[Image via Iron Mountain]

Many people often refer to them simply as “Easter Island statues” or “Easter Island heads” but the giant humanoid statues on Polynesia’s Easter Island are actually called moai. Carved by the native Rapa Nui people, the moai are 13 feet tall and nearly 14 tons on average, and have stood on the island since they were originally built sometime between the years 1250 and 1500. There are almost 900 of them left, and this past week they were just designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with the platforms, called ahu, they stand on; Rapa Nui National Park received this designation in 1995.

The fact that the moai have lasted for so many centuries is a good sign, pointing to them standing for many centuries more to come. However, a collaboration between two companies is now working to ensure that they are further preserved in digital form. CyArk, a nonprofit that digitally archives and preserves world heritage sites, and Iron Mountain, a data and records management company, are undertaking a project to 3D scan the moai and ahu, as well as other archaelogical sites on Easter Island, so that they can be both preserved and made accessible to people around the world.

This week, a team from CyArk is in Easter Island to begin capturing the statues and other sites using a combination of 3D laser scanning and photogrammetry. CyArk’s technology team will then turn the scans into 3D images that can be made virtually available to anyone – so if you never get the chance to travel to Easter Island, you can still see the massive statues in up-close detail. The scans will also be copied onto data backup tapes and stored in Iron Mountain’s secure underground storage facility in Pennsylvania.

The CyArk team heads to capture the moai [Image: Iron Mountain via Twitter]

“The moai of Rapa Nui are among some of the most remarkable and dramatic monuments in the world, evoking awe and wonder. They stand as incredible testaments to the ingenuity and engineering prowess of the Rapa Nui people, who managed to carve, transport and erect these massive statues without the benefit of modern technology,” said CyArk CEO John Ristevksi. “Yet, while they have endured since the 12th century, much like other heritage sites they find themselves endangered by the forces of nature and time. With the completion of this project, we will have a record of these monuments for generations to come, no matter what the future holds.”

Iron Mountain is the sole corporate sponsor of the project through its Living Legacy Initiative, which provides funding and data storage and protection services for preservation projects. It has also supported CyArk’s mission of preserving 500 historical sites in five years; so far, CyArk has digitally preserved 200 sites on all seven continents.

“Our support of CyArk and projects like Rapa Nui are the expression of Iron Mountain’s philanthropic focus on, and commitment to, preserving our shared cultural heritage. Every day, all over the world, we serve as the trusted guardian for our customers’ most precious assets, and we take that responsibility seriously,” said Ary Acuna, country manager for Iron Mountain Chile. “Our Living Legacy Initiative enables Iron Mountain to extend that trust into the communities where we live and work all over the globe, helping to ensure that our shared heritage remains preserved and protected for generations to come.”

[Image: Iron Mountain via Twitter]

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