Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island

Article excerpt


Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island

by Jo Anne Van Tilburg

Scribner, 2003; $26.00

Almost a century has passed since Katherine Routledge and her husband Scoresby raised the anchor of their custom-built ninety-foot schooner Mana and set sail for adventure. Few Europeans had ever visited Rapa Nui, as the local residents called Easter Island, but all Victorians with an ounce of romance in their soul knew of the island's alluring riddle. Katherine hoped to solve it.

Although Rapa Nui had no trees, it had a forest: hundreds of huge stone statues were scattered across its barren landscape. Who had carved these otherworldly monuments? And what purpose-religious, ceremonial, commemorative-could justify such a large investment of labor and resources? The Routledges, possessed of Katherine's inherited fortune as well as the Victorian mania for collecting, were determined to find out. Their expedition made landfall on Rapa Nui, after an eventful year at sea, on March 29, 1914.

From the start it was Katherine's show. Although she had little formal training in archaeology, she knew what to look for and how to listen. In her party's seventeen months on the island she made drawings and water-- colors of each landmark. She sat daily with village elders, compiling notebooks of their replies to her questions about the old ways, the ancient gods, how the island and its people came to be. While Katherine sketched and scribbled, Scoresby collected artifacts from caves and burial sites, and members of the Mana's crew photographed and mapped with military precision. It was the first true attempt to conduct an archaeological survey of the island.

Van Tilburg has dug deeply into Katherine's family records and the notebooks of the Many expedition to present a convincing picture of science as it was practiced in an era when natural history was a popular sport of the moneyed class. …