Ancient indigenous statues on Chile’s Easter Island have been burned by fire following a volcanic eruption that started on Monday, according to local authorities. The ‘Moai’ stone-carved statues were created by a native Polynesian tribe more than 500 years ago.
In addition to the ‘Moai’ statues, more than 247 square miles of land on the island has also been razed as a result of the volcano Rano Raraku’s eruption.
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Ariki Tepano, the director of the indigenous Ma’u Henua community which manages the protected Rapa Nui Natural Park, in a statement, described “irreparable” damage and warned that the “consequences go beyond what the eyes can see.”
The UNESCO-protected World Heritage Site, located off the coast of Chile, is the most remote island in the world. The ‘Moai’ statues, in particular, are a major draw for tourists. With 386 monuments carved from solid basalt, Easter Island’s national park is currently closed while conservationists investigate the area, according to a Facebook post by the Rapa Nui council.
Carolina Pérez Dattari, Chile’s Undersecretary of Cultural Heritage, said to CNN that officials from the country’s National Monuments Council (CNM) “are on the ground assessing the damages” of the island’s sacred stone figures.
“Exposure to high temperatures”, however, could severely impact the statue’s composition, “which could create big fractures that affect the Moai’s integrity,” according to the CNM.
Polynesian seafarers first arrived on Rapa Nui roughly 900 years ago. While not much is known about the ‘Moai’, recent studies suggest that the statues could be connected to the settler’s discovery of undersea freshwater springs. The massive statues, according to legend, watch over and protect the island community.