftains, who were engaged in a bitter struggle for prestige and power, which was symbolised by the building of ever-taller statues known as moai created in memory of their ancestors.

Out of the 1000 moai on the island, only 70-75 got chapeaus, so possibly they indicate some kind of elite status. The color of the red scoria pumice used to make the hats is also associated with high status, much like the Tyrian purple dye was associated with royalty in the ancient Mediterranean.

It would take a person of high status in the community to organize the work force necessary to quarry the red scoria pumice, transport it and mount it on top of the three-story figures.

Dr. Richards and Dr. Hamilton think the hats first began to appear between 1200 and 1300, which is also right around the time when the moai increase dramatically in size. A burst of chieftain competitiveness, perhaps?



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Comment by Hans
2009-09-08 10:29:36

Big Hats have been a big deal in many cultures over the ages. Just look at official head gear during the Ottoman Empire- or the Pope-they didn’t always have practical uses like the old ten gallon hat.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-09-08 10:34:49

I used to call the pope’s mitre “the pistacchio nut”. It’s got that just-open look that begs to be torn apart for the delicious green insides. :skull:

Comment by LadyShea
2009-09-08 11:01:19

Chieftain or even tribal competition seems not only a reasonable explanation, but almost the expected one.

Throughout history people have tried to outbuild each other.

Comment by livius drusus
2009-09-08 11:16:01

Absolutely. Hence the towers of San Gimignano. Medieval Rome was full of towers from competing noble families too, until one of the “senators” with nads had them all knocked down in the 13th c.

Comment by Mr Lemming
2009-09-11 13:24:02

Ancient example of a rich guy’s mid-life crisis? Some things don’t ever change…. :giggle:

My moai hat is bigger than yours!

Comment by livius drusus
2009-09-11 13:28:16

OMG the old rich guy moais got young new trophy hats!

Comment by Anonymous
2009-09-20 18:11:19


Comment by Whovian
2013-12-08 22:37:32

They’re the 11th Doctor wearing a fez and no one can tell me otherwise.

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