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Easter Island: land of mystery

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Author Topic: Easter Island: land of mystery  (Read 213 times)
Kara Sundstrom
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« on: July 03, 2009, 11:25:00 am »

Easter Island: land of mystery
 

David Pratt
Nov 2004, Jan 2009


 

Part 1 of 4
 


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Contents
(Part 1)
    1. Introduction
    2. History
    3. South American connection

(Part 2)
    4. Carving the statues
    5. Moving the statues

(Part 3)
    6. Platforms
    7. Rongorongo
    8. Chronology

(Part 4)
    9. Sunken lands
  10. Megalithic Pacific



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #1 on: July 06, 2009, 12:27:23 am »

1. Introduction

    Everywhere is the wind of heaven; round and above all are boundless sea and sky, infinite space and a great silence. The dweller there is ever listening for he knows not what, feeling unconsciously that he is in the antechamber to something yet more vast which is just beyond his ken.  – Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, 1919

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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #2 on: July 06, 2009, 12:28:07 am »

Lying just south of the tropic of Capricorn, midway between Chile and Tahiti, Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – is one of the most remote islands on earth. Triangular in shape, with an extinct volcano at each corner, its 170 square kilometres offer a varied landscape of gently rolling hills, volcanic craters, rugged lava fields, and steep ocean cliffs, surrounded by the deep-blue waters of the South Pacific. The island is famous above all for nearly a thousand gigantic long-eared stone statues or moai, most of them 4 to 8 metres tall, and for over 300 stone platforms or ahu, many of megalithic proportions. It is a land of mystery, known in former times as Te Pito o te Henua, ‘the navel of the world’.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #3 on: July 06, 2009, 12:28:39 am »

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« Reply #4 on: July 06, 2009, 12:30:21 am »


Fig. 1.2 Easter Island lies isolated in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Platforms were built all around the islandís coast, and statues once stood on most of them, facing inland towards the villages. Some platform statues bore a large cylindrical headdress or pukao carved from reddish stone, and eyes of cut coral were fitted into their faces. Nearly all the statues are made from yellowish volcanic rock, quarried at the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. Work at the quarry seems to have stopped suddenly, for dozens of statues remain uncompleted, and thousands of stone pickaxes were found scattered around. Another enigma is the islandís still-undeciphered hieroglyphic script, known as Rongorongo Ė virtually the only ancient form of writing known in Oceania.
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2009, 12:31:15 am »



Fig. 1.3 Rano Raraku volcano.1 (courtesy of Carlos Huber)
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2009, 12:31:35 am »

The official view is that Easter Island was discovered accidentally by Polynesian migrants in the 4th century AD. Their descendants, living in isolation and having nothing better to do, decided to carve giant statues and build huge platforms. They rapidly acquired mastery in advanced stone-carving techniques and the transportation and **** of statues and stone blocks weighing many tons. For over a thousand years they maintained a peaceful, stable, constructive society which supported a large class of master-builders and master-sculptors, and was ruled by a hereditary hierarchy of sacred priest-kings. However, overpopulation and a deteriorating environment resulted in intertribal warfare by the late 17th century. Amidst the turmoil all the statues standing on the platforms were pulled down. It was around this time that the first European explorers discovered the island.
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« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2009, 12:31:49 am »

However, many controversies remain: How many times was Easter Island settled and from which direction: by Polynesians from the west, or by South Americans from the east? How did the islanders manage to sculpt hundreds of colossal moai, many as high as a three-storey building, transport them great distances, and erect them on the stone platforms? How did they manage to carve and shape the very tough basalt blocks used in the platforms, given that they are not supposed to have had any metal tools? Does the archaeological history of Easter Island really go back no further than 1500 years? Is there any truth to the legend that the island was once part of a much larger landmass?
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2009, 12:32:15 am »

References

   1. José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 67.

 
2. History
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Kara Sundstrom
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2009, 12:32:50 am »



Fig. 2.1
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« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2009, 12:33:27 am »

Official

The reigning consensus is that Easter Island was colonized around 300-400 AD as part of an eastward migratory trend that originated in Southeast Asia around 2000 BC. The settlers are thought to have been Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands, 3600 km northwest, or the Mangareva (Gambier) Islands, 2500 km west.
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« Reply #11 on: July 06, 2009, 12:34:59 am »



Fig. 2.2 The official view of Polynesian migrations across the Pacific.
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« Reply #12 on: July 06, 2009, 12:35:12 am »

The history of Easter Island until the arrival of the first Europeans is usually divided into three main phases: settlement (400-1000), expansion (1000-1500), and decadence (1500-1722). The statues erected before 700 are thought to have been far smaller and more naturalistic than later ones. The golden age of platform building and statue carving is believed to have begun in the mid-12th century, with few statues being erected on platforms after 1500. Forests of palms and conifers once grew on the island, but overpopulation, deforestation, and reduced soil fertility, perhaps aggravated by drought, led to civil war, famine, cannibalism, and the collapse of the old order. The authority of the hereditary chief waned, and power was seized by a ruthless class of warriors. Platform statues were successively overthrown, and the islanders concentrated on making smaller wooden carvings and crude stone figurines.

Natural disasters – earthquakes and tsunamis – may have contributed to the damage suffered by the platforms and statues. On 22 May 1960, for instance, an 8-metre-high tidal wave, produced by an earthquake off Chile, struck the island and entirely destroyed the remains of Ahu Tongariki. Huge stone blocks and 15 statues with an average weight of more than 40 tons were carried over 150 metres inland.
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« Reply #13 on: July 06, 2009, 12:35:41 am »



Fig. 2.3 Ahu Tongariki, 150 metres long, as restored in the mid-1990s.
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« Reply #14 on: July 06, 2009, 12:35:59 am »

In April 1722 a Dutch expedition under Admiral Jacob Roggeveen became the first Europeans to set foot on Rapa Nui. They named it Easter Island as they landed on Easter Sunday. They spent one day there, and reported that the natives worshipped huge statues with fires while prostrating themselves to the rising sun. Some had stretched and perforated earlobes hanging to their shoulders, and both men and women were extensively tattooed. During a skirmish in which the natives threatened to throw stones, Roggeveen’s men shot dead a dozen islanders before sailing off – thereby ensuring that the arrival of European ‘civilization’ would be a day to remember. Like subsequent European visitors, the Dutch reported seeing not only fair-skinned Polynesians, but people of darker skin, others who were white like Europeans, and a few with reddish skin.

In 1770 a Spanish party from Peru claimed the island for Spain. A conflict seems to have raged on the island before the arrival of the British navigator Captain James Cook four years later. He found a decimated, poverty-stricken population, and observed that the statue cult seemed to have ended, as most of the statues had been pulled down. It’s possible that some of the statues were toppled even before the Dutch and Spanish visits but that those sailors did not visit the same sites as Cook.

The Frenchman La Pérouse visited Easter Island in 1786 and found the population calm and prosperous, suggesting a quick recovery from any catastrophe. In 1804 a Russian visitor reported that at least 20 statues were still standing. Accounts from subsequent years suggest another period of destruction so that perhaps only a handful of statues were still standing a decade later. Some of the statues still upright at the beginning of the 19th century were knocked down by western expeditions.
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