Vandal fined $17,000 and banned for breaking ear off ancient statue

Finnish visitor escapes prison but is made to publicly apologise

LONDON. A 26-year-old Finnish tourist has been made to pay $23,000 (a $6,000 fine and $17,000 damages), and forced to publicly apologise to the inhabitants of Easter Island, for criminal damage to one its famous moai statues. Marko Kulju was also banned from the island for three years by the Chilean authorities (Easter Island is a Chilean overseas territory), but escaped a possible five-year prison sentence. María Elena Noël of the Chilean Council for National Monuments told The Art Newspaper that specialists would attempt to restore the damaged statue.

The chief executive of the Chilean Council for National Monuments, Oscar Acuña, said that he hoped the punishment would serve as a warning to others visiting the 160 sq. km island, which lies in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, 3,800 km from Chile’s capital, Santiago.

Kulju was seen repeatedly circling the statue before jumping onto its one-metre-high stone platform, despite clear signs telling visitors to keep off, and breaking off a piece of the moai’s right earlobe. The piece fell to the ground and shattered into fragments. The moai, at Ahu Nau Nau, was among the best preserved on the island and stands in a line with six others, only four of which are fully intact and reach their full height of four metres on a 60-metre long platform.

Kulju’s vandalism was witnessed by a German resident who gave chase and made a report to the police; the young Finn confessed and was arrested.

Shawn McLaughlin, spokes­man for the Easter Island Foundation, a heritage body, and author of the Complete Guide to Easter Island, said the attack was a “heinous and callous mutilation”.

“It is not easy or inexpensive to repair such damage,” said Mr McLaughlin. “Sadly, I fear that, with increased tourism and limited resources, the problem is only going to get worse.”

Mr McLaughlin said that funds for maintenance of the ancient sites on Easter Island are limited and derive from a combination of subsidies from Chile and tourism. There are thousands of archaeological sites, including rock art, petroglyphs, the sacred site of Orongo at the summit of the Rano Kau volcano and the 400 moai, either in situ at the Rano Raraku statue quarry, or re-erected in more recent times on their ahu (stone platforms).

The entire island is an officially designated open-air museum but, while there are national park guard emplacements at the key tourist destinations, staffing is inadequate. The park guard stationed at Anakena beach, where the damaged moai is located, did not see the incident.

Emma Beatty

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