Ancient sculpture discovered on Easter Island: 'GMA' gets 1st look

The newly discovered Moai statue was found in a dry lake bed on the island.

ByAngeline Jane Bernabe, Erin Brady, Faryn Shiro and Robyn Weil ABCNews logo
Thursday, March 2, 2023
New ancient sculpture discovered on Easter Island
A new Moai statue was found in a dry lake bed on the remote inhabited island.

A new moai has been discovered on the remote inhabited volcanic Easter Island situated in Polynesia.

Earlier this week, a new moai statue was found in a dry lake bed on the island, according to Salvador Atan Hito, the vice president of Ma'u Henua.

Ma'u Henua is the Indigenous organization which oversees the national park on the island, which the Indigenous people of Rapa Nui call home.

"For the Rapa Nui people, it's [a] very, very important discovery," Hito told "Good Morning America" through a translator at the site. "Because it's here in the lake and nobody knows this exists -- even the ancestors, our grandparents don't know [about] that one."

There are nearly 1,000 moai on Easter Island made from volcanic tuff, according to Dr. Terry Hunt, professor of archeology at the University of Arizona who has been studying the statues and the Rapa Nui for 20 years. The tallest moai statue on the island is 33 feet tall and on average, the statues weigh around three to five tons, but can weigh up to 80 tons, according to Hunt.

As plastic degrades in the ocean, it releases greenhouse gasses that can interfere with the ocean's ability to store carbon and keep it out of environments like Easter Island.

"The moai are important because they really represent the history of the Rapa Nui people," Hunt said. "They were the islanders' deified ancestors. They're iconic worldwide, and they really represent the fantastic archeological heritage of this island."

The newly discovered moai is smaller than others across the island. Still, Hunt said that its discovery marks a first in the dry lake bed and is archeologically significant.

"We think we know all the moai, but then a new one turns up, a new discovery, and in this case, in the lake, at the statue quarry," he said. "There have been no moai found in the dry bed or in what was previously a lake, so this is a first."

Climate-induced changes are affecting the island and the drying of the lake created an "unusual opportunity" to study the area, according to Hunt.

Hunt and Hito said with the present dry conditions, archeologists may discover more moai in the lake bed.

"Under the dry conditions that we have now, we may find more. They've been hidden by the tall reeds that grow in the lake bed and prospecting with something that can detect what's under the ground surface may tell us that there are in fact more moai in the lakebed sediments," Hunt said. "When there's one moai in the lake, there's probably more."

Hito said that along with more moai, the team will look to unearth tools that were used to carve the moai and writings.

The discovery was made as "GMA" co-anchor Michael Strahan reports from Easter Island next week, exploring the remote inhabited volcanic island's heritage, beauty and the historic colossal stone statues.

Strahan will also investigate how climate change is affecting the island's locals and the environment, threatening the moai and how plastics in the ocean are affecting the island's surrounding waters.

Tune into "GMA" at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, and Thursday, March 2, to see Strahan live from Easter Island.