Pieces Of The Puzzle
With science always making developments we’ve been able to understand most things that would have left us scratching our heads 100 years ago. But there are a few things that science still can’t explain. The mysteries of Easter Island is one such phenomenon that’s left scientists baffled, but now they may have found some answers.
Jo Anne Van Tilburg stood, legs shaking from the monuments that stood all around her. The intimidating figures made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. But did she finally have the missing pieces to solve this puzzle?
It’s a mystery how the Rapa Nui carved huge statues that weighed up to 86 tonnes and 10 meters high. The statues are believed to date between 1400-1650 AD.
The Island is renowned for its Moai heads. After hundreds of years the soil, rubble, and weeds have increased significantly and Jo Anne thinks that this may indicate that more lies underneath the ground when it comes to these heads.
Easter Island, or Rapa Nui in the native language, used to be home to a tribe of Polynesians. The tribe came from the subregion of Oceania and arrived on the island on two canoes led by the island’s future chief – Hotu Matu’a.
But then how did the tribe bring with them the tools necessary to create these giants? And where did they all go? Jo Anne was sure that she would uncover this mystery.
Many speculations have been thrown out there. One of the most well-spread theories had to do with aliens. “Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past,” written by Erich von Daniken, had some far fetched speculations.
Von Daniken Proposed that, much like the pyramids of Egypt, the Moai were constructed by alien life that visited earth. His theories have been dismissed by many, but that doesn’t mean any other theories have come closer to the truth.
Easter Island’s populace surpassed the thousands and more than 1,000 statues were created all around the island. Archeologists inspected what the tribe left behind and it seems like they were thriving.
Historians say that the tribe must have met an unfortunate fate. With the tribe gone, they took all of their knowledge with them. But one archeologist won’t stop so easily.
There were thousands of people on the island and the only trace they left behind are the statues. There are a few more theories as to where the inhabitants went.
Many wild speculations bring curses, magic, aliens, or divine intervention into play. But a more sound theory may be more sinister than any of the wild ones.
In 1982 the Easter Island Project was founded by Jo Anne Van Tilburg. She’s set out to unveil the mystery that the island held for so many years – particularly the stone figures that guard the island.
In 2000 Cristian Arevalo Pakarati became the co-director of the project and started aiding Van Tilburg in her work. In 2017 the two made a discovery that would change perceptions about the island.
Finally, in 2017, the two archeologists were given permission to start excavating where the Rano Raraku heads sit. They will be the first archeologists to do so.
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 were guarding something huge.
Beneath The Earth
Some of the statues are kneeling with their hands over their stomachs while others sit looking content. The soil had hidden the heads’ torsos underneath the surface.
How did the people of the island create all of these statues with such skill? An equally important question is where did the population go?
After digging up the stone bodies of the statues they found beautiful carvings that gave new information about how the civilizations lived. The carvings would have had to require good tools and skills to accomplish.
The carvings have been identified as astrological symbols, religious symbols, and the names of ancestors. Along with the giant bodies, the archeologists also discovered the tools that the civilization used.
The team dug up around 1,600 different tools and instruments. Hewn from dark volcanic rock and basalt, they discovered that some of these were the tools that the artists used to sculpt the colossal statues.
And with this new discovery, they knew they were closer to revealing the mystery about the Rapa Nui’s shrouded past. Could the Rapa Nui have been wiped out by a massive war?
Analyses were done on 17 of the tools that were excavated from underneath the Moais. Colloquially known as “toki,” all of these tools could be traced back to one source – the one quarry with a monopoly on basalt.
One of three quarries on the island at the time, this particular quarry obviously held the best basalt for the “toki.” So, what did it mean?
Shattering Former Beliefs
The new evidence indicated that the Rapa Nui were all collecting raw materials from the same quarry to fashion their tools. This confirms that the society must have been living peacefully and collaboratively.
This new detail also explains why they were so successful as a civilization and how they were able to create monuments that baffle scientists even today. Previous beliefs were that the Rapa Nui had warred with each other until they were wiped out. But then, what did happen to them?
The Rapa Nui discovered the island 1,000 years ago. At its widest, the island spans about 15 miles. To this day it remains one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world.
As metal was yet to be discovered, the natives used basalt stone picks to carve the solidified volcanic ash. But why did no two Moais look the same?
Built In Honor
It’s believed that the Moai statues were built in honor of chieftains and other key members of society who had passed. Large nose, small nose, big ears, tiny ears, prominent chin.
This is why the Moais have different characteristics. Their only similarity was the huge size of their heads. They intentionally based each sculpture on the person it represented. But once complete, the Rapa Nui now had a painstaking task.
Up Hill, Down Hill
Jo Anne’s feet burned crossing the unlevel terrain. She wondered how the Rapa Nui people managed to transport tonnes of statures kilometers across the hilly island.
Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl and Czech engineer Pavel Pavel attached ropes to the head, allowing them to tilt the statue while pushing it on its side. A second attempt at this theory was conducted in 2012 and took 30 people to move a 5-tonne replica. But there were plenty of questions left.
Atop some Moai rests boulders that resemble hats. But the rock masses actually represent hair. Traditionally, the Rapa Nui wound their hair at the crown of their head like a ball.
Chieftains believed their hair connected them to supernatural powers, which is why they rarely cut their locks. Although the extra-terrestrial theory seems much easier, it’s more likely the men created a hill of stones beside the Moai before pushing the boulders onto their heads.
Jo Anne has always pondered over the history of these people. The island had little resources—no metal, no livestock, and little water. And they managed to transport the giant models kilometers across the land.
Their creations have not only been recognized as a UNESCO heritage site, but they also attract visitors from around the globe. But many of them avoided the sad truth of Easter Island.
Jo Anne saw human bones baking in the sun. This was a familiar sight. For years, the swelling waves broke past the cliffs and broke open the platforms containing ancient remains.
The tombs held a collection of artifacts—spearheads, bones, statues. But on this occasion, the remains belonged to the island’s long-gone inhabitants. The land was now crumbling beneath her feet.
A Glimpse of the Past
The skulls discovered on the island has given archaeologists a hint to the skeletal structures of the Rapa Nui. The long and narrow bone structure of these remains suggests the natives had longer ears than the average person now.
But the island’s current inhabitants weren’t as pleased with the discovery as others. “Those bones were related to my family,” Hetereki Huke, an Easter Island native, explained. But their place of rest is now threatened not only by the elements.
Vandalism And Theft
The UNESCO heritage site seems to mean little to some tourists. In 2008 a Finnish man hacked the earlobe off one of the ancient Moai.
And in 1868, the crew of the British HMS Topaze recovered a statue from the island. This Moai is now part of London’s British Museum and is known as one of the first sculptures. But this is the least of Huke’s worries.
As the sea levels are expected to rise by a minimum of five feet by 2100, residents, descendants, and scientists fear nature will become a serious threat to the island. The archaeological sites are the backbone of the island’s economy.
New discoveries attract tourists. The 100,000 yearly 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.
Although the tourists are content with the wide plains of grass and the watchful Moai, there is one missing characteristic that goes unnoticed by many—the lack of trees. Historians all agree that at one point, the island was subject to extreme deforestation.
Although transportation for the Rapa Nui was easier at the time, it has influenced the solidity of the land. There are no roots to soak up excess moisture causing graves to become waterlogged before busting. The future is worrying.
A Worrying Future
Time is quickly running out. Ovahe Beach has taken the brunt of the abuse. The sandy beach was once a popular spot for both tourists and locals. Now, unmarked burial sites have been unearthed from the waves, leaving people like Huke horrified.
It is doubtful that climate change will cease anytime soon. So, let’s hope archaeologists discover the final pieces of the puzzle before it’s too late.