The Current Issue
Nikon Owner Issue 20
Graham Hancock & Santha Faiia The Earth Mysteries - Easter Island
In Part II of Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia's series The Earth Mysteries, written specially for Nikon Owner magazine, Graham speculates upon the enigma of Easter Island.
Located in the Pacific Ocean roughly 2,000 miles east of Tahiti and 2000 miles west of the coast of Chile - to which it belongs - Easter Island is, literally, one of the most isolated inhabited spots on earth. And it is, if you think about it (particularly if you study the logistics of the problem on a map) something of a miracle that it ever came to be inhabited at all.
There are so many questions. On what sort of boats did the first settlers get here? How many of them were there? Did they come in one group or several? Where did they come from? Hawaii? Tahiti? Tonga? New Zealand? Perhaps even from South America? Was it accident or design that led them to this tiny speck of land in the midst of the wind-blown wastes of the South Pacific? And what were they trying to communicate, or commemorate, or depict when they carved - out of solid rock - more than 600 gigantic stone statues of strange humanoid beings with elongated faces and immense, staring eyes? These statues, found all over the island, are called Moai. In several cases, either singly or in groups, they are positioned on massive stone platforms known as Ahu.
The earliest date that archaeologists are prepared to assign to the human settlement of Easter Island is the fourth century AD. This is supported by evidence in the form of reeds, carbon-dated to AD 318 from a grave at the important Moai and Ahu complex known as Ahu Tepeu. Charcoal, also dated to the fourth century, has been found in a ditch on the Poike peninsula. The next carbon date, AD 690, comes from another important Moai site, Ahu Tahai, from organic materials apparently incorporated at the time of building into the Ahu platform itself.
Ahu Tahai is therefore regarded by archaeologists as "the earliest structure dated so far". It's Moai, on the other hand, which cannot be directly dated by radio-carbon, and thought to have been added much later. This is because what is described as Easter Island's "earliest known classical statue" stands alone just to the north of Tahai. Contextual evidence and radio-carbon tests on associated organic materials, have persuaded archaeologists to assign this 20-tonne, 5-metre-tall Moai to the twelfth century AD. Paradoxically, however, they also admit that "the classic statue form was already well-developed at that time."
Thereafter "classical" Moai continued to be sculpted in large numbers for approximately half a millennium until the last, four metres tall, was erected at Hanga Kioe at around AD 1650. Seventy-five years later, after a series of genocidal wars between the two principal ethnic groups on the island (the so-called "Long Ears" and the "Short Ears"), the much-diminished population had its first fateful contacts with European slaving vessels. Predictably, random murders, kidnappings, systematic slave raids, and epidemics of smallpox and tuberculosis followed with such intensity that by the 1870's Easter Island's population had been reduced to just 111 individuals. This tiny group of survivors (from which today's rebounding population of a few thousand are all descended) included not a single member of the island's hereditary cast …