The Colossal Hats (pukao) of Monumental Statues: An Analysis of Pukao on Rapa Nui (Easter Island)
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As part of monumental statue (moai) construction during the prehistory of Rapa Nui, islanders quarried masses of red scoria, carved them into hats (pukao), and placed them atop statues measuring up to 10 meters tall. Despite overall great interest in moai and the improbable magnitude of pukao that were raised to reach their positions on the heads of statues, few studies have investigated pukao production, transport, and placement. This study seeks to analyze three-dimensional variability of pukao using 15,000 photos of 50 pukao found near statues and 13 red scoria cylinders located in the quarry. These models are used to evaluate which surface features are stylistic with related temporal and spatial variability and which are functional and relate to construction and transport of these multi-ton objects. The functional detail has the potential to shed light on how prehistoric islanders designed pukao to be placed atop moai. To this end, additional three dimensional models of statue platforms (ahu) and moai are combined with the models of pukao to test the feasibility of the hypothesis that the pukao were placed atop moai using stone ramps. The hypothesis in which relatively small numbers of Rapanui placed pukao atop moai by rolling the former up ramps is supported by physical calculations and best explains the archaeological record.