Current Affairs Czech who made Moai statues walk returns to Easter Island

20-12-2002 | Pavla Horáková

You know them from magazines or TV documentaries. The giant stone statues from Easter Island in the South Pacific, human heads on male torsos carved from volcanic ash. They belong to a number of stone monuments around the world, such as Stonehenge or the pyramids, whose origin remains a mystery, constantly tormenting teams of scientists trying to work out how ancient civilisations managed to move around blocks of stone weighing many tonnes. The mystery of the "moai" - as the statues are called in the local language - was solved seventeen years ago by a Czech engineer called Pavel Pavel, who is now returning to Easter Island.

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Local legend says that the statues arrived at their current locations by themselves - that they actually "walked". There is no written record on the origin of the almost 900 statues but archaeologists believe they were carved, transported, and erected between AD 1400 and 1600. Several expeditions visited the island during the last century, trying to work out how the early Easter Islanders transported the moai statues. When the recently deceased Norwegian explorer and archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl announced his plans to conduct more field work on Easter Island in 1986, he did not know his expedition would be joined by a young Czech engineer, Pavel Pavel, who would eventually make the moai statues walk.

"The walk of the moai was the result of many years of effort. It was a great feeling, the locals started shouting riva-riva, meaning good or very well, and it was all fantastic. I remembered my friends back in Strakonice who helped me to cast and move the 12-tonne statue, and all those who helped me then to prepare for the expedition with Thor Heyerdahl."

Mr Pavel had followed the research and experiments on Easter Island since 1981 and came up with a theory. With the help of his friends he cast a 4.5 metre tall concrete statue weighing 12 tonnes. In the South Bohemian town of Strakonice, they conducted a trial. They fastened ropes around the top of the head as well as around the base of the bust and through a system of tilting and twisting Mr Pavel and sixteen other people were able to move the statue forward. In this manner the experimental image wriggled forward as if it were "walking". Whereas 180 people pulling a statue on its back had been used during Thor Heyerdahl's experiment on Easter Island in 1956, only 17 people were needed for Pavel to transport a "walking moai".

Thor Heyerdahl invited Pavel Pavel to join the KonTiki Museum expedition to Easter Island in January 1986 to try out his experiments on an original statue. It worked well and the mystery was solved but no reminder was left on the Island of the work and achievement of the expedition. Mr Pavel is travelling to Easter Island in the middle of January to attach memorial plaques near the statue he moved, remembering the expedition of the late Thor Heyerdahl.

"There will be four plates, in English, in Spanish, in Czech and in Rapa Nui, the local language of Easter Island. The signs will say that this statue was transported in 1986 by Thor Heyerdahl's expedition, by sixteen people and the operation was conducted by the Czech engineer Pavel Pavel."

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