A new moai statue, one of the iconic statues on Easter Island, has been discovered by a team of scientific volunteers from three Chilean universities.

The Indigenous community that manages the site announced the discovery, stating that it was found in the bed of a dry laguna within a volcano crater. According to the Ma’u Henua Indigenous community, this discovery is unique as it’s the first time that a moai statue has been found inside a laguna in a Rano Raraku crater, and it has great potential for scientific and natural studies.

The statue was found on February 21 as part of a project to restore the marshland in the crater of the Rano Raraku volcano.

Several moai statues in the area were damaged in an October forest fire on the island, also known as Rapa Nui, which is located around 2,200 miles off the west coast of Chile.

“This moai is in the center of a laguna that began drying up in 2018,” Ninoska Avareipua Huki Cuadros, director of the Ma’u Henua Indigenous community that administers the Rapa Nui National Park, where the volcano is found, told AFP.

“The interesting thing is that, for at least the last 200 or 300 years, the laguna was three meters deep, meaning no human being could have left the moai there in that time,” said Huki, who is also the provincial head of the local branch of the national forestry corporation, which is collaborating with the restoration of the marshland.

According to the BBC, Moai are singular, carved stone figures with elongated faces and no legs that were mostly extracted from tuff, a type of volcanic ash, at the Rano Raraku volcano over 500 years ago.

Archaeologist José Miguel Ramírez said it’s feasible that the Rapa Nui had attempted to relocate the statue during a previous period when the lake was dry. The Moai in question is 1.6 meters tall and was discovered lying on its side, gazing up at the sky.

According to the Ma’u Henua statement, the newly discovered moai has recognizable features, but no clear definition, and the group is seeking funds for further investigation. However, there are currently no plans to relocate the statue from its current location.

Huki explained that the decision on what to do with the moai should be made by the Rapa Nui community as a whole, and that the older members of the community wish to leave it where it was found.

The Rano Raraku volcano and its moai have been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. UNESCO describes the island’s Polynesian society as having established a powerful and original tradition of monumental sculpture and architecture without external influence, and the moai as creating a cultural landscape that continues to capture the imagination of people worldwide.

Easter Island was inhabited by Polynesian people for many years until it was annexed by Chile in 1888.