The statues on Easter Island have stood for centuries, facing inland to watch over a community that reveres them as memorials of their ancestors. Made of volcanic rock, they have braved many challenges over the years: climate change, lichen growth, damage from livestock and the encroaching development of tourism.

Add a runaway pickup truck to that list.

The unoccupied truck, which had been parked, rolled on Sunday onto an ahu, a ceremonial mortuary structure that supports about half of the nearly 1,000 statues, or their toppled remains, local officials and archaeologists said.

Ma’u Henua, the island’s cultural heritage organization, posted photographs of the crash on its Facebook page, showing the vehicle perched on top of an intact statue that had been on its side near the ahu where it had once stood.

“We reiterate the importance of taking care of the heritage we have in our park,” the organization said, calling the crash “seriously damaging.”

Referring to the statues, the group said: “They are not only archaeological vestiges. They are sacred elements for a living and fundamental culture.”

The Easter Island statues are sacred to the people of the island, which they call Rapa Nui.

Some of the statues are full figures, buried neck-deep in trenches, hillsides or quarries. Others were erected on ahu structures, and toppled during a period of civil struggle that started in the 1700s, or have been knocked over by natural disasters, such as earthquakes, archaeologists said.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, an archaeologist and the director of the Easter Island Statue Project, said there were about 350 ahu structures throughout the island, each having one to 15 statues on it. Only 50 statues have been re-erected on various ahu, and the rest have remained toppled.

The one at Ahu O’hae crushed by the truck was about seven feet long, making it one of the smallest. As with many of the other ahu structures, it is not known exactly why the statue first fell from its site.

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