(POPULAR MECHANICS) -- The famed stone monoliths that tower over the island of Rapa Nui—colloquially known as Easter Island—have puzzled scientists for centuries.
But now, archaeologists and soil scientists studying the ancient Moai believe they may have uncovered the meaning of the famous statues. Clues in nearby soils suggest the statues may have been placed there to celebrate the fertility of crops in the area.
For more than three decades, Jo Ann Van Tilburg, of the University of California, Los Angeles, has studied the origins of the Moai along with Rapanui artist Cristián Arévalo Pakarati and other members of the local community. They recruited soil scientist Sarah Sherwood, of the University of the South in Tennessee, to analyze the soil the base of two statues found peculiarly perched upright in the Rano Raraku quarry on the eastern part of the island, where most of the more than 1,000 Moai statues originated. (The scientists suspect that work in the quarry began around A.D. 1455.)
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