Mysterious Lands The Statues of Easter Island

About mysterious land of Easter Island, the ancient statues described, history of the land.

The Place: EASTER ISLAND (Rapa Nui)

Location: The Pacific Ocean, 2,500 mi west of Chile.

The Enigma: When the Dutch navigator Jaakob Roggeveen discovered Easter Island in 1722, he found huge stone statues there. He probably wondered who carved them and why. Had he known how many statues there were--over 100 completed and 150 half finished-and had he been able to comprehend the magnitude of the task, he would have been even more astounded than he was.

Easter Island is tiny-35 mi. in circumference-and far from any other land. It is volcanic and somewhat barren, with very few trees, plenty of insects, and almost no animal population but rats, and its native inhabitants.

The statues, with their ruthless expressions and gigantic size, dominate the island. Some are as high as a 3-story house and weigh over 60 tons. They represent Caucasian males with long ears, large eyes, jutting chins, and little legs. Although they have some decorations around their stomachs, they are otherwise naked. All were carved so symmetrically that when they were erected, they had perfect balance.

Pierre Loti, the French writer, came to the island in 1870. He described the statutes: "What race did they represent with their turned-up noses and their thin lips thrust forward in an expression of disdain or mockery? They have no eyes, only deep cavities under their large, noble foreheads, yet they seem to be looking and thinking. . . ."

Some of the statues are now toppled and broken. Most had topknots made from red stone once, but all these have long since fallen off.

Construction on the statues stopped suddenly sometime in the 1600s. Some statues are half-carved from the volcanic rock and the carvers' tools lie scattered about.

Some Explanations: What humans did the statues represent? Obviously not Polynesians, yet who would have visited the island before Roggeveen except Polynesians? (Captain Cook, they say, found red-haired and blond white people on many of the islands. How did they get there?)

According to the islanders' legend, the "long ears"-led by a chief named Hoto-Matuacame to the island in 475 A.D., after a voyage of 120 days from a place in the east. Many years after, the "short ears" (Polynesians?) came and were enslaved by the "long ears," who made them work on the statues. Sometime in the 1600s, the "short ears" got fed up with their enslavement and killed all the "long ears" but one, who had many descendants.

It was Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian ethnologist, who in 1947 came up with a reasonable explanation of where those "long ears" originated. Similarities in the names of gods, in plants (notably the sweet potato), and in the arts led him to believe that the "long ears" came from South America, perhaps what is now Peru. To prove that men could have sailed by raft to Easter Island, he built a raft of balsa wood, the Kon-Tiki, and sailed across the Pacific to an atoll 4,000 mi. west of Peru.

But who were those white men? Scandinavians? Men from Atlantis or Lemuria or outer space? The mystery remains.

Today: The Statues still stand on Easter Island.

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