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Easter Island

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Author Topic: Easter Island  (Read 735 times)
Carolyn Silver
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Posts: 4611

« Reply #30 on: March 03, 2007, 03:08:58 am »

Dating the statues and platforms
During excavations at Rano Raraku, Katherine Routledge noted that thin lines of charcoal,  resulting from grass or brushwood fires, were found at various depths and marked old land surfaces, subsequently covered by later landslips. These successive descents of earth and debris made it virtually impossible to apply stratigraphic dating, which is based on the principle: the deeper the layer, the older it is.

Heyerdahl’s belief that the finest statues were carved and erected on platforms during the ‘middle period’ was partly based on his interpretation of radiocarbon dates of 1467 and 1206 for two charcoal samples from mounds of quarry cuttings on the flanks of Rano Raraku. However, as geologist Christian O’Brien points out, a section through the mound ‘shows clear evidence of land slip formation with some added dumping of coarse stone debris’. He thought it quite conceivable that charcoal from a fire which occurred in the mid-19th century, by reason of one earth tremor, could have been buried deep beneath stone-chippings from an age a thousand years earlier. He concludes that the erect statues were in place when the charcoal was formed from which the samples were taken: ‘Their carving, then, pre-dates 1476 A.D. ± 100 years, and this is the only deduction that can be made from the evidence.’ He says that to work out by how much requires an examination of the state of preservation of the statues and platforms.1

Many statues are severely weathered and others far less so. This does not automatically prove that they were produced over a long timespan since the volcanic tuff from which they are carved is of uneven quality. As already mentioned, the rock of which some statues are made is extremely hard: one statue was struck with a hoe which rebounded in a shower of sparks. Referring to the statues standing at the foot of the volcano, Mazičre wrote:

How long have they stood there? And why are some of them carved from a different stone, one unweathered by the wind? For there they are, unchanged by rain, wind or sand, while others are eaten away and covered with moss. The natives say, ‘The ones lichen does not grow on are still alive.’ And perhaps this is true, as it is for many objects that are called magical because they receive vibrations and retain them.2

Fig. 8.4

One of the statues at Rano Raraku bears a carving of a ship, which is crudely executed and clearly a piece of later graffiti (fig. 8.4). Heyerdahl found the top of the masts above the then ground surface, while the rest of the carving was buried below it. O’Brien points out that the weathered parts of the masts are only marginally less clear than the parts of the masts which had been buried – probably for at least 400 years. He concludes that, if this is a measure of the weathering that has taken place over 400 years, the deep and extensive weathering of the head must have taken considerably longer, perhaps 2000 years or more.

Hard sandstone and limestone, blocks and statues, in other parts of the world, have survived for millennia with no more weathering than the better Easter Island statues, and those made from igneous rock have survived far longer with scarcely a change. ...
    Knowing the composition and state of preservation of the cyclopean blocks at the Greek sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, which are 4000 years old, and have been exposed to a climate not greatly different from that at Easter Island, we could not contemplate any age range less widely spread than 3000 B.C. to 500 A.D. for both the earliest ahu and the statues.3

Even this estimate may yet turn out be extremely conservative.

A further clue to the chronology of Rano Raraku is the fact that since the earliest statues were carved, a layer of debris, eroded soil, and wind-blown dust 6 m or more thick has accumulated, burying the raised statues at the foot of the slope up to their necks. Nearby there are smaller statues lying on the surface, which must clearly date from a far later time. During the carving process and immediately after work was abandoned (which appears to have happened more than once), there would have been no protective, stabilizing vegetation cover at worked areas of the slope. Since charcoal layers indicate several former vegetation-covered land surfaces, the enormous volume of soil and debris around the statues does not seem to have accumulated before vegetation had taken hold. Once this had happened, subsequent changes in ground level would have proceeded very slowly, except as a result of earth tremors and very severe rainfall; during the past 150 years hardly any silt from the quarry uphill has been deposited. Careful study of the degree of erosion at different heights of upright statues could shed more light on this matter.

As regards the platforms, Heyerdahl assigned the initial construction of the finest ahus to the ‘early period’ (pre-400 AD to c. 1100 AD). However, the workmanship displayed at Vinapu and other ‘early’ platforms stands in marked contrast to the inferior statues that he assigned to the same period. In Heyerdahl’s view, the platform masonry of the ‘middle period’ shows neither the technical perfection nor the artistry of the earlier masons. The main aim was to create strong platforms capable of supporting ever taller and heavier statues, in the quickest and most practical way possible. But again there is an incongruity in his position, because although the platform builders of the middle period used small, easily moved and usually uncut stone, ‘their work with statue bases, statues, and topknots shows skill and willingness to handle large stones at least equal to that of the Early Period’.4

The orthodox position is that the finest masonry dates from the latter part of the ‘middle period’ (1100-1680). However, the shoddy semi-pyramidal platforms were certainly a very late development, and it is highly unlikely that the finest platform masonry dates from the same period. Even with metal tools the very precise cutting of such tough basalt would have been a tremendous achievement, and the later natives are not known to have had any metal tools.

It is quite clear that a great many platforms have been rebuilt and modified several times. This applies, for example, to the platform at Anakena, and the evidence suggests that earlier finely carved blocks were fitted together less precisely in later versions of it. The megalithic wall found during Heyerdahl’s excavations at Anakena also predates the present platform, and its beautifully hewn slabs appear to have originally been part of an older and finer structure. Given the toughness of the basalt used to build the platforms (which poses major problems that conservative researchers simply ignore), the oldest parts of the ahus could have stood for countless millennia without suffering serious weathering. If the earliest statues and platforms were in fact the most skilfully made, this raises the question of where the unknown sculptors and builders learned their craft.

The Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island were certainly capable of building large structures with uncut basalt rocks or rebuilding structures from older cut blocks, but there is no solid evidence that they had the means to precisely cut large basalt blocks themselves. As already noted, the basalt hare-paenga foundation stones and basalt statues, which were sometimes built into later platforms, may also belong to a very early period. As regards the carving, moving, and raising of gigantic statues made of volcanic tuff, we have no way of knowing for certain what the early Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island were capable of. But much of the work currently attributed to them may belong to long bygone ages.

Conventional researchers proclaim that it is ‘insulting’ and even ‘racist’ to suggest that the Polynesian ancestors of the present islanders were not responsible for all the archaeological wonders we admire today. But emotive name-calling hardly amounts to a rational argument!

It is commonly said that no volcanic activity has taken place during the human occupation of Easter Island, since the island’s folklore contains no references to this phenomenon. However, during the Chilean expedition of March 1936, some islanders did in fact relate a legend that an ancient race had been wiped out by a cataclysmic eruption of two sacred volcanoes.5 Geologists think a minor volcanic eruption may have taken place only 12,000 years ago, but there have been many large-scale eruptions over the past few hundred thousand years.

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