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Respect for Rapa Nui: exhibition and conservation of Easter Island stone statues

  • Jo Anne Van Tilburg (a1)

Writing in 1968, archaeologist William Mulloy rightfully called Easter Island (Rapa Nui) an ‘outdoor archaeological museum of unique significance’. Indeed, the potential value of the island’s archaeological sites and their import for the island’s tourist economy meant that sites were touted as museum displays worthy of preservation, restoration and curation (Mulloy & Figueroa G.-H. 1966; Mulloy 1968: iii). That value encouraged successful funding appeals by Mulloy for restoration of several ceremonial sites at Tahai, Ahu Akivi and elsewhere.

These restorations, first and foremost, ‘produced archaeological information bearing on the reconstruction of the local prehistoric culture’, while at the same time ‘the restorations are expected to serve as exhibit materials in relation to presently developing plans for a tourist industry’ (Mulloy 1968: iii).

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It is well known that yesterday's conservation methods are tomorrow's heritage destruction – of a myriad examples one has only to think of Evans at Knossos. The following account of what would appear in an age of science to have shown at the very least a lack of understanding of conservation methods and cultural monument management is only the first chapter of what may well be a continuing story. Readers of ANTIQUITY should also refer to the Review pages (pp. 436–7) of this issue for some additional notes on the modern mysteries of Easter Island by Dr Grant McCall who, like Jo Anne Van Tilburg, has long association with the archaeology and anthropology of Rapa Nui.

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Ayres, W.S. 1973. The cultural context of Easter Island religious structures. Ph.D dissertation, Tulane University.
Ayres, W.S. 1988. The Tahai settlement complex. First International Congress Easter Island and East Polynesia, Archaeology 1. Santiago: Universidad de Chile.
Cristino F., C. & Vargas|C., P. 1980. Prospección arqueológica de Isla de Pascua, Anales de la Universidad de Chile, no. 1612: 191215. Santiago.
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Ford, R.I. 1984. Ethics and the Museum archaeologist, in Green, E.L. (ed.), Ethics and values in archaeology: 12842. New York: Free Press.
Hanig, U. & Sauer., D.F. 1989. Die Abformung von zwei moai und einer ahu-Fassade auf der Osterinsel sowie die Ausformung zur Gewinnung originalgetreuer Kopien, in 1500 Jahre Kultur der Osterinsel. Frankfurt: Verlag Philipp von Zabern.
Heyerdahl, T. 1989. Easter Island: the mystery solved. New York: Random House.
Hyvert, G. 1972. Les statues de Rapa Nui: conservation et restauration. Paris: UNESCO.
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Krussel, H. 1977. Replica de un moai para el Museo Nacional de Historia Natural. Santiago de Chile.
Mccoy, P.C. 1976. Easter island settlement patterns in the late prehistoric and protohistoric periods. New York: International Fund for Monuments. Bulletin of the Easter Island Committee 5.
Mulloy, W.S. 1968. Preliminary report of archaeological jïeld work February-July, 1968, Easter Island. New York: International Fund for Monuments. Bulletin of the Easter Island Committee 1.
Mulloy, W.S. & Figueroa G.-H., G. 1966. The archaeological heritage of Rapa Nui. Paris: Museum and Monuments Division, UNESCO.
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Van Tllburg, J. 1982. El proyecto de estatuaria de Isla de Pascua 1 & 2. Report to the Centro de Estudios. On file, UCLA Rock Art Archive.
Van Tllburg, J. 1983. El proyecto de estatuaria de Rapa Nui. Report to the Centro de Estudios and UREP. MS on file, UCLA Rock Art Archive.
Van Tllburg, J. 1984. Easter Island statuary: the moai documentation project. Report to Instituto de Estudios. MS on file, UCLA Rock Art Archive.
Van Tllburg, J. 1986a. Power and symbol: the stylistic analysis of Easter Island monolithic sculpture. Ph.D dissertation, UCLA Institute of Archaeology.
Van Tllburg, J. 1986b. Easter Island statues: observations on preservation and protection of a cultural resource. Report to the Instituto de Estudios. MS on file, UCLA Rock Art Archive.
Van Tllburg, J. 1987. Larger than life: the form and function of Easter Island monolithic sculpture, Musées Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire Bulletin 58(2): 11130.
Van Tllburg, J. 1988. Stylistic variation of dorsal design on Easter Island statues, Clava 4: 95108. Vina del Mar: Museo Sociedad Fonck.
Van Tllburg, J.. 1987. Symbolic stratigraphy: rock art and the monolithic statues of Easter Island, World Archaeology 19 (2): 13345.
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  • ISSN: 0003-598X
  • EISSN: 1745-1744
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