Pieces of the puzzle
Since science is always advancing, we have been able to understand most of the things that made us scratch our heads 100 years ago. But there are some things that science still cannot explain. The Easter Island secrets are one such phenomenon that baffles scientists, but now they may have found some answers.
Jo Anne Van Tilburg stood up, trembling at the monuments that stood around her. The intimidating figures raised the hair on the back of their necks. But did she finally have the missing pieces to solve this puzzle?
It is a mystery how the Rapa Nui carved giant statues weighing up to 86 tons and 10 meters high. The statues are believed to date between AD 1400 and AD 1650.
The island is known for its moai heads. After hundreds of years, the soil, debris, and weeds have increased significantly, and Jo Anne believes this could indicate that there is more underground in these heads.
A tribe of Polynesians used to live on Easter Island or Rapa Nui in their mother tongue. The tribe came from the sub-region of Oceania and arrived on the island in two canoes, led by the future chief of the island – Hotu Matu’a.
But how then did the tribe bring with them the tools needed to create these giants? And where did they all go? Jo Anne was sure that she would uncover this riddle.
A lot of speculation has been thrown out there. One of the most popular theories had to do with aliens. “Chariots of the gods? Unsolved mysteries of the past,” written by Erich von Daniken, had some far-fetched speculation.
Von Daniken suggested that the moai, much like the pyramids of Egypt, were built by extraterrestrial life visiting Earth. His theories have been rejected by many, but that doesn’t mean that other theories have come any closer to the truth.
The population of Easter Island exceeded the thousands and more than 1,000 statues were created around the island. Archaeologists have inspected what the tribe left behind and it appears they are thriving.
Historians say the tribe must have met an unfortunate fate. After the tribe disappeared, they took all their knowledge with them. But an archaeologist won’t stop easily.
There were thousands of people on the island and the only trace they left is the statues. There are a few more theories about where residents went.
Much wild speculation brings curses, magic, aliens or divine interventions into play. But a more solid theory can be darker than any other wild one.
In 1982 the Easter Island project was founded by Jo Anne Van Tilburg. She sets out to reveal the secret that the island had for so many years – especially the stone figures guarding the island.
In 2000 Cristian Arevalo Pakarati became co-director of the project and started helping Van Tilburg in her work. In 2017, the two made a discovery that would change the perception of the island.
Finally, in 2017, the two archaeologists received permission to dig where the heads of Rano Raraku sit. You will be the first archaeologists to do this.
The effort was immense, but they knew it would pay off in the end. What they discovered surprised scientists and everyone around the world. The moai heads guarded something huge.
Under the earth
Some of the statues are kneeling with their hands over their stomachs while others look satisfied. The floor had the upper bodies of the heads hidden beneath the surface.
How did the people of the island create all these statues with such skills? An equally important question is where the population has gone to.
After excavating the stone bodies of the statues, they found beautiful carvings that gave new information about the life of civilizations. The carvings should have required good tools and skills to achieve them.
The carvings have been identified as astrological symbols, religious symbols, and the names of the ancestors. In addition to the huge bodies, archaeologists also discovered the tools that civilization used.
The team unearthed around 1,600 different tools and instruments. Carved from dark volcanic rock and basalt, they discovered that some of them were the tools the artists used to model the colossal statues.
And with this new discovery, they knew they were closer to unraveling the secret of Rapa Nui’s hidden past. Could Rapa Nui have been wiped out by a massive war?
Seventeen of the tools excavated under the moais have been analyzed. Colloquially known as “Toki”, all of these tools can be traced back to one source – the one quarry with a basalt monopoly.
This quarry was at that time one of three quarries on the island and obviously contained the best basalt for the “Toki”. So what did that mean?
Shattering previous beliefs
The new evidence showed that the Rapa Nui gathered all of the raw materials from the same quarry to make their tools. This confirms that society must have lived peacefully and collaboratively.
This new detail also explains why they were so successful as a civilization and how they managed to create monuments that baffle scientists to this day. Previous beliefs were that the Rapa Nui fought each other until they were wiped out. But what happened to them then?
The Rapa Nui discovered the island 1000 years ago. At its widest, the island extends for 15 miles. To date, it is one of the most distant inhabited islands in the world.
With metal yet to be discovered, the natives used basalt stone picks to carve the solidified volcanic ash. But why didn’t two moais look alike?
Built in honor
It is believed that the moai statues were built in honor of chiefs and other important members of society who had passed away. Big nose, small nose, big ears, small ears, protruding chin.
Therefore the moais have different properties. Their only resemblance was the enormous size of their heads. They purposely based each sculpture on the person it represented. Once completed, the Rapa Nui now had a tedious task.
Up and down the hill
Jo Anne’s feet burned across the uneven terrain. She wondered how the Rapa Nui managed to move tons of stature across the hilly island.
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and Czech engineer Pavel Pavel attached ropes to the head so they could tip the statue and push it on its side. A second attempt at this theory was carried out in 2012 and it took 30 people to move a 5-ton replica. But there were still many questions.
On some moai there are boulders that resemble hats. But the rock masses actually represent hair. Traditionally, the Rapa Nui wrapped their hair like a ball on the crown of their head.
Chiefs believed that their hair bound them with supernatural powers, which is why they rarely cut their curls. Although the alien theory seems a lot simpler, it is more likely that the men created a cairn next to the moai before pressing the boulders onto their heads.
Jo Anne has always thought about the history of these people. The island had few resources – no metal, no cattle, and little water. And they managed to transport the huge models for miles across the country.
Not only have their creations been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, they also attract visitors from all over the world. But many of them avoided the sad truth of Easter Island.
Jo Anne saw human bones baking in the sun. It was a familiar sight. For years the waves broke past the cliffs, breaking open the platforms with ancient remains.
In the tombs there was a collection of artifacts – spearheads, bones, statues. On this occasion, the remains belonged to the island’s long-gone residents. The land was now collapsing under their feet.
A look into the past
The skulls discovered on the island have given archaeologists an indication of the skeletal structures of the Rapa Nui. The long and narrow bone structure of these remains suggests that the natives now had longer ears than the average person.
But the island’s current residents were not as pleased with the discovery as others. “These bones were related to my family,” explained Hetereki Huke, an Easter Island native. But their resting place is now not only threatened by the elements.
Vandalism and theft
The UNESCO World Heritage Site seems to mean little to some tourists. In 2008 a Finnish man hacked the earlobe from one of the old moai.
And in 1868 the crew of the British HMS Topaze retrieved a statue from the island. This moai is now part of the British Museum in London and is considered to be one of the first sculptures. But that is the least of Huke’s worries.
With sea levels expected to rise by at least two meters by 2100, residents, descendants and scientists fear that nature poses a serious threat to the island. The archaeological sites are the backbone of the island’s economy.
New discoveries attract tourists. The 100,000 annual visitors provide the 6,000 residents with business, economic growth and cultural support. The island’s tourism sector provides more than $ 70 million each year, with the numbers increasing year on year. But that could all change.
While tourists are content with the wide grass plains and watchful moai, one feature that goes unnoticed by many is missing – the lack of trees. All historians agree that at one point the island was exposed to extreme deforestation.
Although transportation was easier for the Rapa Nui at the time, it has affected the country’s solidity. There are no roots to absorb excess moisture, which would soak the graves before bursting. The future is worrying.
A worrying future
Time is running out quickly. Ovahe Beach has taken the brunt of the abuse. The sandy beach was once a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. Now unmarked tombs have been dug out of the waves, leaving people like Huke in horror.
It is doubtful that climate change will stop anytime soon. So let’s hope archaeologists discover the final pieces of the puzzle before it’s too late.