Easter Island or “Rapa Nui” is among the most remote islands in the world, located some 3541 kilometers (2,200 miles) off the coast of Chile in the Pacific Ocean. Famous for its mysterious yet iconic statues (moai), Easter Island is currently the subject of a new exhibition at Manchester Museum in Manchester, UK: Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island. This show explores the incredible artistic, cultural, and religious traditions of the Rapanui people.
In this exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener speaks to Mr. Bryan Sitch, Deputy Head of Collections at Manchester Museum, about the engineering and construction of the moai, their purpose in the lives of the islanders, and the intrepid explorers who sought to understand them.
Moai against a setting sun on Easter Island, Chile. Adam Stanford @Aerial-Cam for RNLOC. (Courtesy of Manchester Museum.)
JW: Mr. Bryan Sitch, welcome to Ancient History Encyclopedia! This is the first interview we have ever conducted with Manchester Museum, as well as the first to encompass the perennially intriguing topic of the moai statues.
Why has Manchester Museum chosen to create an exhibition encompassing Rapanui and their moai? One cannot deny that there is considerable public interest in these monolithic statues.
BS: Thank you for inviting me, James. Manchester Museum’s temporary exhibition Making Monuments on Rapa Nui: The Statues from Easter Island is the happy convergence of an offer to lend statue from Easter Island, “Moai Hava,” as part of the British Museum’s National Programs, and the fact that Professor Colin Richards of the University of Manchester’s Department of Archaeology has been carrying out excavations on Rapa Nui. Richards is one of the co-investigators on an AHRC (Arts and Humanities Research Council) funded program of fieldwork involving the University College London, University of Manchester, Bournemouth University and Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (ORCA), University of Highlands and Islands, as well as Rapanui and Chilean archaeologists.
Manchester Museum regularly works with academics across the campus on temporary exhibition projects, the intention being to bring the results of their research to a wider audience here in the museum. In this way the museum is able to draw upon the most recent research in support of its temporary exhibitions, which implement the two principal strands of the organization’s mission: to promote understanding between cultures and to develop a sustainable world. The Making Monuments exhibition is the latest such “academic-led” project with which I, as Curator of Archaeology and Deputy Head of Collections, have been involved.