One of my favourite items in the British Museum is the Moai. It is in the Living and Dying room.

Moai in British museum. Photo from Bytes Daily.

I spent a few days on Easter Island in 2005. It’s a funny place – technically part of Chile, and about half the size of the Isle of Wight, and formed from three volcanoes. It’s the most remote island in the world. Most of the three thousand residents live in the town. There are wild horses.

Moai, Easter Island

Moai on the east coast of Easter Island. Photo by Ollie Palmer.

Easter Islands’ stone heads were carved by tribes who lived on opposite sides of the island: the Hanau epe (Long Ears) and the Hanau momoko (Short Ears). Both wanted more heads to prove how much better they were than the other tribe. The construction of the heads led to the deforestation of the island, and used so much of its resources that there was widespread famine, and a huge population loss. It is an example of how an entire culture can lose perspective.

The moai in the British Museum is from the Short Ears side of the island. It would have originally been painted red. It is called Hakananai’a, which translates as ‘Stolen or Hidden Friend’.

My favourite part of the statue is not the fond memories it evokes, but the plinth it stands on. Over the years so many people thought it would be hilarious to touch the sign that says ‘Please do not touch’ that, although it has since been removed, its outline is preserved in greasy fingerprints. It’s like a footpath which emerges on a patch of grass; but this time from lots of people doing the same joke.

“Please do not touch”

Further reading:
The BBC’s History of the World in 100 Objects
The Cult of the Birdman, the religion that developed following the famine
Easter Island Statues