Similarities in Polynesia and Mesoamerica!

It just occurred to me that the Atlantean warrior figures from the Temple of the Morning Star (Tula, Mexico) and the figures from Easter Island (Ahu Nau Nau, Easter Island, Polynesia) were created roughly around the same time but on different sides of the world.

Atlantean warrior figures, c. 900–1000 CE. Stone. Temple of the Morning Star (Tula, Mexico). Average height approx. 15′ (4.5 m). You can get a sense of scale for the Toltec statues here.
Image from Wikipedia via Luidger.
Moai figures, Ahu Nau Nau, Easter Island, Polynesia, c. 1000–1500 CE. Volcanic stone. Average height approx 36′ (11 m).
Image from Wikipedia via Ian Sewell
The Toltec statues are quite a bit smaller and contain more detail in bas relief (see more images here) than the Easter Island figures. These two statues also had different functions. The Easter Island figures might have served as memorials for dead leaders. In contrast, the Atlantean warriors served both as columns for the temple roof and as temple guardians.
Although there are definite differences, it is interesting to observe a few similarities between these monuments. Both are placed in an elevated area (the warrior figures are placed on top of a pyramidal base, whereas the Moai figures are placed on platforms.1 Decorative headdresses were originally found in both groups as well. The warriors wear feather headdresses and the Moai figures would have originally worn red tufa headdresses (read an interesting article about the how these red hats may have been rolled down an ancient volcano).
I also see some similarity in the frontal, rigid stances for both these sculptural groups. The linear arrangement of the statues is also similar, although that similarity more easily observed today since the warrior figures no longer function as columns. It’s interesting to see how a few similarities were appearing at the same time across the world. Perhaps we could chalk up these similarities to Hegel and his Geist theory?

1 I should point out, though, that most of the Moai figures are still located in the quarries instead of platforms. It is unclear why some figures were left in the quarries as opposed to those that are on platforms. However, there are some distinct differences between the two groups. The figures on the platforms are stockier, less angular, and have less accentuated features than those left in the quarries.
  • Margarida Elias says:

    Very intersting. I never thought about this before.

  • dcbyron says:

    Here's one possibly relevant difference, at least with regard to some:

  • joolee says:

    VERY interesting. there's a special place in my heart for Meso art, after taking the Northern and Southern Meso art classes at BYU. OH how i'd love to see it all in person!

  • M says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    dcbyron: Yes! Good call! That is another difference. I read here that in some cases up to 10 m of the statues from Easter Island can be underground, with just the head poking out of the earth.

    joolee: I bet those classes were interesting! I never took a Mesoamerican class when I was in school, and I regret that.

  • Dr. F says:


    In the book review of today's Wall St. Journal (7/30/11) there is a review of an interesting new study of the Easter Island statues.


  • M says:

    Thanks for the tip, Frank! Here is the article, for anyone who is interested. According to the article, researchers have claimed that an infestation of rats on the island prevented new forest growth.

  • Dr. F says:


    From an art history point of view I thought the most interesting part of the article was the explanation of how the statues could be "walked" into place in the same way you would move a refrigerator.


  • H Niyazi says:

    Interesting post M! Worth adding to the mix as far as resources is Professor Ramachandran's 'The Tell-Tale Brain' – which was was sparked by observing the congruences between objects akin to the Venus of Willendorf across spans of time and distance.

    There are some great reviews of it, such as this one at the NY Review of Books, but it's definitely worth checking out yourself if you find you want to explore syncretism from a neuroscience perspective. It was interesting to note the debate this review sparked – which is perhaps inevitable when neuroscience strays into philosophical territory such as the aesthetic appreciation of visual stimuli, such as in art.

    I hope to get around to a review of it at 3PP later in the year. It's a super read!

    Kind Regards

  • heidenkind says:

    Do the maoi statues and the Toltec statues face in similar directions?

  • M says:

    Hi H! Sounds like a fascinating book. Those reviews were interesting, too. I'm looking forward to your review on the topic!

    heidenkind: That's a good question! I'm not sure what cardinal direction the Toltec statues face. (If anyone knows, I would be interested to find out as well!) From what I read here, it seems like groups of Easter Island statues face different directions. Some statues face toward the water, while others face inland.

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.