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Did Easter Island statues walk? Or rock and roll?

  • Nat Geo easter island 4.JPG

    A 10-foot, 5-ton replica of an Easter Island "moai" dances down the road, guided by teams on each side and behind it. Archaeologists Carl Lipo and Terry Hunt, who led the experiment, report that once the balance of the teams and ropes was established, the statue "just did its thing." The experiment, funded by the National Geographic Society, is described in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. (Sheela Sharma)

  • Nat Geo easter island 3.JPG

    Three teams, one on each side and one in the back, manage to maneuver an Easter Island statue replica down a road in Hawaii, hinting that prehistoric farmers who didn't have the wheel may have transported these statues in this manner. The experiment was led by archaeologists Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo and is reported in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. (Sheela Sharma)

  • Nat Geo easter island.jpg

    Archaeologists Carl Lipo of California State University Long Beach (left) and Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii stand in front of a full-scale replica of a stone statue from Easter Island known as a moai. For centuries people have wondered who carved these statues and why. Hunt and Lipo's research on questions surrounding Easter Island's past is featured in a cover story in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. (Sheela Sharma)

  • Nat Geo easter island 2.JPG

    As a team of volunteers pulls in one direction and a group across from them coordinates, a full-scale replica of an Easter Island moai "walks" down a road in Hawaii, where the experiment was conducted. The experiment, which involved two groups rocking the statue from side to side while a third stabilized it from behind, showed that a minimum of 18 people could move the 10-foot, 5-ton moai a few hundred yards without it tipping over. The experiment is discussed in the July 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine. (Sheela Sharma)

  • Nat Geo easter island 6.jpg

     (National Geographic)

Easter Island’s giant statues were “walked” to their locations, according to two scientists.

The startling claim comes from archaeologists Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii and Carl Lipo of California State University Long Beach, who showed how as few as 18 people could move a 5-ton statue with just some ropes and hopes.

It sounds impossible, and contradicts other current theories. But it jibes with ancient village legends.

“The experts can say whatever they want,” 25-year-old Rapa Nui resident Suri Tuki told National Geographic. “But we know the truth. The statues walked.”

Some have suggested the 887 giant heads currently documented on the 63-square mile in the middle of the Pacific Ocean were built by stranded extraterrestrials, such as best-selling Swiss author Erich von Daniken. Others theorize the Peruvian Incas carved them. Modern science links them instead to Polynesia -- but how these peoples moved the heads from the quarry across miles of rocky island had remained a mystery.

'We know the truth. The statues walked.'

- 25-year-old Rapa Nui resident Suri Tuki

Scientists may have just discovered how.

In experiments conducted last year and funded by the National Geographic Society, Hunt and Lipo showed just how to do it. With three strong ropes and a bit of practice, the magazine writes, this many people can easily maneuver a 10-foot, 5-ton “moai” replica a few hundred yards. The fat bellies of the statues were essential to this mobility, the argument goes, helping them maintain momentum, while they were rocked from side to side via a rope around the statue's head.

The real statues were moved potentially for miles, but the demonstration shows the rock and roll technique could be the answer.

Images of the stunt from the July edition of National Geographic magazine show just how it happened; the full story is published in a book by Lipo and Hunt titled “The Statues That Walked.”

But that's hardly the only theory.

Ethnologist Jared Diamond believes the gigantic carvings were dragged on wooden sledges, a technique successfully tested by UCLA archaeologist Jo Anne Van Tilburg. She serves as the island’s unofficial spokeswoman, having been documenting Easter Island for decades.

First Van Tilburg documented the island’s statues and those that have been removed to museums; there are 887 inventoried, though she says the number is closer to 1,000. Then she began the next phase of work to reveal what lay beneath the ground -- covered up not intentionally by men, but through centuries of exposure to the environment.

That process has taken 12 years so far, and may take a lifetime of work.

“It’s the first time that one has been excavated in such a way that the documentation was complete and scientific,” she told FoxNews.com last month. Other groups have dug in the past, and looters have found their way to the remote island as well.

“People have been treasure hunting there for a long time.”

Is the rock and roll theory correct? It’s hard to say: The last statue was carved sometime in the 1800s, and the debate will surely continue -- as will fascination with the island and its mysteries.