Were the huge iconic statues on Easter Island created (or influenced) by extraterrestrials?

The idea that extraterrestrials visited ancient civilizations has been around for decades, a theory most prominently promoted by Erich von Daniken, author of the best-selling classic work of pseudoscience "Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past."

Von Daniken believes, for example, that ancient Egyptians had neither the intelligence nor the tools to create the pyramids at Giza — thus they must have been made by aliens. Similar claims have been made about the Mayan pyramids in Central America and the giant drawings in the Nazca desert of Peru.

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A writer on Huliq.com suggested that a recent BBC television show called Wild Pacific repeats that claim, though it’s not clear whether the show actually made the UFO-related claims attributed to it or not.

Such ideas are hardly new; the piece also references a report from a quasi-official French UFO research organization named COMETA which asks, “Who built these giant stone statues and how did they get there on this remote Pacific Island?”

Yet such mystery-mongering questions are red herrings. Archaeologists know who built the moai statues: people who lived on the island, not Martians. The question of how the statues got “there on this remote Pacific Island” misleadingly suggests that the huge carvings were somehow brought vast distances across the ocean for some unknown, mysterious purpose to this remote island.

In fact, the stone (actually a substance called tuff, compressed and easily carved volcanic ash) was taken from an extinct volcano called Rano Raraku on the northeastern part of the island and transported using ropes and logs to various sites along the coast. There’s no mystery where the moai came from; in fact hundreds of them can be found still embedded and only partially carved out of the side of Rano Raraku volcano.

So if there’s no mystery who carved the huge, enigmatic stone heads, and there’s no mystery where the heads came from, then the only remaining mystery is why they were carved. Researchers believe that each head (and torso — many of the figures are buried deep in the ground and go below the waist) represented a deceased head of a family or clan. The inhabitants of Easter Island (believed to once number in the thousands) gradually diminished due to internal warfare, slavery and disease.

Thus there remains no real mystery to be answered, by wild speculation about extraterrestrials or anything else. Unfortunately the real, genuine history and cultural traditions of ancient civilizations are often overshadowed by sensational and fictional theories about aliens.

Credit: Corbis