Ester island

Footage of the experiment with a moai

The successful demonstration at Kualoa Ranch in Hawaii with a three metre tall, 4.35-tonne concrete replica moai, captured on video by the researchers, offers an alternative to the traditional hypothesis that the 887 statues, which stand as high as 32 feet and weigh up to 80 tons each, were rolled across the island, now know as Rapa Nui, on wooden logs.

A team of 18 people attached three ropes to the replica moais head, with two groups pulling forward on either side and one group at the rear steering the statue and preventing it from toppling over. Chanting "heave-ho", they managed to shuffle the statue 100 metres in under an hour.

The study, led by Carl Lipo, from California State University, Terry Hunt, from the University of Hawaii, and archaeologist Sergio Rapu Haoa, the former Easter Island governor, looks at the moai that were successfully placed on stone pedestals and those that the original islanders apparently abandoned on road sides during their journey from the stone quarry where they were carved.

Their research, published in the Journals of Archaeological Science, suggests the abandoned moai fell over from upright positions, with one showing signs of attempts to return it to an upright position, which would contradict the popular theory that they were rolled on logs.

"The figure is usually shaped from the top down leaving a narrow 'keel' connecting it to the bedrock," the three experts write. "Statues were 'walked' out of the pit through excavated openings to moai roads."