Authorities from Chile and the local Indigenous population claim that a fire has scorched the massive stone heads of Easter Island as well as other archaeological artifacts.
On Monday, a fire sparked by the adjacent Rano Raraku volcano destroyed more than 100 hectares of the island and damaged the well-known Moai statues, which were made by a Polynesian culture more than 500 years ago.
Ariki Tepano, who serves as the director of the indigenous Ma’u Henua community which manages the Rapa Nui Natural Park, described the damage as “irreparable” and warned that the “consequences go beyond what the eyes can see,” in a statement Thursday.
The Rapa Nui National Park whose name comes from the Indigenous moniker for the island is a protected area displaying the legacy of the Rapa Nui culture.
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed island lies some 3,500 km (2,174 miles) off the coast of Chile and is the most remote inhabited island on the planet. The far off island has long been a bucket list destination for travelers from around the world, primarily due to the giant Moai monuments.
Chile’s Undersecretary of Cultural Heritage Carolina Pérez Dattari said that officials from the country’s National Monuments Council (CNM) “are on the ground assessing the damages” from the fire on the island’s sacred stone figures.
The composition of the statues can be adversely impacted from “exposure to high temperatures … which could create big fractures that affect the Moai’s integrity,” according to the CNM.
The island’s national park which features 386 Moai carved from solid basalt is currently closed off to tourists while conservationists investigate the extent of the losses, the Rapa Nui council confirmed in a Facebook post.
Not long before the coronavirus pandemic put a pause on travel, Easter Island was grappling with a series of bad behavior from tourists, who would sometimes take photos of with the Maoi in angles where it looked like they were “picking the noses” of the giant statues.
Two years ago, a Chilean island resident was arrested after his truck crashed into one of the stone figures and smashed the ahu, or platform, it was perched on.
Polynesian seafarers first arrived on Rapa Nui approximately 900 years ago, and have long made researchers curious why the huge statues were placed where they are.
But recent studies suggest the statues could be connected to where the island settlers found undersea freshwater springs.
According to UNESCO, the Polynesian society settled on the island and established a “powerful, imaginative and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture, free from any external influence,” such as the “erected enormous stone figures known as Moai, which created an unrivaled landscape that continues to fascinate people throughout the world.”