Science & Nature

Mar 1, 2017

EASTER ISLAND - THE MISTERY REMAINS

It is perhaps one of the best kept secrets of mankind, the Moais, also known as the Easter Island Heads, statues carved from the rocks of the Rano Raraku volcano, which can weigh 88 tons and reach 10 meters in height, have become the main tourist attraction of Chile, but the mystery that surrounds them continues to unravel.

The function they perform, the way they were made and transported, are some of the mysteries of Moais or Heads of Easter Island, in Chile. Mysteries that are growing because of the research of countless scientists. The last one is related to the fact that some "Heads" have their bodies buried, and these are tattooed with inscriptions that may be related to rongorongo, the writing system of the people´s Island which, despite several attempts, haven´t yet been fully deciphered.

Most of the Easter experts conclude that rongorongo invention was inspired by the first contact of the islanders with writing (during the Spanish landing in the year 1770), or by the trauma of slavery, when in 1805, two dozen Peruvian ships hijacked half the population and sold it at auction for slave labour in the Peruvian mines of Guano. Most of the abductees died in captivity. The survivors were repatriated due to international pressure, but contracted smallpox, causing the deaths of many residents. It is believed that this was one of the factors that contributed to the disappearance of the local population - called Rapanui.

Because they are buried, the symbols carved in the volcanic stone have been protected throughout the centuries. Some historians believe that the inscriptions represent aspects of the local culture, namely Polynesian canoes, because the Polynesians are said to have arrived there by canoe and, with the passage of time, they have gained the identity Rapanui.

It is estimated that the Easter Island Heads were built precisely by the Rapanui people, between AD 1200 and AD 1500, and they represent a tribute to ancestors who stood out as kings, warriors or priests. Although heavy and not sure how the transport was carried out, they are believed to have stood to be transported to the "sanctuaries", that is, the places where we now see five aligned statues on average, the largest of which Paro, that has 23 meters high, which is unfinished. Another theory defends that Moais were scattered around the Island to honour dead leaders - thus explaining that they were facing away from the sea and facing the villages. Some statues have a kind of red hats, which, according with British researchers, symbolise prestige, and may also be considered on top of the head, or even their hair tied in coke, a typical inhabitant of the region hairstyle.

The doubt about whether the bodies have or not been always buried, or if happened due to a phenomenon of Nature, remains. The sudden disappearance of the local inhabitants makes the various theses of the researchers inconclusive. There are those who argue that the Island´s overpopulation has led to food shortages and internal conflicts, and those who believe there has been a landslide that swept the population by making the statues buried. It is true that «of the 887 giant sculptures, the most famous are the 150 that are buried», according to Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Director of the Statue of Easter Island Project (EISP).

Named Rapanui ("Big Island"), Te Pito O Te Henúa ("Navel of the World") and Mata Ki Te Rangi ("Eyes Fixed in the Sky"), Easter is an Eastern Polynesian Island located in the South Pacific Ocean, about 3700 km away from the west coast of Chile, and with capital at Hanga Roa. It is said that its origin is linked to the navigators of the western Pacific that contributed in the place and created a unique and mysterious civilization, believing that there was the "navel of the world".

There is no shortage of speculation and interest in the Island discovered by the Dutch navigator, Jakob Roggeveen. After 17 days of sailing, and on board of the ship "Afrikaanske Galei", the sailors worked normally, when at 18:00 pm, on Easter Sunday of 1722 – hence the name –, they spotted the Island. Seeing the "Heads", the captain ordered them to pass the night there, but when they woke up, they were astounded because those where still there, and the Commander ordered the landing. A discovery that occurred after having fought a Spanish galleon, thanks to its superior speed, in an expedition that lasted four months and that had as purpose to transport and to commercialise Holland iron. Everything was going smoothly to Commander Jacob Roggeveen.

Historians believe this Island with a triangular shape, originated by a volcanic crater, was populated by Pascoan ancestors who travelled by boat from Indonesia around 8000 BC to settle in the South Pacific. It took nine thousand years to reach the Polynesia extremes of: Easter, New Zealand and Hawaii, where we find very similar figures to Moais of Easter. The Island passed to Chilean possession in the year 1888.

The Rapa Nui National Park, classified as UNESCO World Heritage, (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) is also on Easter Island, in the region of Valparaíso.

The statues of giant heads alone have always intrigued the scientific community, because they were too heavy to be transported by human's centuries ago, and even today, despite all the modern machinery. Now that they have decided to dig underneath these heads, the mystery has grown even larger and seems far from unrevealed which, intentionally or not, increases the curiosity and the tourism on the Island.

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