The Great Altar of Rapa Nui
Ahu Tongariki, set in the bay of Hanga Nui, was the largest ceremonial structure ever built on the Island. It is around 200 meters (656 feet) long. There is evidence that it once had up to 30 statues, some of which today rest in the ocean. Around this open-air altar, the whole religious, social and political life of the community developed: investitures, initiation rites, assemblies and funerals. The plain in front of the platform has been one of the most heavily populated in the Island.
There are still remains of settlements with bases of Hare Paenga (canoe shaped houses),of Manavai(rock-walled gardens)and Papa (large rock surfaces covered with petroglyphs).The central riser of the Ahu (ceremonial platform) is almost 100 meters (328 feet) long and today supports 15 statues ranging between 6 and 9 meters (19 to 30 feet) high with an average weight of 40 tons. With their respective headdresses or crowns of red scoria, called Pukao, this monument reaches 14 meters (46 feet) in height. In funerary chambers inside the base of the platform, remains of royal families found their rest.
In May of 1960, a mega-earthquake in Southern Chile caused a tsunami with waves estimated to reach 10 meters (33 feet) high, damaging the Eastern coast of the Island and dragging inland the Ahu with its Moai (statues), along with thousands of cubic meters of rock to cover an area of 4 hectares (nearly 10 acres).
Between 1992 and 1997, archaeologists from the University of Chile, with the financial auspices of the Japanese government, restored this ceremonial center which can, today, be appreciated as it was seen by the ancient people during the high point of their culture. Especially important among the pieces recovered is a group of small Moai with more natural, rough features and short ears which seem to be of a yet older style. These had been incorporated into the rock fill of the present Ahu, indicating that some platforms were built for use during relatively short periods and, after three or four generations, were renovated or rebuilt.