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Using Structure from Motion Mapping to Record and Analyze Details of the Colossal Hats (Pukao) of Monumental Statues on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 October 2017

Sean W. Hixon*
Department of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University, 403 Carpenter Building, University Park, PA 16802, USA
Carl P. Lipo
Department of Anthropology, State University of New York Binghamton, Science 1, Room 166, Binghamton, NY 13902, USA (
Terry L. Hunt
Robert D. Clark Honors College, University of Oregon, 129 Chapman Hall, Eugene, OR 97403, USA (
Christopher Lee
Department of Geography, California State University, Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, CA 90840, USA (
(, corresponding author)


Structure from motion (SfM) mapping is a photogrammetric technique that offers a cost-effective means of creating three-dimensional (3-D) visual representations from overlapping digital photographs. The technique is now used more frequently to document the archaeological record. We demonstrate the utility of SfM by studying red scoria bodies known as pukao from Rapa Nui (Easter Island, Chile). We created 3-D images of 50 pukao that once adorned the massive statues (moai) of Rapa Nui and compare them to 13 additional pukao located in Puna Pau, the island's red scoria pukao quarry. Through SfM, we demonstrate that the majority of these bodies have petroglyphs and other surface features that are relevant to archaeological explanation and are currently at risk of continued degradation.

El mapeo de estructura a partir del movimiento (SfM por sus siglas en inglés) es una técnica fotométrica de bajo costo que permite crear representaciones visuales en tres dimensiones a través de la superposición de fotografías digitales. Actualmente la técnica es usada con más frecuencia para el registro de datos arqueológicos. Aquí demostramos la utilidad de la técnica SfM para estudiar los elementos esculpidos de escoria roja conocidos como pukao de Rapa Nui (Isla de Pascua, Chile). Se crearon imágenes en 3D de 50 pukao que alguna vez decoraron las enormes estatuas (moai) de Rapa Nui y se compararon con 13 pukao adicionales localizados en Puna Pau, la cantera en la isla donde se extraía la escoria roja utilizada para los pukao. A través del uso de la técnica SfM se demuestra que la mayoría de estos elementos tiene petroglifos y otros rasgos superficiales que son relevantes para las explicaciones arqueológicas y que actualmente se encuentran en riesgo de degradación continuada.

Copyright 2017 © Society for American Archaeology 

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