Apr. 11, 2013 — A team of archaeologists from the
University of Southampton
have used the latest in digital imaging technology to record and analyse
carvings on the Easter Island statue Hoa
James Miles, Hembo Pagi and Dr Graeme Earl from the Archaeological Computing Research Group at the
of Southampton teamed up with
archaeologist and editor of British Archaeology Mike Pitts to examine the
statue at the Wellcome Trust Gallery in the British
Museum, . London
Dr Earl explains: "The Hoa Hakananai'a statue has rarely been studied at first hand by archaeologists, but developments in digital imaging technology have now allowed us to examine it in unprecedented detail."
Hoa Hakananai'a was brought to
in 1869 by the crew of HMS
Topaze. It is traditionally said to have been carved around AD1200. The England Island is home to around 1,000 similar statues, but Hoa
Hakananai'a is of particular interest because of the intricate carvings on its
It is popularly believed that around AD1600 the Easter Islanders faced an ecological crisis and stopped worshipping their iconic statues. The
Rapa Nui, as they are known, turned
instead to a new birdman religion, or cult. This included a ritual based around
collecting the first egg of migrating terns from a nearby islet, Motu Nui. The
'winner', whose representative swam to the islet and then back with the egg,
was afforded sacred status for a year.
Hoa Hakananai'a survived this shift in religious beliefs by being placed in a stone hut and covered in carved 'petroglyphs', or rock engravings, depicting motifs from the birdman cult. As such, it may be representative of the transition from the cult of statues to the cult of the birdman.
The team from the University of Southampton examined Hoa Hakananai'a using two different techniques: Photogrammetric Modelling; which involved taking hundreds of photos from different angles to produce a fully textured computer model of the statue, capable of being rotated in 360 degrees; and Reflectance Transformation Imaging; a process which allows a virtual light source to be moved across the surface of a digital image of the statue, using the difference between light and shadow to highlight never-seen-before details.