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The Statues that Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island [Kindle Edition]

Terry Hunt , Carl Lipo
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The monumental statues of Easter Island, both so magisterial and so forlorn, gazing out in their imposing rows over the island’s barren landscape, have been the source of great mystery ever since the island was first discovered by Europeans on Easter Sunday 1722. How could the ancient people who inhabited this tiny speck of land, the most remote in the vast expanse of the Pacific islands, have built such monumental works? No such astonishing numbers of massive statues are found anywhere else in the Pacific. How could the islanders possibly have moved so many multi-ton monoliths from the quarry inland, where they were carved, to their posts along the coastline? And most intriguing and vexing of all, if the island once boasted a culture developed and sophisticated enough to have produced such marvelous edifices, what happened to that culture? Why was the island the Europeans encountered a sparsely populated wasteland?

The prevailing accounts of the island’s history tell a story of self-inflicted devastation: a glaring case of eco-suicide. The island was dominated by a powerful chiefdom that promulgated a cult of statue making, exercising a ruthless hold on the island’s people and rapaciously destroying the environment, cutting down a lush palm forest that once blanketed the island in order to construct contraptions for moving more and more statues, which grew larger and larger. As the population swelled in order to sustain the statue cult, growing well beyond the island’s agricultural capacity, a vicious cycle of warfare broke out between opposing groups, and the culture ultimately suffered a dramatic collapse.

When Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo began carrying out archaeological studies on the island in 2001, they fully expected to find evidence supporting these accounts. Instead, revelation after revelation uncovered a very different truth. In this lively and fascinating account of Hunt and Lipo’s definitive solution to the mystery of what really happened on the island, they introduce the striking series of archaeological discoveries they made, and the path-breaking findings of others, which led them to compelling new answers to the most perplexing questions about the history of the island. Far from irresponsible environmental destroyers, they show, the Easter Islanders were remarkably inventive environmental stewards, devising ingenious methods to enhance the island’s agricultural capacity. They did not devastate the palm forest, and the culture did not descend into brutal violence. Perhaps most surprising of all, the making and moving of their enormous statutes did not require a bloated population or tax their precious resources; their statue building was actually integral to their ability to achieve a delicate balance of sustainability. The Easter Islanders, it turns out, offer us an impressive record of masterful environmental management rich with lessons for confronting the daunting environmental challenges of our own time.

Shattering the conventional wisdom, Hunt and Lipo’s ironclad case for a radically different understanding of the story of this most mysterious place is scientific discovery at its very best.

Editorial Reviews


"A fascinating new chapter of the unwitting but tragic decimation of the native Rapa Nui populations, brought about unwittingly by cultural contact rather than the decline of their own society."
  -- Kirkus Reviews

The authors present a believable case to counter what has become the accepted narrative about Easter Island. The book is engaging even as it rescues Rapanui culture from being reduced to a cautionary environmental tale.
-- Archaeology Magazine, July/August 2011

Archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo in "The Statues That Walked," a fascinating entry in the pop-science genre of Everything You Know Is Wrong.
-- The Wall Street Journal, Charles, C. Mann

Shattering the conventional wisdom, Hunt and Lipo's ironclad case for a radically different understanding of the story of this most mysterious place is scientific discovery at its very best.
-- The Guardian

Recent discoveries suggest that the inhabitants of  Easter Island were actually devoted stewards of their island's natural resources. Archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo describe how they solved the mystery of the society's collapse.
-- Scientific American

"Hunt and Lipo make a major contribution to global history. They decipher the tangled skeins of Easter Island’s history with cutting edge scholarship and vivid writing. Their meticulous research tells a tale not of ecological armageddon, as so commonly believed, but of brilliant human achievement under difficult, isolated circumstances. This important book revolutionizes our understanding of ancient Polynesia and is a must-buy for anyone visiting this extraordinary place."

—Brian Fagan, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara and author of The Great Warming

The Statues that Walked is an important book. Finally, a fair and balanced account of the deeper human and environmental histories of Easter Island by people who not only know the records intimately but also helped produce them. In the midst of an ocean of sensationalist accounts of these histories, The Statues that Walked rights many wrongs.”

—Donald K. Grayson, Professor, Department of Anthropology and Quaternary Research Center, University of Washington and author of The Great Basin: A Natural Prehistory

"A great read and a genuinely exciting account of how the science of archaeology is done at its best—head and shoulders above the storytelling in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel or Collapse, and this is saying a lot."

—John Edward Terrell, Professor and Regenstein Curator of Pacific Anthropology, Field Museum of Natural History

“A revolutionary perspective of the most intriguing society on earth. Hunt and Lipo unite old and new research findings in a coherent, surprising account of the real reason for the collapse of Easter Island’s populations – it was not greed and shortsightedness. And, incidentally, a compelling account of what purpose those statues served and how they were moved.”

—Daniel Simberloff, Nancy Gore Hunger Professor of Environmental Studies, University of Tennessee

“There is more plausible information about the island, its people, and its remarkable stone monuments between the covers of this book than in all the many volumes written before. This is a must-read for all those interested in scientific sleuthing at its best.”--David A. Burney, Director of Conservation, National Tropical Botanical Garden, and author of Back to the Future in the Caves of Kaua`i: A Scientist’s Adventures in the Dark.

"A must read...Hunt and Lipo have harnessed the power of science to show the true history of Easter Island--which is more compelling and amazing than doomsday theorists have led us to believe.”--Patricia A. McAnany, Kenan Eminent Professor, Department of Anthropology,

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

From the Author

Easter Island holds a truly remarkable place in human history.  The island boasts an archaeological record like nowhere else on earth, including a large number of megalithic statues or moai on large constructed stone platforms or ahu.  Despite the prominence of this archaeological record it is unknown exactly how or why ancient Polynesians moved more than 25 million pounds of stone in this particular island.  The environment of Easter Island does not obvious provide an obvious explanation for the massive investment in statue construction and movement.  Easter Island is located in the vast the southeastern Pacific; its nearest neighbors are nearly 2,000 miles away.  And Easter Island is small; the island is approximately 171 sq-km, -- about the size of Catalina Island, California.  Easter Island is also environmentally-impoverished and lacks regular rainfall, permanent streams, and a tropical climate.  The limited climatic record for the island shows that rainfall can fluctuate dramatically, and devastating droughts would have been a significant problem in the island's past. 
In this way, the prehistory of Easter Island presents us with a paradox.  On an extremely isolated island with limited resources and uncertain fluctuations in climate and agricultural productivity, the pre-contact population of Easter Island invested huge amounts of effort into monumental architecture and statuary.  In fact, the per capita investments in the Easter Island monuments likely stand as the greatest anywhere in the ancient world.  These remarkable achievements, however, are set against a backdrop of limited resources and dramatic environmental variability.

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars New direction for viewing Easter Island June 18, 2011
The main text is only 180 pages so it's eminently readable without an overbearing commitment of time, and it's directed at an interested lay public rather than strictly academics so anyone can easily follow it without fear of getting bogged down in a lot of jargon and ten thousand references. It does have references, but not too many and they pertain to key issues that allow the interested reader (albeit one with access to a university library for the most part) to follow up on certain topics. I was interested in some of the paleopathology studies that were referenced, so it was useful in that regard.

As they note, they didn't start working on Rapa Nui to decipher much of anything about why the moai were made, how they were moved and erected, or to develop a completely new perspective on the cultural and ecological history of the place; they were conducting a field school and general survey along with some excavations, assuming that they'd be filling in a few details here and there on the prehistory of what is probably one of the most studied specks of land on earth. What seems to have kicked off the more intensive study: determining a much later date for initial occupation (AD 1200 as opposed to the previously accepted dates of AD 400). If the date of initial occupation was so far off the accepted chronology, what else was?

The structure of the book is directed at examining what is really known about various aspects of the island's pre-/history both from early literary accounts and from past archaeological work (both normal dirt archaeology and of the experimental sort) and then adding in results from their own work over the past few years.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Statues that Walked July 22, 2011
Finally, an archaeology book for the general public that conveys real information in an accessible manner without being dumbed down. And finally, a book that shows how archaeologists actually learn things, instead of endlessly rolling around in the "mystery" of the past. Eastern Island has long been the poster child for rampant speculation, where everyone with a pet "theory" spins the yarn of the day. Hunt and Lipo pose questions derived from a solid theoretical standpoint and show how questions can be answered with a high degree of certainty. This excellent book not only is a good read for pretty much anyone from late teens on, but would serve very well in the classroom as an example of how archaeology can function as a science rather than as pseudo-historical story telling. We badly need more examples like this to remove archaeology from the realm of myth-making and place it where it belongs: in the realm of scientific enterprise. Well done!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Yes, Aliens Did Invade Easter Island! July 25, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a boy, I was really interested in the mysterious statutes of Easter Island and always hoped that somehow a UFO was involved. But as I grew up, aliens seemed less plausible. So, imagine my excitement when the authors of The Statues that Walked convinced me that indeed aliens were one of the culprits that contributed to the mystery of Easter Island. These alien invaders didn't float in from outer space, they came via the sea. They came in the form of rats adrift on detritus with voracious appetites for palm seeds, colonizers with foreign diseases, and slave traders. One alien invasion after another has left its indelible mark on history of Easter Island and yet against all odds the Rapa Nui people have persevered and in turn left their own mysterious mark on the island. This book is compelling. I had a hard time putting it down until the authors fully unraveled the mystery and debunked some previous assumptions. Yes, like other reviewers have noted it is based on excellent scholarship and a unique multidisciplinary approach which made it that much more satisfying to read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
While this book is an eminently readable and excellent example of a modern, scientific approach to unraveling the pre-history of Easter Island; I found that it offered much more than most "archaeology of" kind of books.

As an "archaeology of" kind of book, it is well written with just enough detail to support their arguments and conclusions, without getting too bogged down in cataloging all of the work that has been done on the island. I like how the book was structured: its organized into a series of easy steps that lead the reader through the author's path to knowledge as well as the multi-disciplinary evidence they combine to justify their conclusions. Unlike another reviewer, I didn't find the book "dry" at all: in fact I was surprised that I found it hard to put down ("I'll read just one more chapter" I would say to myself).

I think that this book also works well as a general "how science works" study: the authors use this book as an opportunity to share the process by which they arrived at this work, as a series of questions that when answered raise more questions and implications, and allow a gradual picture to emerge. This insight into the scientific process is interesting in its own right, and helps the reader understand the way that scientific knowledge is built brick by brick.

I think this book also work well as an example of the recent "historical-sociological-anthropological-ecological" genre most identified with "Guns, Germs, and Steel". I found "Statues" as entertaining as this, but more factual and less conjectural, albeit with a much smaller scope. It is refreshing to see anthropologists producing popular books about these issues, rather than leaving these topics to others.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Well researched. Well written. Clear, focused, informative and...
I have been interested in Rapa Nui (Easter Island) since I read Thor Heyerdahl's book Kon Tiki 50 years ago. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Land Wayland
5.0 out of 5 stars Good background reading
Interesting take on the mysterious Moai and what caused the collapse of Easter Island communities.
Published 1 month ago by Kathryn S. Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Everyone should have a trip to Easter Island on their Bucket List.
Published 4 months ago by faylumpkins
5.0 out of 5 stars An Important refutation of the Eco-Alarmists
This is written by real anthropologists who lived and worked on Easter Island for many years. They taught grad students, engaged in field work and talked to the natives. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Patrick L. Boyle
5.0 out of 5 stars From our reading group
We are so glad you chose this book. It isn't just the same old story of the strange statues and their meaning. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Marilyn R. Pankey
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Read
This book was better than I ever imagined it to be! It had such compelling theories that I found very credible as well as interesting facts about the island. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Nicole Wooleyhand
4.0 out of 5 stars Accessible and Interesting
The book presents somewhat of an alternative to Jared Diamond's story of ecocide on Easter Island. Hunt and Lipo do concede that rats brought by the first settlers did deforest... Read more
Published 12 months ago by El Gringo
4.0 out of 5 stars Authors Break New Ground
At last we have a serious book about Rapa Nui that reveals new findings based upon solid archaeological evidence rather than one that merely rehashes the works of others set forth... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Kermit J. Owens
3.0 out of 5 stars Very dry read.
Finished the "STATUES THAT WALKED" book. If you liked anthropology enough to sit through a class and put up with a dry, un-animated presentation by a knowledgeable professor, than... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Thomas Fitzpatrick
5.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly Subjects - Easy to Read
Outstanding! The book provides a comprehensive history of Easter Island and current explanations of how the Moai statues were sculpted, transported, and how the island inhabitants... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Go4EVA!
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