It was on a windy spring morning in February of 2013 that I stepped off the Lan Peru jet onto the runway on Easter Island/Rapa Nui. A group of WEX members and I had boarded the plane in Lima, Peru the night before and would now spend the next four days on the small but mysterious island.
We hired a minibus to take us around the island and marveled at the giant statues and megalithic walls of basalt and granite. I was amazed at the fine carving and construction and wondered what the mainstream had to say about the history. As I suspected, they maintained that the making of the statues was fairly recent and that most of the mysteries associated with the island had been solved. Had they?
I wondered about a few things that seemed to need explaining:
- Why did the islanders excavate and move such gigantic statues when smaller ones would have presumably served the same purpose? How were they moved?
- Why are the statues buried with up to 30 feet of soil? Was this done on purpose or has thousands of years of soil buildup been created around the statues?
- Why did the islanders think that putting statues facing inward around the island would keep it from sinking into the ocean like their lost land of Hiva?
- How did they make fine drill holes and saw cuts on some of the stone walls?
- Why would a small remote island population invent their own written language? Could such a script be related to other ancient forms of writing?
- Could a remote island like Rapa Nui be related to thousands of years of trans-Pacific contact that spanned Asia, Oceania and the Americas?
First, let us look at a brief, official history of our very mysterious island. According to the UNESCO website the official history of the remote island is as follows:
Rapa Nui contains one of the most remarkable cultural phenomena in the world. An artistic and architectural tradition of great power and imagination was developed by a society completely isolated from external cultural influences of any kind for over a millennium. The substantial remains of this culture blend with their natural surroundings to create an unparalleled cultural landscape.
The island was settled around AD 300 by Polynesians, probably from the Marquesas, who brought with them a wholly Stone Age society. All the cultural elements in Rapa Nui before the arrival of Europeans indicate that there were no other incoming groups. Between the 10th and 16th centuries the island community expanded steadily, settlements being set up along practically the entire coastline. The high cultural level of this society is best known from its monumental stone figures (moai) and ceremonial shrines (ahu); it is also noteworthy for a form of pictographic writing (rongo rongo), so far undeciphered.
However, there was an economic and social crisis in the community in the 16th century, attributable to overpopulation and environmental deterioration. This resulted in the population being divided into two separate groups of clans who were constantly involved in warfare. The warrior class that evolved from this situation gave rise to the so-called Birdman cult, based on the small islands offshore of Orongo, which superseded the statue-building religion and threw down most of the moai and ahu.
On Easter Sunday 1722 Jacob Roggeveen of the Dutch East India Company chanced upon the island and gave it its European name. It was annexed to Chile in 1888.
The most famous archaeological features of Rapa Nui are the moai, which are believed to represent sacred ancestors who watch over the villages and ceremonial areas. They range in height from 2 m to 20 m and are for the most part carved from the scoria, using simple picks (toli) made from hard basalt and then lowered down the slopes into previously dug holes.
A number of moai are still in an uncompleted condition in the quarries, providing valuable information about the method of manufacture. Some have large cylindrical pieces of red stone known as pukao, extracted from the small volcano Punapao, as headdresses: these are believed to denote special ritual status. There is a clear stylistic evolution in the form and size of the moai, from the earlier small, round-headed and round-eyed figures to the best-known large, elongated figures with carefully carved fingers, nostrils, long ears, and other features.
The shrines (ahu) vary considerably in size and form. There are certain constant features, notably a raised rectangular platform of large worked stones filled with rubble, a ramp often paved with rounded beach pebbles, and leveled area in front of the platform. Some have moai on them, and there are tombs in a number of them in which skeletal remains have been discovered. The ahu are generally located on the coast and oriented parallel to it.
While Easter Island is thought to have been first discovered and inhabited by Polynesians (probably coming from the Marquesas Islands, north of Tahiti), around 300 AD, it is generally thought by mainstream archeologists that the time of the excavation and movement of the statues was 1100-1680 AD. This is based on radio-carbon dating of wood, bone and shell that has been found buried in and around the statues and the quarry of Rano Raraku. However, we do not know how deep these objects were buried, and they might have been placed there after the statues had been carved. (Wikipedia, Encyclopedia Britannica)
Currently, 887 statues of various sizes (some gigantically huge) have been inventoried on the island, and most are still around the quarry. Many of these are leaning over or fallen. Often they are buried under dozens of feet of “shifting soil.” But where all this shifting soil is coming from is a big question since these statues are up against sheer cliff walls of the quarry that are virtually devoid of soil. Has this soil been swept here by a tsunami? When one of the large moai statues was completely uncovered by archeologists in 2011 many people were astonished that the moai were not just heads, but have even larger bodies beneath the soil. This naturally got bloggers and others speculating on how old the statues seemed. Were they only 400 years old or were they thousands of years old—buried by the dust of time?
As I looked at my notes and thought about this first question concerning Easter Island, it seemed possible to me that these statues might have been carved by Sumerians who brought the Fuente Magna Bowl to Tiwanaku around 3000 BC—making them an astonishing 5,000 years old. While people may have been around these statues 500 years ago, leaving all sorts of datable material for later analysis, they didn’t necessarily make these statues. The moai may have been standing there then as enigmatically as they stand there today. Perhaps a fragment of a coke bottle from 2013 will be dug up by archeologists in the future who will similarly misinterpret their find.
Meanwhile, when gigantic stone walls and statues stand in the dust of time, many cultures and—in Rapa Nui—beach parties, come and go: we will have lots of datable material to send to the laboratories, but is it the oldest datable material that matters. Was this material from the time that the statues were actually quarried from the living rock of the volcanic cliffs of Rano Raraku? Indeed, the date has not been established yet by archeologists, and no such dating technique currently exists according to researchers.
But first, let us look at the discovery of Easter Island. At the time, early explorers were out looking for a land in the South Pacific called Davis Land. A Dutch buccaneer named John Davis, who captained the English ship The Bachelor’s Delight, was returning from raids in Panama and headed for Cape Horn, when the ship’s crew sighted land in 1687. The lieutenant of the ship, Mr. Wafer, described the sighting in a book published in 1688 in London entitled Description of the Isthmus of Darien:
...we came to latitude 27° 20’ south when about two hours before day we fell in with a low sandy island and heard a great roaring noise like that of sea beating upon the shore ahead of the ship... so we plyed off till day then stood in again with the land, which proved to be a small flat island without the guard of any rocks... To the westward about twelve leagues by judgment we saw a range of high land which we took to be islands; for there were several partitions in the prospect. This land seemed to reach about fourteen or fifteen leagues in a range, and there came thence great flocks of fowls.
The Bachelor’s Delight had actually been “pitchforked” out into the unexplored south Pacific by a gigantic tsunami wave generated by the great earthquake of Callao (Lima’s port on the coast of Peru) in 1687. They kept steering south and headed back east to Chile. John Macmillan Brown in The Riddle of the Pacific (from which Wafer is quoted) also quotes the navigator Dampier from his two volumes of voyages (London, 1699): “Captain Davis told me lately that... about five hundred leagues from Copaype on the coast of Chili in latitude 27° S. he saw a small sandy island just by him; and that they saw to the westward of it a long tract of pretty high land tending away to the north-west out of sight.”
This mysterious land, “stretching to the north-west out of sight,” was to be named “Davis Land” and it added to the popular belief that a great southern continent existed in the South Pacific. It was thirty-five years later that Easter Island was discovered on Easter Day, 1722, by the Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen. He was searching for Davis Land but all he could find was this tiny speck of an island. Davis Land, if it had ever existed, had disappeared! There is no large landmass near Easter Island, and it could not be the small sandy island described— there is hardly a bit of sandy beach on the entire island.
Suddenly we have the elements of a lost continent in the Pacific that is not thousands of years old, but was submerged only recently! Says Brown in Riddle of the Pacific:
And yet no one who has visited Easter Island but must deny its identity with either of the lands that Davis saw, either the low, flat, sandy island or the long, partitioned range of land stretching away to the north-west over the horizon. If we have any respect for a sailor’s evidence on a sailor’s question, we must accept the existence of both lands in 1687 and their non-existence in 1722 when Roggewein [sic, usually spelled Roggeveen] sailed along the latitude in search of them. In other words, land of considerable extent, probably archipelagic, has gone down in the southeast Pacific away to the east of Easter Island. …we cannot entirely reject his evidence that considerable tracts of land in the southeast Pacific have gone down.
Clearly, the islanders had felt that they were alone in the world for quite some time by the time the first European explorers landed on the island. Yes, the islanders were very, very glad to see them! While large ships had come to the island in the past—from Tahiti, the Marquesas Islands or even South America—these ships had long ago stopped coming and the islanders felt abandoned. Had these voyages stopped only a few hundred years before the year 1722? It would seem that the abandonment of the island by big ships coming from Polynesia or South America must have happened many thousands of years ago—perhaps as early as 900 BC, about the time of King Solomon’s ships to Ophir, the land of gold. Polynesians may have continued to visit Rapa Nui on smaller expeditions until around 1500 AD. At the time of Captain Cook (c.1770) only Tonga had large ocean-going ships big enough to make the long journeys necessary to Hawaii or Easter Island. Other Polynesians such as those in Tahiti or the Marquesas had only smaller ships for inter-island navigation.
Roggeveen landed on an island inhabited by Polynesians, some of whom had light skins, red hair and looked like Europeans. He assessed the total population at about 5,000; they wore the simplest of clothes and lived in reed huts. Were some of the Easter Islanders natural red-heads? Many of the statues had a red topknot on them to symbolize the tying of very long hair and the top of the head in a knot. This hairstyle is still used today by women around the world and by male wandering holy men in China and India where they are called sadhus). Vikings were also said to wear their long hair in this many as well.
The first contact with the newcomers was unfortunately marked by a bloody incident. Roggeveen, at the head of 150 of his men, was alarmed at the excessive curiosity and outright thievery of the islanders. As they closed in on his men— apparently out of curiosity, rather than meaning harm—Roggeveen ordered his men to fire on the crowd, killing some of the natives. They dispersed, chiefly frightened by the noise, and later came back with gifts from the bounty of the island. They also offered their wives and daughters for sex. Easter Islanders certainly knew the value of fresh blood, and it became common in early contacts for women to swim out to arriving ships and board them, and then dance and have sex with the sailors. The men would wait on shore to steal what they could when the strangers arrived on the island to visit.
After this first meeting, the Dutch were allowed to roam freely throughout the island and saw for the first time the gigantic statues, which were apparently already toppled and lying on the ground. Some of the statues at the quarry of Rano Raraku were still standing, however. Roggeveen was unable to believe that the great figures could have been carved from rock, and thought they were made of clay and filled with stones. The islanders he found inhabited thatched huts and eked out a meager living from the windy island. They had bananas, fish and South American plants like yucca and sweet potato. Roggeveen described them as being heavily tattooed, with their earlobes pierced and hanging down to their shoulders.
Easter Island had no further contact until almost fifty years later; in 1770 it was visited by two Spanish ships and then three years later by Captain Cook who wrote compassionately about the island—which he saw as arid and windswept—and the people—as poor as the earth on which they lived. Yet, he was amazed at the enormous statues, and awed by the implications for the civilization that had made them.
In 1786, a French expedition under the Comte de La Perouse stopped for a short time on the island and was quick to note the thieving propensities of the islanders. However, the Comte generously informed his crew that any clothing stolen would be replaced, and he even distributed presents among the eager population. After a short stay, the expedition sailed away, leaving the people of this strange, solitary region with pleasant memories.
More incidents followed, including the abduction of nearly a quarter of the population to work as slaves on the Peruvian guano islands of Chincho in 1862. The Chilean Navy arrived in 1870 for a geographical survey and then officially claimed the island for Chile in 1888.
The Strange Rongorongo Script
Little is known of this strange script which includes pictographic and geometric shapes; often the figures are of a birdman with his arms and legs in various positions. The script was written in the unusual boustrophedon pattern of writing where the successive lines are read (“as the ox plows”) alternately left to right and then right to left. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia, certain older forms of Greek, such as Doric Greek, were written in the boustrophedon pattern, as were Etruscan, Sabaean, Safaitic, Hittite and possibly Indus Valley writing such as that from Harrapa or Mohenjo Daro.
The writing was first reported by Eugene Eyraud, a French missionary on the island, in 1864. Eyraud sent some specimens to the Archbishop of Tahiti, since he recognized the significance of a written language being developed on a tiny, remote island in the South Pacific—it was against all accepted theories of the time. It was generally thought that only peoples with contact with different cultures could rise to a high level of civilization that included written communication. But here at Easter Island, it was then surmised, was a culture that had independently of the rest of the world developed writing, art, megalithic construction and more. The notion that a few hundred people should create all that without the aid of the outside world was astounding, and still is. This is still the accepted anthropological theory on the island’s development.
At the time of Eyraud, a few of the “royalty” were known to still be able to read the rongorongo tablets. These few people were quickly dying out, some taken to the guano islands in Peru. The French author and archeologist Franis Maziere claimed in his book The Mysteries of Easter Island that the last initiate of the rongorongo tablets died of leprosy and had once told him: “The first race invented the rongorongo writing. They wrote it in stone. Of the four parts of the world that were inhabited by the first race it is only in Asia that the writing still exists.” The native was apparently speaking of the Indus Valley culture and the writing at Mohenjo Daro and other cities.
Said the native, “The island’s first race was once to be found on two Polynesian Islands, in one part of Asia and one part of Africa where there are live volcanoes.” Today, the only active volcanoes in Africa exist along the Great Rift Valley at the borders of Zaire, Rwanda and Burundi. There are two volcanoes, Nyiragongo and Nyamulgira.
The Polish researcher and author Igor Witkowski examines rongorongo writing in his book Axis of the World. Witkowksi notes how Easter Island is one of the most remote and isolated places in the world and is “a very small island, the size of a not-too-large city district, almost devoid of resources, the very symbol of isolation, the inhabitants of which nonetheless ‘created’ a sophisticated system of writing. This is an unquestionable milestone in human development that, for instance, did not evolve in all of North America, despite a far longer period of time at the disposal of the people of that continent. Isn’t something wrong with this picture?”
Witkowski says the according to legend:
…the first king, Hotu Matua, “brought with him 67 most precious tablets from their land of origin in the west. We can only suppose that they contained the “core” of their religious, and perhaps historical texts. It is also known that he brought the religion tied with the “bird-man” and with Make Make. It has generally nothing in common with the different variants of purely Polynesian beliefs, based on the cult of the Tane and Kon Tiki gods. All in all, presently we know of 26 various genuine artifacts covered with the Rongo Rongo hieroglyphs. They contain around 16,000 signs in all. Thus, contrary to appearances, there is quite a lot of material to study.
… This writing has a certain unique feature (characteristic exclusively to it, the Indus Valley script mentioned above, and to certain evolved variations used on a small scale on the Andean altiplano) which is namely a variation on a method of writing known as “bustrophedon,” from the Greek meaning “like a plowing ox,” i.e., alternately from left to right and from right to left. Although ancient writing from several cultures follow this pattern (where the first line is written from left to right, and the second line is written from right to left, etc.) the scripts we have just mentioned have every other line inverted. After recording one line, the writer turned the tablet upside down and kept writing.
This similarity in writing gives us something that resembles a chain of traces from the Indus Valley (the capital of which was the city of Mohenjo Daro located in today’s Pakistan), to Easter Island itself, and on to Tiahuanaco on the Andean altiplano—over 2,300 miles farther to the east. However, this presents a certain problem, namely that Mohenjo Daro and its Indus Valley civilization literally vanished from the archaeological scene around 1000 - 1200 years BC. This means that at the moment when Easter Island was inhabited, Mohenjo Daro’s unique system of writing, its religion, etc., lived only in human memory. It had been gone for over two millennia (at least according to officially accepted theories)! It was simply one of the three oldest civilizations on our planet, along with the Sumerians and the empire of the pharaohs. Could Easter Island’s culture reach that deep into the prehistory of mankind? Incidentally, these circumstances make the rongorongo script the oldest system of writing in use in historical times, for no less than four thousand years (although nobody can be sure if it was used continuously). In the case of this chain of traces, the truth seems so obscure, and so strange at the same time, that one has to ask himself a question: what really happened there, in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, all those thousands of years ago? And last but not least: who were these people?
Witkowski credits the Professor Benon Z. Szalek from the University of Szczecin (in Poland) with being the “decoder” of the rongorongo writing. Sometimes a Hungarian scholar named de Hevseg is given credit for noticing the similarity between the Indus Valley writing and rongorongo. Witkowski says that Professor Szalek followed the threads leading to the “super-civilization” from many thousands of years ago. Working on a project in 1974, Professor Szalek found similarities between Hungarian, Japanese and English, and then Basque, Japanese and English. Wikowski says that Professor Szalek came to the conclusion “that these peoples must have been subjected to the influence of some single state organism—or that they were once part of it.”
There are approximately 25 known, “genuine” artifacts that have rongorongo symbols on them. There are thought to be over 14,000 individual glyphs in the entire corpus of rongorongo writing. It has eluded translation, as have many ancient languages, but similarities have been noted, starting in the 1960s, between it and the undeciphered Indus Valley script. A Hungarian scholar named de Hevseg made a comparison of the writing on Easter Island and that found at the Indus Valley civilization cities of Mohenjo Daro and Harappa. These cities existed at about 4000 BC if not earlier, and the culture literally vanished about 3500 BC. That rongorongo writing is very similar, if not identical, to this ancient, undeciphered language, is extraordinary. They are precisely on opposite sides of the earth: Mohenjo Daro is located at 27°23’ North and about 69° East; Easter Island is at 27°08’ South and 109°23’ West. No other land area could be farther away from the Indus Valley cities as Easter Island.
The script at Mohenjo Daro is now believed to be related to ancient Dravidian, the fragments of this language still existing in southern India in the language of Tamil. An article in Scientific American (vol. 248, No. 3, March 1983) by Walter Fairservis, Jr. entitled The Script of the Indus Valley Civilization, describes the author’s attempts to decipher the writing. A fairly dry article, it makes no reference to the similarity of rongorongo script, but does say he believes that a form of Dravidian was the spoken language. Significantly, Fairservis does say that there are 419 “signs” and that the script is neither alphabetic (as in Sanskrit or English) or logographic (as in Chinese) but rather logo-syllabic, meaning that some signs represent words and others serve purely for their symbolic value or sounds. The author says that other examples of such writing are Egyptian hieroglyphs, early Sumerian ideographs and modern Japanese. It has also been noted that some early Shang Dynasty symbols (1600-1046 BC) found in “oracle bone script” from central China are also similar to rongorongo.
Another curious object with writing on it is the Fuente Magna Bowl which is currently housed at the Gold and Precious Metals Museum in La Paz, Bolivia. The Fuente Magna Bowl is said to have been found near Tiwanaku and has Sumerian cuneiform writing on it, as well as early Sumerian hieroglyphs that were in use before cuneiform. This bowl apparently dates from about 3000 BC.
Were Sumerians and Indus Valley seafarers making trans-Pacific voyages starting sometime around 3000 BC? Did they bring with them a complicated form of writing that came down through history on a small island on wooden tablets with rongorongo writing on them? What sort of cataclysm stopped the ancient seafarers from returning to tiny Easter Island in the middle of the South Pacific?
The islanders patiently waited year after year for the big ships to come back, but they never did. Or maybe some did. Polynesians on great epic voyages, such as the ones to Hawaii, must have managed to arrive at Easter Island. Pitcairn Island, the nearest island to the north, was uninhabited when the Bounty mutineers settled there, but there was evidence of statues on that island as well. Pitcairn may have been a stopover island between Tahiti and Easter Island. Easter Island is also associated with the Marquesas Islands, which are not the closest Polynesian Islands to them—and the big question is whether there was contact with South America. The mainstream says no, but scholars such as Thor Heyerdahl say yes!
And the Statues Walked…
Easter Island may have been first discovered over 5,000 years ago, though the oldest carbon dating is from about 300 AD. Most sites are near the ocean and would have been washed and destroyed by waves over the many hundreds and thousands of years that man may have been on the island. Did a cataclysm tidal wave bury the statues in mud and muck around 300 AD? It is known that Polynesia was settled many thousands of years before this—humans have been on Tonga since before 1000 BC according to the dating of Lapita pottery found there.
In his fascinating book, Mysteries of Easter Island, Francis Mazier explores the legends of the statues and the lost land of Hiva. Mazier was able to talk with a dying leper named Gabriel Veriveri who was allegedly the last initiate of the secrets of Easter Island. Said Veriveri to Maziere, “King Hotu-Matua came to Easter Island in two canoes. He landed at Hangaroa, but he gave the bay the name of Anakena, because it was the month of July.” He notes that the winds from Polynesia to Easter Island blow in July and August.
“King Hotu-Matua’s country was called Maori (in the Maori dialect of New Zealand, the word maori means “ordinary people”), and it was on the continent of Hiva. The place where he lived was called Marae-Rena... the king saw that the land was slowly sinking in the sea. The king therefore called all his people together, men, women, children and the aged, and he put them into two great canoes. The king saw that the disaster was at hand, and when the two canoes had reached the horizon he observed that the whole of the land had sunk, except for a small part called Maori.”
The tradition is clear: there was a cataclysm; and it appears that this continent lay in the vast hinterland that reaches to the Tuamotu archipelago (what is largely today French Polynesia) to the north-west of Easter Island.
Another legend, handed on by Aure Auviri Porotu, the last of the island’s learned men, says this: ‘Easter Island was a much larger country, but because of the sins of its people Uoke tipped it up and broke it with a crowbar...’ Here too we have a cataclysm.
A more important point is that according to tradition Sala-y-Gomez, an islet some hundred miles from Easter Island, was formerly part of it, and its name, Motu Motiro Hiva, means ‘small island near Hiva’.
We have three signs pointing to this cataclysm. Yet generally accepted geology does not acknowledge any vast upheaval in this part of the world, at least not within the period of human existence. However, there are two recently discovered facts that make the possibility of a sunken continent seem reasonable. When the American submarine Nautilus made her voyage round the world she called attention to the presence of an exceedingly lofty and still unidentified underwater peak close to Easter Island. And secondly, during his recent studies carried out for the Institute of Marine Resources and the University of California, Professor H.W. Menard not only speaks of an exceedingly important fracture-zone in the neighbourhood of Easter Island, a zone parallel to that of the Marquesas archipelago, but also of the discovery of an immense bank or ridge of sediment.
Maziere’s book came out in 1965 in France, four years before the revolutionary geological theory of tectonic plates changed geology forever. It was certainly true then, and seemingly so today, that geologists generally do not acknowledge a cataclysmic upheaval (or downheaval as the case may be!) in this part of the world. Yet, Maziere sought to make sense out of the legends of the Easter Islanders. Were they just talk? Traditional anthropologists typically ignored the natives’ own legends, and said that they came by way of Tahiti, possibly after some war, a few hundred years before Europeans first visited them. Such mysteries as rongorongo writing and the incredible stone platform at Vinapu are ignored.
Maziere favored the existence of an archipelago and even a long, thin “continent” extending south and north of Easter Island between the Marquesas Islands and the Galapagos Islands. Easter Island was the last peak (along with Sala-y-Gomez) of this former continent not “wrent beneath the sea by Uoke’s crowbar.”
Apart from preserving the memory of these upheavals, tradition also states that King Hotu-Matua came from the west. Now in Easter Island on the Ahu A’Tiu there are seven statues and they are the only ones on the island that look towards the sea, and more exactly, the western sea. Their precise placing might well fix the area of the cataclysm, which would thus lie between the Marquesas and the Gambier islands. It seems probable that during one of those sub-oceanic upheavals still so frequent in the zone between the Cordillera of the Andes and the New Hebrides, an archipelago—I do not presume to say a continent—may have sunk or been altered. Moreover, according to Professor Metraux’s findings, it seems possible that King Hotu-Matua’s men emigrated from this area of the Marquesas; the reasons for believing this are based on linguistics—the use of Hiva is an example—and many points of ethnological agreement. The date of this migration, according to the genealogies that we collected, would be towards the end of the twelfth century.
This settlement in no way excludes the possibility of other contacts at far earlier periods—contacts that we shall speak of later.
Maziere then goes on to discuss the legend of seven explorers first sent out to find “the navel of the world” and then to return and guide the two giant canoes to safety on Rapa Nui. He finds it odd that in the Marquesas, where some of the islands actually have the name of Hiva in them, there is really no legend of a sunken continent. He then says that the footless, handless old leper Veriveri told him of a legend he had learned that the island was inhabited already when Hotu-Matua came by “very big men, but not giants, who lived on the island well before the coming of Hotu-Matua.”
It seems very clear to me that this is a legend, based on a great deal of analogy and mythos. It also seems to have some basis in fact. There is one level of Hiva being an allegory for a spirit world where one goes upon transition, much as that of Hawaiki. On the other hand, the legend seems to be of a physical place, an ancient homeland that went down in a catastrophe. Is this event then the actual sinking of some island mass many thousands of years ago? Or, rather, is it the final subsidence, perhaps only a few thousand years ago, of the last large area that remained above the surface? Maziere seems to think that the last remnants of this land, called Davis Land, sank as late as the 1600s. In his book he proposed a long landmass that stretched from Easter Island to the Baha California Peninsula in Mexico.
The theory that the statues had been moved to their places by the use of wooden rollers or sleds has some problems: one was that the island is so rocky, it would have been impossible to roll any logs across it, with or without statues on them.
Jean-Michel Schwartz says in his 1975 book The Mysteries of Easter Island that he believes the statues were not moved by wooden rollers or sleds but rather by using ropes around the statues which “walked” the statues in the same way as one might walk a refrigerator; by tilting it first to one side, shifting the airborne portion forward, and setting it down again. By this method, the statues would truly walk in a waddle fashion around the island.
Later, a Czech mechanical engineer named Pavel recreated this method along with Thor Heyerdahl. With twenty other men, they tied ropes around a statue and leaned it from side to side while pulling it forward with the rope, a slight variation on Schwartz’s method. The method worked, but was excruciatingly slow. It is an ingenious theory which takes into account the legends of the walking statues, but was it the actual method used?
Recently, National Geographic featured the “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory as a major story in their July 2012 issue. The article, with the headline: “Easter Island, The Riddle of the Moving Statues” mentioned the various mundane theories, although they omit any reference to Schwartz, who first wrote about his theory in French in 1971, with his book was published in English by Avon Paperbacks in 1975.
National Geographic gives the following timeline of “theories” on how the statues were moved: 1) Thor Heyerdahl and crew move a statue on a crude wooden sled pulled by a rope (1955); 2) the William Mulloy theory of rocking a statue forward on its belly in a basic cradle and frame above it with ropes (1970); 3) Pavel’s standing up with rope twist and turn theory (1986); 4) the theory of Charles Love of wooden rollers and sled (1987); 5) Jo Anne Van Tilburg’s sled pulled over a wooden ladder matrix (1998); and finally to 6) the 2011 demonstration by Terry Hunt and Carl Lippo of a newer version of the “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory which incorporates their unique “D-shaped” patterns that the tall moai made as they walked it with ropes.
The team of 18 moved a ten-foot-high statue weighing about five tons, several hundred yards during their test of their method in 2011. Hunt and Lippo theorized that only three teams of rope managers were needed to move the statues: two up front to twist and manipulate the statues from side to side in the “D-shape” and one group in the back to keep the statue stable. The National Geographic issue featured a team of islanders maneuvering a statue in this manner.
Essentially, we can put modern archeologists’ explanations of the moving of the statues into two categories: 1) moving the statues on their backs or stomachs on sleds or 2) moving them while they are standing up like a refrigerator. All the proposals are clearly based on these two schools of thought and Thor Heyerdahl is a leader in both, having jumped ship to the Schwartz-Pavel theory in the early 1980s.
But clearly, all the early investigators, when confronted with the problem of moving 5 ton statues all over the island (not just a few hundred yards), saw that moving them on some sort of sled on their backs and bellies would have been the easiest way to do it when you consider the crude (and otherwise) methods that we would suppose they had to use. So, dragging them downhill and across fields on a slick rainy day on sleds seemed like something that could have been achieved on a good day with a bunch of geniuses in control and lots of manpower to put energy into the project. The island is very rocky so roads and cleared pathways would have to be made.
But, this theory didn’t really jive with what the Rapa Nui folk were saying about their history. They were saying that the “statues walked.” They weren’t saying the statues slid into place and then got stood up… they were saying that they walked. It is worth noting that mainstream archeologists are saying that this was only a few hundred years before the contact so memory should be fresh in their minds, historically speaking.
So, “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory is really the theory to go for, and it explains the walking part. Also, the Mulloy theory of rocking the statues did not work for the taller statues which were very tall and thin. Such 30-foot-tall statues being walked slowly around the island with ropes is certainly possible, but it would be slow going. It would be faster to drag them on sleds. Evidence indicates that they were completely finished, with all decorations, including ankh-like designs on their backs, before they left the quarry to go “walking.”
So, the questions that naturally come up when the moon is rising and the snow is falling off the pine trees: Why are these people even trying to move gigantic statues that weigh at least five tons and are more typically 20 to 40 tons? We they superb engineers and architects that after building all sorts of other moments (maybe on other islands?) that they just thought they would carve up a volcanic crater into hundreds of giant statues—and then move about a third of them around the island to “protect” it from some further cataclysms that had already devastated the island earlier?
Our group stood on a trail on a slope of the volcano with a dozen moai stood twenty feet tall around us, buried up to their waists or chests. One moai that Heyerdahl excavated in 1956 has a masted ship on its stomach. Heyerdahl believed that this was an ancient sailing ship used by explorers who came from Peru. Others say that the ship is an early carving of a European ship that visited the island. The only problem with this explanation is that the carving was only discovered after Heyerdahl had dug the soil around it away. It seems likely that the several feet of soil that had amassed over the drawing would have taken hundreds of years to accumulate.
The statues seem originally to have been standing on the slope just as they are found today and were typically forty to fifty feet tall. Indeed, some stood as tall as a seven-story building, and the largest, still in the quarry, was more than seventy feet tall. Therefore, it would seem that the carving of the ship on the belly of one of the statues would be far older than the discovery of the island in 1722. The statue itself must be centuries older than that.
I was immediately struck by the fact that the crater and the statues around it were quite different from the moais and ruins around the rest of the island. While the moais that were erected on platforms around the edge of the island were put there to protect the island, the purpose of these statues around the crater was something else. Many researchers believe that these statues around the crater were just waiting to be moved out, to “walk” as it were, to their ahu-platform somewhere on the island. Looking around, I thought not.
Something else that immediately came to my attention as I wondered at the gigantic statues around me were the large lichen spots on all of the statues. Lichen eats living rock and grows very slowly—fractions of an inch over hundreds of years. Ages of rocks are sometimes estimated by how large the lichen patches on them are. A large lichen patch would suggest that these statues were thousands of years old. In an effort to check this out, I measured lichen patches on uncut rock. They were only slightly larger than those on the statues themselves.
While at Orongo I scanned the cliffs to the south along Rano Kau for the elusive ahu and statues of Rikiriki (“very small, very little” in Rapa Nuian). In 1889, William Judah Thomson visited Easter Island for the Smithsonian Institution and wrote in the paper published by them in 1891 called Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island that Ahu Rikiriki was a statue at the extreme southwest end of the island which was placed midway between the sea and the top—on the face of a perpendicular cliff nearly 1000 feet high. Thompson states that 16 small statues are lying on this platform and seem to be in excellent condition. “We could find no way of reaching the narrow ledge upon which this platform stands. No roads lead down from the top; it cannot be approached from either side, and from below it is a straight up and down wall against which the sea dashes continually. It is hardly probable that the images were lowered from the top by ropes, and the natural conclusion is, that a roadway once existed…”
That statues had “walked” or even rolled to such a position seems incredible. Yet, more mysteriously, no trace of this platform or the statues has been found since, although the British traveler Katherine Routledge reported in 1919 that the statues were now lying at the floor of the cliff, presumably in the water. However, many researchers now question whether this remarkable ahu ever existed.
The Megalithic Wall of Vinapu
When Jacques Cousteau came to Easter Island, he performed several important investigations. One was diving around the island searching for statues and other possible artifacts in the ocean. The presence of statues in the ocean, he believed, would prove the theory that the statues had been moved around the island using rafts. He found none. The only unusual feature he discovered were underwater tunnels, which he theorized to be volcanic in origin.
He mentions that the oldest carbon date on the island is 690 AD at a “well developed site” indicating actual habitation must be older. He also noted the songs of the island were “reminiscent of the Epic songs of India and China,” and that the islanders practiced cremation of the dead until wood became too scarce. Other ancient cultures that cremated the dead were Hindus, Atonists of Egypt, and Nestorian Christians.
The next morning, our group took the hotel van to the famous stone ruins of Vinapu, at the end of the airport’s huge airstrip, built long enough to land the space shuttle in case of an emergency. The Vinapu site to me is a key clue in unraveling the mystery of Easter Island.
Vinapu consists of a partially-destroyed wall with megalithic construction that is basically unique to the island, but not unique in the world. The main wall consists of enormous slabs very skillfully laid. I stood in front of the wall and was genuinely amazed at the construction which was not just similar, but identical to that at Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Sacsayhuaman and Ollantaytambo in the high Andes of Peru.L
ike those constructions, the wall at Vinapu is perfectly fitted together with irregularly-shaped stones, and has rounded edges, and small triangular stones filling in gaps. One would describe the construction in the Andes the same way; polygonal blocks that were smoothed and rounded, perfectly cut and fitted together, with small keystones placed in the wall to help make it earthquake proof. It is the most sophisticated construction technique in the world, essentially unduplicated today. It is often said that the construction at Vinapu is identical to that of Tiwanaku, although Tiwanaku lacks the pillowed walls, which are mainly found around Cuzco. However, pillowed or rounded walls can be found at the ruins of Sillustani and Cutimbo, both on mesas—flat topped mountains—near Lake Titicaca, which are usually said to be of Tiwanaku origin.
Probably the confusion arises from the general consensus that Tiwanaku is of pre-Incan construction and is thousands of years old. The massive ruins found in Peru, many in the vicinity of Cuzco, a still-living city, are usually said by academics to have been built by the Incas a few hundred years ago. That the ruins at Vinapu on Easter Island are identical in construction then raises the unlikely notion that the Incas built the platform.
The answer is simpler than might be thought. While the Incas did indeed construct large cities and were excellent stonemasons, their construction is with small rectangular blocks that are perfectly fitted together. This construction can be seen in Cuzco and elsewhere on top of the earlier and larger, polygonal construction. The construction therefore that I am speaking about, found at Easter Island and the Peruvian Andes around Cuzco—both places called “the navel of the world” (coincidentally?)—are apparently built by the same mysterious people, and are pre-Incan. Considering the lichen growth on the wall at Vinapu, I would venture to say they lived thousands of years ago.
The Incas undoubtedly inhabited those ancient cities high in the Andes. They are still inhabited today, but not by the Incas. Construction of this type is so solid it will easily outlast most empires and civilizations. When a wandering culture happens to discover the gigantic walls of an uninhabited city still standing, it seems only natural to move in, put a roof over the structures, and call them home. This, say many archaeologists, especially Peruvian ones, is what happened with the Incas. The many phases of construction are obvious, and the most superior is the oldest.
I walked around the wall and examined the construction. It was not until I had looked at each block carefully that I noticed something that confirmed my suspicions about the builders of this wonderful, ancient structure. At Ollantaytambo, Sillustani, Cuzco and other sites in the Andes, many of the large polygonal blocks have strange knobs on them, the function of which has never been understood. Here, on the southeast corner of the wall was a knob, just like the ones in the Andes! The corner, too, was rounded, and in fact, so was the entire face of the wall, again just like in the Andes.
The upper levels of the platform and a portion of the center had been torn down. It was obvious that it had been used as a moai platform at one time, and one moai was toppled over on the top. The stones around the statue were of cruder construction, identical to that on the rest of the island. I concluded, as I sat in the grass and looked at the wall, that it was much older than the rest of the platforms on the island, and was not originally constructed to be an ahu-platform for a moai. What then was its purpose?
I surmised that Vinapu was part of the original purpose of Easter Island, along with the gigantic statues in Rano Raraku and the ceremonial site there. The other moais and platforms were built later, possibly in an effort to call back the ancients who had abandoned the island, or just to protect the island as legend said.
I thought back at the legends of Atlantis and the Rama Empire. Rongo Rongo writing has been shown to be identical to Indus Valley writing found at the ancient Rama Empire cities of Mohenjo Daro, Harappa, and Lothal. The ancient city of Dwarka—where Krishna is said to be from—is underwater off the coast of Gujarat.
The Rapa Nui legends share with Sanskrit the same word for mental powers: “mana.” Meanwhile we have the tales of fantastic battles, flying machines and a technology and culture that in some ways surpasses our own. Just as we do today, these cultures had the ability to travel all over the world, by air and by sea. It seems likely, therefore, that they did so.
Vimanas were said to take off and land vertically, as a hovercraft, zeppellin or “flying saucer” might. Whether this is true, I do not know. However, the thought of a world-wide network of “vimana landing pads” stretching from ancient India to the massive platform of Baalbek in Lebanon (here are found the largest cut blocks of stone in the world, estimated to weigh 1000 tons or more) to Abydos in Egypt to Sacsayhuaman in Peru, to, dare I say, Easter Island! Could the platform at Vinapu be what is left of an ancient vimana-landing pad? The idea seemed incredible! The wall even faces Peru.
The Museum in Hanga Roa
Our last stop was the archeological museum in Hanga Roa. Our group made a walk to the museum at the far end of town. We bought our tickets to museum and trailed in to look at the various exhibits in the two room, one-floor museum.
I noted, while there, that the area of the strong magnetic disturbance at Rano Aroi was a basalt formation on a geological map of the island. This made sense since basalt becomes permanently magnetized by the earth’s magnetic field as it cools. I also saw a perfectly round stone ball, about the size of softball, in a glass display case with some other stone artifacts. The sign said that they did not know what it was for. Was it a stone hammer?
I also noted a very Negroid head found in 1973 at Rano Raraku titled a “Moai Maea” head. It was much smaller than most moai, and its features were indeed very different and African looking. Similar heads have been found in Mexico. There was also the unusual statue of a woman with breasts and an extremely long head. Was she some sort of female conehead? Were the big statues in the quarry also figures of coneheads? It would seem so. Easter Island was essentially an island of coneheads. There was also an ‘alien-looking head’ with round eyes and only two holes for a nose that was excavated somewhere on the island in 1960 but not put on display at the museum until about five years ago.
Also interesting were the of the kava kava statues. These are small wooden carvings, hundreds of years old and traditionally of what appears to be an emaciated man, a virtual living skeleton. In island legend, the king was walking one night in the island and saw two kava kava men lying on the ground in a vision. They appeared to the king just as they are drawn today. A kava kava is generally said to be a kind of spirit.
Looking at the shrunken, almost mutated figure, I could not help but think that they bore a striking resemblance to someone dying of radiation sickness. I was then reminded of the startling tales of nuclear war in the Mahabharata, the ancient Dravidian text of pre-Aryan India. With the possible link to the Rama Empire with rongorongo writing, the platform of Vinapu and even Indo-Dravidian words like “mana,” was it possible that this was some sort of bizarre memory of radiation victims from that global war of pre-history? More in line with Thor Heyerdahl’s more mainstream trans-oceanic cultures making frequent yet dangerous trading trips across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, was this some starved sailor coming from Peru or Tahiti who had not seen an island for some months?
As a group, we watched the sunset at Ahu Tahai, a slow orange glow fading into the starry night. The four moai on their platform were silhouetted against the golden glow. Later, I sat on the steps of the hotel and looked up at the constellations. To the south was the Southern Cross, pointing the way to Antarctica, the next stop directly south. Had ancient voyagers stopped at Easter Island on their way to the lands of the pole? Someone had apparently mapped that continent in prehistory, as evidenced by the Piri Reis map now in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Did some ancient group map the world in ancient times as indicated with the Piri Reis map of 1531 AD? Who were the tall, red haired giants at Rapa Nui? They were apparently red-haired people who wore their long hair tied in a topknot at the apex of their bearded head. Today, this is the style of Hindu wandering holy men known as sadhus, with their long black hair tied as a topknot.
Easter Island undeniably was a culture in decline at the time of European discovery. When the first explorers reached the island the natives were living in reed huts. Yet, someone had constructed megalithic stone blocks of incredible perfection as witnessed at Vinapu. Was the precision stone work at Vinapu the result of power tools as some surmise were used at Tiwanaku and Puma Punku? Was the written language of the Rama Empire the same written language called rongorongo? It seemed fantastic!
What of the great cataclysm that had affected Rapa Nui? Had some tidal wave-tsunami hit the island—burying the statues in many meters of mud and muck? Had it struck thousands of years ago, or only a few hundred years ago? Here are our basic scenarios and dates for the cataclysm of Easter Island: 1) Easter Island was part of a now sunken Pacific continent and the statues are on a mountaintop from a cataclysm of perhaps 10,000 years ago or more; 2) Easter Island may have been somewhat larger and was an early base for Sumerian and Rama Empire navigators, circa 3000 BC. A cataclysm destroyed Easter Island (and maybe Tiwanaku as well) circa 2000-1000 BC. Trans-Pacific voyages continued to occur and by 300 AD Polynesians arrived to colonize the island. They began to re-erect the statues and built such post-megalithic sites like Orongo and many of the smaller ahus. Still, many statues remained buried just as they are seen today; 3) Polynesians arrived circa 300 AD and began the many megalithic constructions on the previously uninhabited island. A tsunami hit the island circa 900-1200 AD and buried the statues. Some statues were re-erected around the edge of the island, facing inward, to “prevent” other cataclysms. The war between the long ears and short ears takes place shortly afterward.
As waves washed onto the shore near the small port of Hanga Roa, I wondered which of scenarios was the most likely? When one is on Rapa Nui, there is a feeling that things are incredibly ancient. The strange rongorongo writing and its connection to ancient India made me think that number two was the most likely of all the scenarios. Some cataclysm had hit Easter Island many thousands of years ago, perhaps 900 BC as an estimate. Later Polynesians had arrived and other catastrophes occurred—some of them induced by humans—but others the product of Mother Nature and her awesome power. Easter Island must have been hit by a number of typhoons and tsunamis in its thousands of years. The question is: how many of the destructive cataclysms have these gigantic statues seen? Perhaps more than one.
That evening our group went back to the airport, this time to fly back to Lima. As the jet rumbled down the “Space Shuttle runway” to take off, I glanced out the window at the brown earth below. The island was a green and brown gem in an ocean of blue. It was truly an island of mystery and magic—one that seemed to go back to very mists of time. Easter Island is one great archaeological treasures of the world, and it belongs to the children of the future as well.
By David Hatcher Childress
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