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  1. Easter Island, Earth Island : Paul Bahn :
  2. The Secrets of Easter Island
  3. CURRENT ISSUE
  4. About This Item

Carved from a soft stone called lapilli tuff, a compressed volcanic ash, several figures lie side by side in a niche. When a statue was almost complete, the carvers drilled holes through the keel to break it off from the bedrock, then slid it down the slope into a big hole, where they could stand it up to finish the back.

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In some cases, the statues were adorned with huge cylindrical hats or topknots of red scoria, another volcanic stone. How that was done is still a matter of dispute. Archaeologists have proposed other methods for moving the statues, using various combinations of log rollers, sledges and ropes. Apart from oral tradition, there is no historical record before the first European ships arrived.

But evidence from many disciplines, such as the excavation of bones and weapons, the study of fossilized vegetation, and the analysis of stylistic changes in the statues and petroglyphs allows a rough historical sketch to emerge: the people who settled on the island found it covered with trees, a valuable resource for making canoes and eventually useful in transporting the moai.

They brought with them plants and animals to provide food, although the only animals that survived were chickens and tiny Polynesian rats. Artistic traditions, evolving in isolation, produced a rich imagery of ornaments for the chiefs, priests and their aristocratic lineages. Too many trees had been cut down.

Easter Island, Earth Island : Paul Bahn :

The early moai were thinner, but these last statues have great curved bellies. Some archaeologists point to a layer of subsoil with many obsidian spear points as a sign of sudden warfare. Islanders say there was probably cannibalism, as well as carnage, and seem to think no less of their ancestors because of it. Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, who has studied the bones of some individuals from the island, has found numerous signs of trauma, such as blows to the face and head. But only occasionally, he says, did these injuries result in death.

In any case, a population that grew to as many as 20, was reduced to only a few thousand at most when the captains of the first European ships counted them in the early 18th century. Over the next years, with visits by European and American sailors, French traders and missionaries, Peruvian slave raiders, Chilean imperialists and Scottish ranchers who introduced sheep and herded the natives off the land, fencing them into one small village , the Rapa Nui people were all but destroyed.

By there were only natives left on the island. The Chilean government claimed possession of Easter Island in and, in , designated it a national park, to preserve thousands of archaeological sites. Archaeologist Van Tilburg estimates that there could be as many as 20,00o sites on the island. Under growing pressure, the Chilean government is giving back a small number of homesteads to native families, alarming some archaeologists and stirring intense debate.

But though they remain largely dispossessed, the Rapa Nui people have re-emerged from the shadows of the past, recovering and reinventing their ancient art and culture. Carving a small wooden moai in his yard, Andreas Pakarati, who goes by Panda, is part of that renewal. I try to find a different point of view. The dancers and musicians of the Kari Kari company, shouting native chants and swaying like palms in the wind, are among the most striking symbols of renewal. The people are feeling a lack of what they lost. Even the oldest and most traditional of artisans, like Benedicto Tuki, agree that tourists provide essential support for their culture—but he insisted, when we spoke, that the culture is intact, that its songs and skills carry ancient knowledge into the present.

When I ask McCall, who has recorded the genealogies of island families since , how a culture could be transmitted through only people, he tugs at his scruffy blond mustache. Sitting in his office at the University of Chile in Santiago, he is not sanguine.

The Secrets of Easter Island

And now people are already clearing land and plowing it for agriculture, destroying archaeological sites. Behind the statues you have people with their dreams, their needs to develop the island. Are we as scientists responsible for that? The question is, who owns the past? He wants the entire park returned to Rapa Nui control, to be kept intact. He becomes pensive. The world must know this spirit is alive. Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and Sue Hamilton of University College London retraced a centuries-old road that leads to an ancient quarry, where island inhabitants mined red volcanic pumice.

The hats, the British experts theorize, may represent a plait or top knot, styles which would have been worn by chieftains then engaged in an epic struggle for dominance. Continue or Give a Gift. Privacy Policy , Terms of Use Sign up. SmartNews History.

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For the first settlers this was a land of plenty. But as the population of their descendents burgeoned that changed. The trees were felled, the once dense seabird colonies destroyed. Polynesians rats did their share of damage, eating the palm seeds. The last forest may have been cut for firewood around Lacking the timber to build canoes the islanders could no longer fish or travel to gather food as they had.

Fertile forest soils were lost, such streams as there were dried up. The population reached carrying capacity, and famine, warfare and the casting down of the Moai followed. Take what lessons you may. He is the recent recipient of the honour of Doctor of Science from Cambridge University. More related articles. More latest news Latest News Massey researchers investigating health benefits of mussels. Artistic traditions, evolving in isolation, produced a rich imagery of ornaments for the chiefs, priests and their aristocratic lineages.

Too many trees had been cut down. The early moai were thinner, but these last statues have great curved bellies. Some archaeologists point to a layer of subsoil with many obsidian spear points as a sign of sudden warfare. Islanders say there was probably cannibalism, as well as carnage, and seem to think no less of their ancestors because of it. Smithsonian forensic anthropologist Douglas Owsley, who has studied the bones of some individuals from the island, has found numerous signs of trauma, such as blows to the face and head.

But only occasionally, he says, did these injuries result in death. In any case, a population that grew to as many as 20, was reduced to only a few thousand at most when the captains of the first European ships counted them in the early 18th century. Over the next years, with visits by European and American sailors, French traders and missionaries, Peruvian slave raiders, Chilean imperialists and Scottish ranchers who introduced sheep and herded the natives off the land, fencing them into one small village , the Rapa Nui people were all but destroyed.

By there were only natives left on the island. The Chilean government claimed possession of Easter Island in and, in , designated it a national park, to preserve thousands of archaeological sites. Archaeologist Van Tilburg estimates that there could be as many as 20,00o sites on the island.


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Under growing pressure, the Chilean government is giving back a small number of homesteads to native families, alarming some archaeologists and stirring intense debate. But though they remain largely dispossessed, the Rapa Nui people have re-emerged from the shadows of the past, recovering and reinventing their ancient art and culture. Carving a small wooden moai in his yard, Andreas Pakarati, who goes by Panda, is part of that renewal.

About This Item

I try to find a different point of view. The dancers and musicians of the Kari Kari company, shouting native chants and swaying like palms in the wind, are among the most striking symbols of renewal. The people are feeling a lack of what they lost. Even the oldest and most traditional of artisans, like Benedicto Tuki, agree that tourists provide essential support for their culture—but he insisted, when we spoke, that the culture is intact, that its songs and skills carry ancient knowledge into the present.

When I ask McCall, who has recorded the genealogies of island families since , how a culture could be transmitted through only people, he tugs at his scruffy blond mustache. Sitting in his office at the University of Chile in Santiago, he is not sanguine. And now people are already clearing land and plowing it for agriculture, destroying archaeological sites. Behind the statues you have people with their dreams, their needs to develop the island. Are we as scientists responsible for that?

The question is, who owns the past? He wants the entire park returned to Rapa Nui control, to be kept intact. He becomes pensive. The world must know this spirit is alive.

Easter Island Megalithic Culture, The Most Efficient on the Planet

Colin Richards of the University of Manchester and Sue Hamilton of University College London retraced a centuries-old road that leads to an ancient quarry, where island inhabitants mined red volcanic pumice. The hats, the British experts theorize, may represent a plait or top knot, styles which would have been worn by chieftains then engaged in an epic struggle for dominance.

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