A digital survey, combining photogrammetry and reflectance transformation imaging (RTI), offers significant new insights into the British Museum's Easter Island statue called Hoa Hakananai'a. These include the likelihood that it was made with a tapering base to stand in the ground, as seen by the crew of HMS Topaze in 1868, and that a nearby stone described a century ago was a pukau, a stone ‘hat’. Petroglyphs consisting of two komari (stylised female genitalia) were subsequently added. Succeeding these were bas-relief carvings, here interpreted as a single composition that narrates the island's birdman myth as recorded in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This reading is supported by photographs of Hoa Hakananai'a taken in Chile in 1868. A new model is presented for the relationship between the statue and the birdman cult. As it now stands, in a nineteenth-century plinth, Hoa Hakananai'a appears to lean slightly from its intended placing.