Easter Island (Rapa Nui) with its strange statues, known as moai, remains one of the great archaeological mysteries. As with most ancient enigmas, various writers have tried to link Easter Island with either Atlantis, Mu or extraterrestrials.
I cannot subscribe to such silliness and would not normally include Easter Island in this Encyclopedia, but in recognition of the level of general interest in the subject I have included a link(a) to the serious archaeological work that continues on the island. This study is now in its fifth season and is directed by Dr. Jo Anne Van Tilburg. One aspect of the work was to demonstrate that many of the Easter Island ‘heads’ have buried bodies, often, until now, with hidden petroglyphs(t). A recent (June 2015) blog(g) has proposed that some of the markings represent tattoos.
Van Tilburg has been working on Rapa Nui for more than three decades. Her Easter Island Statue Project is supported in part by UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology. “A 2019 report from her radically alters the idea that all standing statues in the Rano Raraku quarry were simply awaiting transport out of the quarry,” Van Tilburg said. “That is, these and probably other upright Moai in Rano Raraku were retained in place to ensure the sacred nature of the quarry itself. The Moai were central to the idea of fertility, and in Rapanui belief their presence here stimulated agricultural food production.”(aa)
The other great Easter Island mystery(i) is the rongorongo script found there. All attempts to decipher it have failed(c)(d). An extensive article by Jacob Mikanowski offering insights into the history of the island and its script and the many efforts to decode it is available online(q). David Pratt has also compared rongorongo with ancient Chinese and Indus Valley scripts(r). Pratt has written a number of papers on various aspects of Easter Island(s).
Jean-Michel Schwartz has noted [1792.93] the views of Dr. Heine Geldern who “pointed out strong resemblances between rongo-rongo signs and certain archaic Chinese characters, particularly from the Shang period.”
Similarities between rongorongo and symbols carved on the Ingá Stone in Brazil have also been noted(v).
Some years ago Andis Kaulins wrote An Astrological Zodiac In the Script of Easter Island(x), in which he also links the Easter Island script with the Indus Valley as well as possible calendrical and astronomical associations.
“In 1932, Wilhelm de Hevesy was the first academic to suggest a link between Rongorongo and the Indus script of the Indus Valley Civilization in India, claiming that as many as forty Rongorongo symbols had a correlating symbol in the script from India. For a while, the idea was entertained and debated until radiocarbon dating of the Indus Valley culture was placed between c. 3,300 – 1,900 BC, a finding which officially separated the two cultures by over 2,000 years. Recent research however, has opened the debate again as the finding of Indus Valley DNA in Australian Aborigines suggest a contact between the two cultures c. 2,000 BC.”(v) There is also an extensive study of the two scripts available on the Academia.edu website.(w)
A new suggestion has recently emerged linking Easter Island and the ongoing discoveries at Göbekli Tepe in Turkey(b). This dates back to early 2010 and has now been given greater prominence in Robert Schoch’s recent book, Forgotten Civilization . On a lighter note, when Robert Schoch, suggested a link between Göbekli Tepe and Eastern Island(m), in spite of the eleven millennia time difference, it was no surprise that Jason Colavito scornfully dismissed the idea(n).
Pre-Colonial contacts between Easter Island and South America have recently been supported by DNA evidence(f). This would appear to be contradicted by a 2017 study by a team from the University of California -Santa Cruz, which appears to rule out pre-European contact with South Americans! Details are published in the October 12th edition of Current Biology.(p)
The Milwaukee Journal of June 17th 1923 had a headline that announced the disappearance of Easter Island(e), proving that you really can’t believe everything you read! Coincidentally, 1923 also gave us an early attempt(h) to link Easter Island with Atlantis.
For a long time it has been thought that warfare had wiped out much of its early population. This has now been debunked by a new study, led by Binghamton University anthropology professor Carl Lipo and published in the Feb. 2016 edition of the journal Antiquity(j). Shortly afterwards, a further study suggested that a more complex explanation for the early social collapse on the island has been put forward by Dr. Valentí Rull, who is a senior researcher of the Spanish National Research Council in Barcelona(k).
A further report(o) from Lipo highlighted further the complexity underlying the societal disintegration that took place on the island. Lipo outlined the commonly held explanation as follows; “One of the resources that they supposedly used up was trees that were growing on the island. Those trees provided canoes and, as a result of the lack of canoes, they could no longer fish. So they started to rely more and more on land food. As they relied on land food, productivity went down because of soil erosion, which led to crop failures…Painting the picture of this sort of catastrophe. That’s the traditional narrative.” Lipo’s studies has employed new technologies that have disproved these popular ideas and obviously forced a radical rethink.
There is a brief Smithsonian video clip available(l) which deals with the cutting and transportation of the moai.
The latest moai theory has come from a team of researchers, led by Carl Lipo, from New York’s Binghampton University, who have concluded that the statues were placed at location where potable water was available(u). To me it seems an excessively elaborate way of marking locations.
A recent study has added some confusion to conventional assumptions regarding early warfare on the island, claiming that there is now evidence that “Easter Island society did not collapse prior to European contact and its people continued to build its iconic moai statues for much longer than previously believed, according to a team of American researchers” Their conclusions were published in the February, 2020 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.(y)
In the April 2020 edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science, Lipo et al offered a new paper(z) further debunking the Rapa Nui societal collapse theory.
(e) https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19230617&id=9f1EAAAAIBAJ&sjid=XyEEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5420,3683626 (inaccessible Sept. 2016)
(m) https://web.archive.org/web/20160911175943/https://www.robertschoch.com/articles/schochgobeklitepenewdawnsept2010.pdf See: Sept/Oct 2010 edition of New Dawn Magazine (Issue 122)