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Lipo Honored With Society For American Archaeology Book Award For Easter Island Study

Published: April 16, 2012

Carl Lipo, professor of archaeology at CSULB, will receive the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) Book Award in the public category for The Statues That Walked: Unraveling the Mystery of Easter Island, co-authored with anthropology Professor Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

The pair will be honored at SAA’s Annual Business Meeting and Awards Ceremony Friday, April 20 in Memphis, Tenn.

Lipo book cover

The Statues That Walked, published by Free Press, summarizes Lipo and Hunt’s findings after nearly nine years of research on Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui. They studied the history of the giant moai statues found across the island and also discovered that the island’s once lush forest was largely destroyed not by human activity but by rats that came aboard Polynesian voyagers’ boats. Moreover, they demonstrated that contact with Europeans exacerbated the island’s ecological and social collapse.

Another key finding was that island residents likely moved moai statues by a back-and-forth “walking” motion rather than on tree trunk rollers—a process they demonstrate in a forthcoming NOVA/National Geographic television documentary debuting this summer, accompanied by a cover story in National Geographic magazine.

Their views on the history of Rapa Nui are generating comment in the archaeological community, Lipo said, but their book is primarily aimed at general audiences, which is why the SAA selected it for recognition in explaining archaeological information in an easy-to-understand manner for the public.

“Archaeology has much to tell us about the way societies change over time,” Lipo remarked. “In The Statues That Walked, we tried specifically to convey the excitement of discovery that is archaeology as well as discuss why this kind of research is essential for understanding our past and future. We are deeply honored to be recognized by our colleagues for our work.”

Lipo and Hunt with the statue
Carl Lipo (l) and Terry Hunt with their fabricated moai statue for the NOVA TV documentary about Easter Island.

In addition to teaching and research, Lipo is co-founder of CSULB’s Institute for Integrated Research in Materials, Environments and Society, an interdisciplinary laboratory with state-of-the-art equipment for researchers in geology, biology, archaeology and other sciences.

–Anne Ambrose