Scientists have solved the mystery of Easter Island
in Chile, particularly the reason why the large statues are located where they are.
Easter Island's indigenous people known as the Rapanui had built around 1,000 anthropomorphic statues
from the 13th century until Europeans arrived in the 18th century. Researchers have long been puzzled for centuries now about the purpose of the statues.
A new study published
on Jan. 10 in an open access journal PLOS One
revealed that these were placed to point the direction to drinkable water.
Easter Island Mystery Solved
The researchers believe that the locations of the megalithic platforms, or ahu, and where many of the statues known as moai sit, are tied to the community's basic needs for survival.
The giant statues, which are typically located close to sources of freshwater, back up the idea that their construction is tied to the available resources.
"What is important about it is that it demonstrates the statue locations themselves are not a weird ritual place - [the ahu and moai] represent ritual in a sense of there is symbolic meaning to them, but they are integrated into the lives of the community," said
Prof Carl Lipo, of the Binghamton University in New York, who is a co-author of the study.
Professor Lipo's team has examined 93 ahu, along with the theory that their "spatial distribution" may be linked to "resources thought to be the focus of competition in precontact times."
The researchers focused on three provisions: fishing grounds, fresh water, and agricultural gardens. These are vital resources on an isolated island, particularly when there is a scarcity of freshwater.
Crucial Lifesaving Signpost
Furthermore, the researchers discovered that the ahu corresponded with aquifers — the underground layers yielding ground water for wells and springs — as well as locations of fresh groundwater going to the ocean, which is a possibly drinkable.
Early records from the European expeditionists observed that the Rapanui relied on "brackish" water supply from gourds and "drank pretty plentifully" from the sea.
Whenever there are giant statues in an area, the researchers also saw massive amounts of freshwater.
"It was ridiculously predictable," Lipo added.
According to the researchers, the sizes of the moai and ahu could have indicated the quantity and quality of the water in the area. It demonstrates competition between settlements or as a crucial lifesaving signpost.