Pukao are the hats or topknots formerly placed on top of some moai statues on Easter Island. They were all carved from a very light red volcanic stone scoria, which was quarried from a single source at Puna Pau.
Pukao are cylindrical in shape with a dent on the underside to fit on the head of the moai and a boss or knot on top. They fitted onto the moai in such a way that the pukao protruded forwards. Their size varies in proportion to the moai they were on but they can be up to 8 feet (2.4 m) tall and 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter.
The pukao was balanced as a separate piece on top of the head of a moai. It is not known how they were raised and placed but theories include them being raised with the statue or placed after the statue was erected. Pukao may have represented dressed hair or headdresses of red feathers worn by chiefs throughout Polynesia.
To date, about 100 pukao have been documented archaeologically, but only at Ahu with fallen statues or at the source quarry.
Source of the Pukao
The red-colored hats were made from reddish scoria, a volcanic rock. The rocks were built in a quarry known as Puna Pau, which was located inside the crater of a volcano and on its outer lip. After the Pukao were made, they were rolled by hand or on tree logs to the site of the statues along an ancient road. The road was built out of a cement of compressed red scoria dust. Over 70 discarded Pukao have been found along the road and on raised ceremonial platforms.
- Hamilton, Sue (2007). Stone Worlds: Narrative and Reflexive in Landscape Archaeology. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. ISBN 978-1-59874-218-3.
- Discovery News. "Easter Island Red Hat Mystery Revealed". The ancient mystery of the distinctive red hats atop the Easter Island statues has been solved. Retrieved 29 November 2011.
- Jared Diamond Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed 2005 Viking Press ISBN 0-670-03337-5, 2006 Penguin ISBN 0-14-027951-2
- Grant McCall (1995). "Rapanui (Easter Island)." Pacific Islands Year Book 17th Edition. Fiji Times. Retrieved August 8, 2005.
- Jo Anne Van Tilburg Easter Island Archaeology, Ecology and Culture 1994 British Museum Press ISBN 0-7141-2504-0, 1995 Smithsonian Press ISBN 1-56098-510-0
- Easter Island statue project
- Katherine Routledge. 1919. The Mystery of Easter Island. The story of an expedition. London.
- Splendid Isolation: Art of Easter Island, an exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on Pukao
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