The Enigmas of Easter Island: Island on the Edge

The Enigmas of Easter Island: Island on the Edge

The Enigmas of Easter Island: Island on the Edge

The Enigmas of Easter Island: Island on the Edge

Synopsis

Easter Island, an unimaginably remote volcanic island in the Pacific Ocean, produced one of the most fascinating and yet least understood prehistoric cultures. Who were its inhabitants, and where did they come from? Why, and equally intriguingly, how did they erect the giant stone statuesfound all over the island? Paul Bahn and John Flenley tackle these and a host of other questions, introducing us, along the way, to the bizarre birdman cult found in the island's art, and the only recently deciphered Rongorongo script engraved on wooden panels. The Enigmas of Easter Island combines a wealth of newarchaeological evidence, intriguing folk memories and the records of Captain Cook and other early explorers, to reveal how the island's decline may stem from ecological catastrophe. The result is a fascinating portrait of a civilization which still retains many of its mysteries. This book, originally published in 1992, was hailed as the best account of Easter Island ever written. Now it has been brought substantially up to date with a wealth of new material.

Excerpt

This tiny mote of land lost in the endless empty seas of the
southeast Pacific
.

William Mulloy

THE SHEER remoteness of Easter Island is overpowering—it is five or six hours by jet from the nearest land; to reach it by boat takes days. The small island is pounded so hard by the ocean on all sides that, now that it has an airstrip, very few boats go there any more. Since the nineteenth century, the island has been known to its inhabitants as Rapa Nui (Big Rapa), a name owed to Tahitian sailors who thought it resembled the Polynesian island of Rapa, 3,850 km (2,400 miles) to the west. The early islanders themselves may never have had a real name for their island, which constituted their whole world. Yet somehow this remote, battered speck produced one of the world's most fascinating and least understood prehistoric cultures, a culture which has long gripped the public's imagination because of its unique, huge, stone statues or moai. These have become one of our 'icons' of the ancient world, instantly recognizable in their frequent appearances in cartoons or advertisements, where they are usually—and erroneously—depicted simply as blind, brooding heads gazing gloomily out to sea.

In view of the worldwide public fascination with the island, it is odd that no serious general account of its history and archaeology has appeared in English for over thirty years. Yet we now know far more about the development and downfall of its unique culture, and it is a story with an urgent and sobering message for our own times. There have been many popular books, but if one leaves aside those filled with fantasies about lost continents and visiting astronauts, they are dominated by the works of Thor Heyerdahl, which set out to buttress a single and now largely discredited theory. A more balanced and up-to-date account is badly needed, and it is hoped that the present volume will fill this gap.

Today, Easter Island is generally considered a strange, fantastic, mysterious place, and this is reflected in the titles of popular books and television . . .

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