Easter Island: land of mystery

David Pratt

Nov 2004, Jan 2009

1. Introduction

Everywhere is the wind of heaven; round and above all are boundless sea and sky, infinite space and a great silence. The dweller there is ever listening for he knows not what, feeling unconsciously that he is in the antechamber to something yet more vast which is just beyond his ken.  – Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, 1919

Fig. 1.1 A stone giant at Rano Raraku continues its solemn watch, silent and inscrutable.

Lying just south of the tropic of Capricorn, midway between Chile and Tahiti, Easter Island – or Rapa Nui – is one of the most remote islands on earth. Triangular in shape, with an extinct volcano at each corner, its 170 square kilometres offer a varied landscape of gently rolling hills, volcanic craters, rugged lava fields, and steep ocean cliffs, surrounded by the deep-blue waters of the South Pacific. The island is famous above all for nearly a thousand gigantic long-eared stone statues or moai, most of them 4 to 8 metres tall, and for over 300 stone platforms or ahu, many of megalithic proportions. It is a land of mystery, known in former times as Te Pito o te Henua, ‘the navel of the world’.

Fig. 1.2 Easter Island lies isolated in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

Platforms were built all around the island’s coast, and statues once stood on most of them, facing inland towards the villages. Some platform statues bore a large cylindrical headdress or pukao carved from reddish stone, and eyes of cut coral were fitted into their faces. Nearly all the statues are made from yellowish volcanic rock, quarried at the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. Work at the quarry seems to have stopped suddenly, for dozens of statues remain uncompleted, and thousands of stone pickaxes were found scattered around. Another enigma is the island’s still-undeciphered hieroglyphic script, known as Rongorongo – virtually the only ancient form of writing known in Oceania.

Fig. 1.3 Rano Raraku volcano.1 (courtesy of Carlos Huber)

The official view is that Easter Island was discovered accidentally by Polynesian migrants in the 4th century AD. Their descendants, living in isolation and having nothing better to do, decided to carve giant statues and build huge platforms. They rapidly acquired mastery in advanced stone-carving techniques and the transportation and erection of statues and stone blocks weighing many tons. For over a thousand years they maintained a peaceful, stable, constructive society which supported a large class of master-builders and master-sculptors, and was ruled by a hereditary hierarchy of sacred priest-kings. However, overpopulation and a deteriorating environment resulted in intertribal warfare by the late 17th century. Amidst the turmoil all the statues standing on the platforms were pulled down. It was around this time that the first European explorers discovered the island.

However, many controversies remain: How many times was Easter Island settled and from which direction: by Polynesians from the west, or by South Americans from the east? How did the islanders manage to sculpt hundreds of colossal moai, many as high as a three-storey building, transport them great distances, and erect them on the stone platforms? How did they manage to carve and shape the very tough basalt blocks used in the platforms, given that they are not supposed to have had any metal tools? Does the archaeological history of Easter Island really go back no further than 1500 years? Is there any truth to the legend that the island was once part of a much larger landmass?


  1. José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 67.

2. History

Fig. 2.1


The reigning consensus is that Easter Island was colonized around 300-400 AD as part of an eastward migratory trend that originated in Southeast Asia around 2000 BC. The settlers are thought to have been Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands, 3600 km northwest, or the Mangareva (Gambier) Islands, 2500 km west.

Fig. 2.2 The official view of Polynesian migrations across the Pacific.

The history of Easter Island until the arrival of the first Europeans is usually divided into three main phases: settlement (400-1000), expansion (1000-1500), and decadence (1500-1722). The statues erected before 700 are thought to have been far smaller and more naturalistic than later ones. The golden age of platform building and statue carving is believed to have begun in the mid-12th century, with few statues being erected on platforms after 1500. Forests of palms and conifers once grew on the island, but overpopulation, deforestation, and reduced soil fertility, perhaps aggravated by drought, led to civil war, famine, cannibalism, and the collapse of the old order. The authority of the hereditary chief waned, and power was seized by a ruthless class of warriors. Platform statues were successively overthrown, and the islanders concentrated on making smaller wooden carvings and crude stone figurines.

Natural disasters – earthquakes and tsunamis – may have contributed to the damage suffered by the platforms and statues. On 22 May 1960, for instance, an 8-metre-high tidal wave, produced by an earthquake off Chile, struck the island and entirely destroyed the remains of Ahu Tongariki. Huge stone blocks and 15 statues with an average weight of more than 40 tons were carried over 150 metres inland.

Fig. 2.3 Ahu Tongariki, 150 metres long, as restored in the mid-1990s.

In April 1722 a Dutch expedition under Admiral Jacob Roggeveen became the first Europeans to set foot on Rapa Nui. They named it Easter Island as they landed on Easter Sunday. They spent one day there, and reported that the natives worshipped huge statues with fires while prostrating themselves to the rising sun. Some had stretched and perforated earlobes hanging to their shoulders, and both men and women were extensively tattooed. During a skirmish in which the natives threatened to throw stones, Roggeveen’s men shot dead a dozen islanders before sailing off – thereby ensuring that the arrival of European ‘civilization’ would be a day to remember. Like subsequent European visitors, the Dutch reported seeing not only fair-skinned Polynesians, but people of darker skin, others who were white like Europeans, and a few with reddish skin.

In 1770 a Spanish party from Peru claimed the island for Spain. A conflict seems to have raged on the island before the arrival of the British navigator Captain James Cook four years later. He found a decimated, poverty-stricken population, and observed that the statue cult seemed to have ended, as most of the statues had been pulled down. It’s possible that some of the statues were toppled even before the Dutch and Spanish visits but that those sailors did not visit the same sites as Cook.

The Frenchman La Pérouse visited Easter Island in 1786 and found the population calm and prosperous, suggesting a quick recovery from any catastrophe. In 1804 a Russian visitor reported that at least 20 statues were still standing. Accounts from subsequent years suggest another period of destruction so that perhaps only a handful of statues were still standing a decade later. Some of the statues still upright at the beginning of the 19th century were knocked down by western expeditions.

After 1800, whalers began stopping on the island, leaving behind venereal diseases. Easter Islanders also suffered a series of slave raids, the first being led by an American captain in 1805. A major slave raid launched from Peru in 1862, followed by smallpox epidemics, reduced the population to just 111 in 1877, wiping out the hereditary caste of teachers and initiates (maori). In 1864 Eugène Eyraud, a French Catholic missionary, settled on the island, and eventually succeeded in converting the population to Christianity – as well as introducing tuberculosis.

Commercial exploitation of the island began in 1870. The Frenchman Dutroux-Bornier began to transform the island into a sheep farm while expelling the islanders to the plantations of Tahiti. He was killed by the remaining islanders in 1877. In 1888 the island was annexed by Chile. The total population currently stands at about 4000, but it is estimated that the prehistoric population could have reached as many as 20,000.


Orthodox researchers believe that Easter Island was settled only once: by Polynesians in the 4th century AD. Since no seafarers in those days are supposed to have had maps, it is thought that the island must have been discovered mainly by chance, and that such an unlikely event could not possibly have happened more than once. As John Flenley and Paul Bahn put it: ‘The chances of Easter Island being reached even once were extremely limited; to imagine it being reached several times over vast distances is beyond belief.’1 Some of the island’s legends, however, imply two or three different migrations. As is often the case, native traditions are sometimes contradictory and cannot all be historically accurate, but they may offer important clues.

According to legend, a powerful supernatural being named Uoke, who came from a land called Hiva, travelled about the Pacific prying up whole islands with a gigantic lever and tossing them into the sea where they vanished beneath the waves. After destroying many islands he came to the coast of Easter Island, then a much larger land than it is today, and began to lever up parts of it and cast them into the sea. Eventually he reached a place on the island where the rocks were so sturdy that his lever broke. He was unable to dispose of the last fragment, and this remained as the island we know today.

Easter Island’s culture was founded by the legendary god-king Hotu Matua (‘prolific father’), who is said to have lived on a remnant of Hiva called Maori, in a locality called Marae Renga. According to one version of the legend, he set sail for Easter Island due to the cataclysm caused by Uoke. Another version says he was forced to flee after being defeated in war. After a magician in Hiva called Hau Maka had made an astral journey to Easter Island in a dream, a reconnaissance voyage of seven youths was sent there, and Hotu Matua followed later in a double-canoe.2

The most widespread tradition today is that Hotu Matua’s homeland was a large, warm, green island to the west of Easter Island, but a tradition told to the earliest European explorers says that the first settlers came from a land to the east, known as Marae-toe-hau, ‘the burial place’, which had a very hot climate.3 One tradition suggests that the first Polynesian migration, led by Hotu Matua, was followed by a second Polynesian migration about 100 years later. References are also made to several voyages being made back and forth to Hiva.

There are indications that Easter Island was inhabited even before Hotu Matua arrived. According to one tradition, when Hau Maka had his prophetic dream, he saw six men on the island. Another mentions that Hoto Matua’s seven explorers found an inhabitant on the island, who had arrived with another person who had since died.4 A third account says that a burial platform was found at Hotu Matua’s landing place, and a network of stone-paved roads built by earlier settlers was found inland.5

Francis Mazière, who conducted archaeological excavations on the island in 1963, was told by a native elder that ‘very big men, but not giants, lived on the island well before the coming of Hotu-Matua’. Another related the following legend:

The first men to live on the island were the survivors of the world’s first race. They were yellow, very big, with long arms, great stout chests, huge ears although their lobes were not stretched: they had pure yellow hair and their bodies were hairless and shining. They did not possess fire. This race once existed on two other Polynesian islands. They came by boat from a land that lies behind America.6

According to another tradition, one of the early tribes (the ‘long-ears’) were about 2.5 m (8 ft) tall, and had white skin and red hair.7

The key players in the island’s traditional history are the Hanau-eepe and the Hanau-momoko. These terms are often translated ‘long-ears’ and ‘short-ears’ respectively. However, some researchers say that this is erroneous, and that the correct translations are ‘stocky race’ and ‘slender race’. Hanau means ‘race’ or ‘ethnic group’. Eepe means ‘stocky’ or ‘corpulent’, but there is also a word epe, which means ‘earlobe’. Thor Heyerdahl says that the term was formerly spelled Hanau-epe. Whatever the correct term may be, the people referred to certainly had elongated earlobes. Today momoko carries the sense of ‘sharp-pointed’, and it is assumed that the word probably used to mean ‘slender’ or ‘weak’.8 Some writers have concluded that the Hanau-eepe were the upper class, and the Hanau-momoko the lower class.

One tradition says that Hotu Matua’s people were the ‘short-ears’, while the ‘long-ears’ arrived in a subsequent migration. But another says that he brought both short-ears and long-ears with him, and yet another that the long-ears arrived before the short-ears.9Heyerdahl saw the long-ears as the descendants of the first, Amerindian colonizers, and the short-ears as more recent Polynesian arrivals. The long-ears are sometimes said to have started building the great platforms, while the short-ears were the first to carve huge images of their ancestors and place them on the platforms.

The long-ears reportedly subjugated the short-ears, until the latter finally rebelled. All the long-ears except one were allegedly massacred in the latter half of the 17th century; after a fierce battle the short-ears drove them into the Poike ditch, in which piles of brushwood had been set alight. Most researchers doubt this story, as no weapons or bones have ever been found in the ditch. Although some charcoal excavated from it has been radiocarbon dated to about 1676, other charcoal has been dated to about 386 AD and to the 11th century, and it could all have come from bush fires or slash-and-burn practices used in clearing the fields. In any event, it is unlikely that only one long-ear survived such a battle, since a period of civil war followed when all the long-eared statues were overthrown, and there were still people with elongated earlobes alive when the first Europeans arrived.


  1. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 67.
  2. Father Sebastian Englert, Island at the Centre of the World: New light on Easter Island, London; Robert Hale & Company, 1970, pp. 45-8; The Enigmas of Easter Island, pp. 64-5.
  3. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 110-5.
  4. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, pp. 44-5; José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 28.
  5. Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 125.
  6. Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 45, 63.
  7. David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1988, p. 292.
  8. http://www.rongorongo.org/vanaga/a.html; Island at the Centre of the World, pp. 88-93; Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 127; Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 60-2.
  9. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), pp. 44-5; Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 122, 126.

3. South American connection

Polynesian archaeology appears to be dominated by a small, zealous group, who will not permit any points of view other than their own. … We must bear in mind that nobody, absolutely nobody has the right to claim to know the whole truth about the past; for there are simply too many elements of uncertainty involved.  – Øystein Kock Johansen1

Norwegian explorer and anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, who led archaeological expeditions to Easter Island in 1955-56 and 1986-88, opposed the conventional view that Easter Island was first peopled from the west (Polynesia), and argued that it was first settled from the east (South America), as one of the island’s early traditions suggests. He held that the sweet potato, bottle gourd, and totora reed were introduced to the island from South America, while the chicken, banana, and sugar cane, for example, were introduced from Polynesia. He thought that a pre-Inca society had reached Easter Island from Peru, by making use of the prevailing westerly trade winds. In 1947 he demonstrated that such voyages were feasible when he sailed his balsa raft Kon-Tiki from South America to Raroia Atoll, in Polynesia’s Tuamotu archipelago.

Heyerdahl originally proposed that Easter Island was initially settled by South Americans around 400 AD, and that the Polynesians arrived centuries later, massacring most of Amerindian population. However, he later modified his opinion: he felt that the Polynesians had largely abandoned their own distinct faith and culture after arriving on Easter Island, and concluded that they had probably been brought there against their will by people from South America. During the 12th century the Incas rose to power in Peru, bringing about considerable unrest and the expulsion of many earlier settlers. Heyerdahl speculated that some of these Peruvians sailed west and brought Polynesians to Easter Island, either through force or cunning. In his view, history was repeating itself when, in 1862, Peruvian slave raiders sailed to Easter Island and put an end to the aboriginal culture.2

Most researchers dismiss Heyerdahl’s theory of a South American source for Easter Island’s culture, arguing that not a single South American artifact has ever been found in 50 years of intensive archaeology in Polynesia, and that there is no trace of a sudden influx of new cultural influences at any point in Easter Island’s history. They describe his theory as ‘a tottering edifice precariously based on preconceptions, extreme subjectivity, distortions and very little hard evidence’.3 They do, however, concede that there must have been at least sporadic contacts between Polynesians and South America, though they think it was probably the Polynesians who went to South America rather than the other way round.

Contacts of some kind are needed to explain how the sweet potato, for example, reached Polynesia, and why the Inca quipu – a system of knotted cords for remembering facts and especially numbers – is used on many island in Polynesia and Melanesia, into Indonesia and through China. There is archaeological and linguistic evidence that Polynesians landed on the north coast of Chile, among a tribe known as the Mapuche. In graves at Rio Negro in Argentina, human remains have been found that do not belong to any race of South America, but to those of Polynesia. Maori stone implements have been discovered at Cuzco in Peru and at Santiago del Estiro in Argentina. Carved wooden clubs similar to those of the Marquesas have been found in Peru, Chile, Columbia, and Ecuador.4 The possibility cannot be ruled out that influences may have gone back and forth between Polynesia and South America over vastly longer periods of time than orthodox theories allow.

The official thinking today is that the Easter Islanders are Polynesians, with no admixture of any other groups. However, the ‘scientific’ evidence is ambiguous. H.L. Shapiro found that Easter Islanders deviated significantly from the Polynesians in the shape and dimensions of the cranium, but proposed that this might be due to ‘selective migration followed by isolation and inbreeding’; the Easter Islanders have been said to be just plain Polynesians of ‘a somewhat specialized and exaggerated type’.5

The rocker jaw is the most characteristically Polynesian skeletal trait. Its frequency of occurrence on almost all islands from New Zealand to Hawaii ranges from 72 to 90%, but it is extremely rare among Amerindians; the figure for Easter Island is 48.5%. One researcher found that the Easter Islanders show a few minor Amerindian traits, and suggested this could be due to some Marquesans having sailed to South America. Some investigators think that the most likely homeland of the Easter Islanders is Mangareva (Gambier Islands) or the Tuamotus, though a small genetic element from South America remains a possibility.6

All the giant statues on Easter Island have long ears, and some islanders still practised ear elongation at the time the first Europeans arrived. The custom was also practised in the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia, and in Peru; the Incas said they had inherited the custom from their divine ancestors. The oldest known practice of ear extension was among the mariners in the prehistoric Indus Valley harbour-city of Lothal, where large numbers of big earplugs of the type used in ancient Mexico, Peru, and Easter Island have been found. Hindu rulers subsequently adopted the custom, but it was restricted to members of the royal families and images of the Hindu gods. Buddha images with long ears are found all over Asia, and long-eared stone statues have also been dug up in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.

The most skilfully carved statues, regarded by some researchers as the oldest, had long tapering finger nails. The practice of letting the nails grow also existed in China and among initiated Incas, and symbolized knowledge, thought, and exemption from manual labour. Certain children on the island used to be shut up in caves to preserve the whiteness of their skin; they were required to remain celibate and let their nails and hair grow. The same custom existed both in the Andes and on the Polynesian island of Mangareva in the Gambier archipelago.7

Easter Island’s language (Rapanui) is usually said to be derived entirely from Polynesian. However, in 1770 the Spanish visitors compiled a vocabulary which included words clearly of Polynesian origin along with others which were clearly not; the numerals from 1 to 10 were totally different. Conventional researchers emphasize that the Spaniards were unfamiliar with Polynesian languages. Captain Cook, who visited the island four years later, had a Tahitian with him who could converse with the islanders to a limited extent; a list of 17 Polynesian words was compiled, and also correct proto-Polynesian words for 1 to 10. Heyerdahl says that the loss of the original language of the coastal cultures of western South America prevents any comparison with the non-Polynesian words in the Spaniards’ list.8

Robert Langdon and Darrell Tryon argued that at the time of contact, Easter Island’s language was made up of three elements: one of west Polynesian origin, one from east Polynesia, and a third of unidentified origin, probably from the east. Other researchers hold that there is no satisfactory evidence for the existence of a pre-Polynesian language or second wave of Polynesian immigrants, and that the Rapanui language is a member of the eastern Polynesian subgroup.9

The Easter islanders had their own writing system, known as Rongorongo (see section 7). The orthodox view is that either the islanders invented it after the arrival of the Europeans, or that they brought it with them from another Polynesian island, even though no Polynesian tribe is known to have possessed the art of writing. Heyerdahl points out that a variety of writing systems were in use in pre-Columbian America.

Some plants on Easter Island clearly come from South America, such as the islanders’ staple food the sweet potato (which is known by its Quechua name kumara), and also manioc and gourd.10 As already mentioned, mainstream researchers prefer to believe that the Polynesians made contact with the South American mainland and returned with the sweet potato. They also point out that the island had no maize, beans, or squash – which are staple resources in South America. On the other hand, the French visitors of 1786 brought maize and various domestic animals with them, but they were never seen again by subsequent visitors. The first settlers apparently did not introduce pigs or dogs, which conventional researchers admit is surprising if they came from Polynesia.

Two species of freshwater plants, found in Easter Island’s crater lakes but nowhere else in the Pacific, and both useful to man, come from South America. One of them was the totora reed, which dominated the banks of South America’s Lake Titicaca and was cultivated in vast irrigated fields in the desert valleys on the coast below; it was used for making mats, houses, and boats. The other was known to the islanders as tavari, and was used as a medicinal plant. Like the totora, it grew in Lake Titicaca. The most useful wild tree on Easter Island was the toromiro tree, which was used for carving. It is so close to its continental Chilean relative that it could be considered the same species; no other closely related species existed in Polynesia.11

Pollen analysis shows that totora has been present on Easter Island for at least 30,000 years, contradicting native traditions that it was brought by the Polynesian Hotu Matua. Mainstream writers suggest that seeds could have been transported to the island by the wind, ocean, or on birds’ feet. Another possibility is that they were brought by an earlier ‘Hotu Matua’.

On Easter Island there are several dozen round or rectangular towers – or tupas – of uncut stones with a crawl-in entrance and vaulted roof. Such structures are not found elsewhere in Polynesia, but they closely resemble the chullpas of pre-Inca Peru; even their names are similar. Chullpas served as mausoleums for prominent persons and are found in large numbers on desert hillsides from Lake Titicaca down to the Pacific coast. Human remains were likewise found in some tupas. Mainstream writers try to deny any link between tupas and chullpas, and many believe that tupas were chicken houses, as chickens were sometimes kept in them in later times.

Fig. 3.1 A Rapa Nui tupa (top) and a Peruvian chullpa.

Heyerdahl points out that the cultural elements usually considered indicative of Polynesian culture are the grooved wooden mallet for making bark cloth (tapa), the bell-shaped pounder for making poi (food paste made from the taro root), and the wooden bowl for thekava-drinking ceremonies, but that none of them had found their way to aboriginal Easter Island.

Most researchers see the total absence of woven textiles and pottery on Easter Island as damning evidence against it having had any significant links with Peru, since these are the two most characteristic and abundant products of Peruvian culture. (Double standards are at work here, since prehistoric pottery has been found in the Marquesas but this doesn’t stop many researchers believing that Easter Island was originally settled from there.) A further argument against a strong South American influence is the complete absence of the pressure-flaking technique on stone tools throughout Polynesia (involving ‘pushing’ flakes off a core as opposed to striking them), and the total absence of South American metalwork on Easter Island. Note, however, that no one has yet demonstrated how tough basalt blocks could have been cut without metal tools (see section 6).

Stonework and carvings

Stone statues (or tiki) with hands on their bellies are found on other islands of eastern Polynesia, often standing on ceremonial platforms. They tend to be fairly crudely made, and statues of reasonable size are found only in the Marquesas Islands, where the tallest is 2.4 m (fig. 10.18), and on Raivavae, where the tallest was 2.8 m (fig. 10.13). However, these figures look nothing like those on Easter Island. Monolithic human statues are also found in western South America, from San Augustin in Colombia to Tiahuanaco (Tiwanaku) by Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. But they are usually far more ornate than those on Easter Island and again the resemblance is very poor.

Fig. 3.2 Statues at San Augustin (left) and Tiwanaku (right).1

John Macmillan Brown, who spent five months on Easter Island in 1923, nevertheless believed that the stone giants of Easter Island were closely related to those of South America and that the differences were due to stylistic and artistic variations. He thought that the inspiration for the Marquesan statues probably came from the tropical regions of Colombia, while those of Easter Island are more akin to the art of Tiahuanaco. But, as said, there are notable differences, and the question of who might have inspired whom is unsettled. Sir Clements Markham and Argentine ethnologist J. Imbelloni thought that Easter Island could have inspired the pre-Inca culture.

When proof was found in 1978 that some of the Easter Island statues once had inlaid eyes, it came as a shock to many researchers, who had opposed the idea on the grounds that this was not a Polynesian custom. Inlaid eyes were a common feature of many of the oldest images of the Middle East, from Egypt to the Indus Valley. The seafaring Hittites, for example, adopted the practice from the Sumerians. Many prehistoric American stone statues also had inlaid eyes.

Easter Island’s platforms are usually compared to the marae of Polynesia, though none of the latter are as impressive as the island’s best platforms. Heyerdahl says that Easter Island’s platforms resemble the huaca platforms found in the Andean region, while the marvellous stonework at Ahu Vinapu is reminiscent of the finest pre-Inca masonry in Peru (see section 6).

Heyerdahl’s expedition to Easter Island in the 1950s uncovered a number of unusual statues which he believed strengthened the South American connection. A unique discovery at Rano Raraku was the kneeling statue Tukuturi, which was almost completely buried. With a total height of 3.67 m, the figure kneels with its hands on its knees and its buttocks resting on its heels. Its round, upturned face has short ears and a goatee beard. Another complete but badly eroded kneeling statue has been found inside the crater.2

Fig. 3.3 Tukuturi.

Heyerdahl compares Tukuturi to the smaller kneeling stone statues that were typical of Tiahuanaco. Conventional researchers compare it to a small squatting stone statue from Tahiti.3 There are notable differences in both cases, and again the question is who, if anybody, inspired whom. Orthodox writers point out that ribs were an essential feature of the kneeling statues from Tiahuanaco, but Heyerdahl countered that fragments of a kneeling image were found buried deep in the sand by the great ahu at Anakena, one of which had clearly marked ribs.

Fig. 3.4 Kneeling statue from Tiwanaku.

In the sunken temple plaza at Vinapu, Heyerdahl’s team found a rectangular block of red scoria, representing a body with its arms resting on the stomach and stunted legs. A deep hole had been cut into the region of the heart and the head was broken and missing, but when set up the image fragment still stood 3.5 m (11.5 ft) tall. Heyerdahl points out that the cross section of the pillarlike figure has the rounded, rectangular form so characteristic of the pre-Inca stone giants of the Tiahuanaco area.4

Fig. 3.5 Red-scoria statue.

The Easter Islanders used to make an incredible variety of curious lava sculptures (moai maea), and wooden figures (moai toromiro), including moai kavakava or ‘statues of ribs’, and weird monsters and creatures, showing unbridled imagination and creativity. Petroglyphs on the island also display a wide range of imaginative motifs. They include bizarre human masks and eye motifs, birds and birdmen, turtles, fish, whales, spiders, lizards, monsters, boats, and strange symbols. Heyerdahl says that this artistry stands in sharp contrast with the rest of Polynesia, and archaeologist Henri Lavachery, who spent six months on Easter Island in 1934, drew comparisons with the imagination and variety displayed by the pottery motifs of the early Mochica art in Peru (dating from the first few centuries AD). Conventional researchers speak only of ‘superficial’ resemblances.

Fig. 3.6 Lava sculptures.5

Fig. 3.7 Moai kavakava: each figure has a large curved nose, protruding cheekbones, extended earlobes, a goatee beard, and protruding ribs in a sunken abdomen; they are said to represent akuaku, or ‘spirits’.

Birdman cult

The gods Tiki, Tane, and Tangaroa were common to all Polynesia and regarded as the progenitors of the royal lines of divine descent. But none of these principal Polynesian gods were originally known to the Easter Islanders.1 Their creator-god was Makemake (pronounced: mackay-mackay), whose representative on earth was not a hereditary king, but an annually selected birdman. Makemake does not exist anywhere else in Polynesia.

The birdman cult used to be practised at the ceremonial village of Orongo, perched on the 400-m-high rim of the Rano Kau crater. The village comprises about 50 oval houses with 2-m-thick walls of horizontal stone slabs and corbelled roofs, between 1 and 2 m high inside. An annual birdman contest was held there each September (the month of the spring equinox in southern hemisphere). Young men, acting on behalf of noble patrons, competed to find the first egg laid by the sooty tern on the small bird island of Motu Nui, about a mile to the southwest of the Orongo headland. The contestants had to clamber down the cliff face, paddle out to the island on small reed floats, and then look for a tern’s egg and return with it to their patron, who would be declared the tangatu manu or birdman, and was favoured with privileges comparable to those enjoyed by the king until the next year’s competition. The last ceremonies took place in 1866.

Fig. 3.8Birdman petroglyph, with Motu Nui, Motu Iti, and the pointed rock of Motu Kao Kao in the background.

Fig. 3.9Birdman petroglyph overlooking Rano Kau crater.

The origins of the birdman cult are unknown. It has no parallel in the rest of Polynesia, but Heyerdahl notes that birdman motifs based on a prehistoric bird cult are typical of the pre-Inca empire to the east. Although we know little about the deities of the extinct pre-Inca civilizations, the Incas worshipped the sun and their royal ancestors, and depicted them symbolically as felines, as bird-headed men, or as faces with tear marks below the eyes – as on Easter Island.2

A relief found during excavations at Túcume, a village in northern Peru, shows two large sea-going reed boats with cabins on deck. Friezes around the ships depict dancing birdmen in two different variations lifting their arms, and holding eggs in their hands. The motif matches the Orongo rock carvings on Easter Island, and probably dates to the Lambayeque period, between the 12th and 14th centuries, though the earliest birdman motifs in Peru date back at least to the Chavin period (1800-1000 BC). Øystein Kock Johansen remarks that everybody is ‘desperately hunting high and low for vague Easter Island birdman parallels in Polynesia, Melanesia and Southeast Asia, while they more or less completely ignore the use of this motif in South America from times before Christ. The situation seems quite forced, almost ridiculous.’3

Some researchers have drawn parallels between the birdman cult and ancient Egypt.4 The birdman ceremony resembles a quest ritual for the primeval egg of the sun god Ra, laid by the phoenix, symbolized on Easter Island by the egg of the sooty tern, the manu-tera, meaning ‘sunbird’. Like the falcon and phoenix in ancient Egypt, this bird can be seen as a symbol of the sun, of cyclic time, and of reincarnation. The journey on the reed float across the sea is reminiscent of the journey of Ra, and also the souls of the dead, to the horizon on reed floats. ‘Crossing over to the horizon’, like crossing to ‘the other shore’ in Buddhist writings, refers to the attainment of enlightenment and ‘immortality’.

The tusk-shaped, totora-reed floats used on Easter Island are called pora – meaning literally ‘reed floats of the sun’. They are indistinguishable from papyrus-reed floats depicted in Egyptian hieroglyphics and still used in Nubia and Middle Egypt in recent times. They were also of a type characteristic of the Peruvian coast and still in use on Lake Titicaca. Tangata manu means ‘learned man of the sacred bird’. The ancient Egyptian religion attached huge importance to a learned bird/man figure – long-beaked, ibis-headed Thoth, the god of knowledge and the ‘enumerator of the stars’.

Rapa Nui

In the 19th century, missionaries and their Polynesian companions from French Oceania began to refer to Easter Island as Rapa Nui, meaning Great Rapa. Rapa Iti, Little Rapa, is an island southeast of Tahiti. On Rapa Iti a tradition survived claiming that the island had been settled by pregnant women escaping from massacres on Easter Island, known to them as Rapa Nui. Both islands are about the same size, but the names would be understandable if the migrants named the island they settled on after their original homeland. There is only one other island in the world called Rapa, and it is about the same distance from Easter Island but in the opposite direction: Rapa Island in Lake Titicaca. There are no stone statues on Rapa Iti, but many around Lake Titicaca, and the one on Rapa Island depicts a man with long ears.

One of the former names for Easter Island is the ‘navel of the world’. The megalithic Incan capital in Peru was called Cuzco – meaning ‘navel’. The same name was applied in ancient times to many other sacred places. Another name for Easter Island was Mate-ki-te-rangi, ‘eyes looking at heaven’ – a reference to the fact that, when their eyes were fitted, the moai seemed to be looking upwards at the sky. Rangi reappears elsewhere in Polynesia as rani and ani, and is commonly used also as a poetic reference to the legendary Polynesian fatherland. Mata-rani, ‘eyes of heaven’, is the name of an ancient aboriginal port on the south coast of Peru, just below Lake Titicaca.1 It is also similar phonetically and semantically to the Egyptian ‘maat Ra’, meaning essentially ‘the eye of the sun’.2

Fig. 3.10

The ambiguous evidence reviewed in this section is clearly open to multiple interpretations. Connections of some sort can be discerned between the culture of Easter Island and that of Polynesia, South America, Egypt, and other places. The exact nature and relative importance of these influences, and their timing are uncertain. In any event, the orthodox position that there was a single migration to Easter Island from Polynesia in the 4th century looks far too simplistic.


  1. Øystein Kock Johansen, ‘Modus vivendi within Polynesian archaeology in relation to the connection Easter Island – Peru’, http://www.museumsnett.no/kon-tiki/Research/Tucume, part 1.
  2. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, p. 173.
  3. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 58.
  4. W.R. Corliss (ed.), Anomaly Register, no. 3, October 1997, p. 1.
  5. Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 163.
  6. The Enigmas of Easter Island, pp. 56-8.
  7. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, pp. 139, 148-9.
  8. Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 31-4, 45.
  9. The Enigmas of Easter Island, pp. 53-4.
  10. Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 31, 55.
  11. Ibid., pp. 153-5.

Stonework and carvings

  1. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 89, 156.
  2. Ibid., pp. 192-3, 199, 222.
  3. Flenley and Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, pp. 31-3.
  4. Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 193-5.
  5. Ibid., p. 211.

Birdman cult

  1. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 72.
  2. Ibid., p. 167.
  3. Johansen, ‘Modus vivendi within Polynesian archaeology in relation to the connection Easter Island – Peru’, parts 3-6.
  4. Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the lost civilization, London: Michael Joseph, 1998, pp. 243-4.

Rapa Nui

  1. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 77.
  2. Hancock and Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror, p. 245.

4. Carving the statues

In Easter Island … the shadows of the departed builders still possess the land … [T]he whole air vibrates with a vast purpose and energy which has been and is no more. What was it? Why was it?  – Katherine Routledge1

Fig. 4.1 Unfinished statue at Rano Raraku.

A total of 887 moai have so far been catalogued on Easter Island, including 397 at the quarry – the volcanic crater of Rano Raraku. Rano Raraku is one of the world’s most extraordinary and evocative archaeological sites. A great many statues were being sculpted there when activity apparently came to an abrupt halt. Francis Mazière writes:

Here in this lunar landscape they carved giants that belong to another world; the impression is shattering. Everything here is on the most tremendous scale, and it all gives rise to a strong feeling of distress, for everything seems to have stopped suddenly, in a single day, as though it had been hit by the blast of some enormous disaster. … It is this which gives the sanctuary its unearthly feeling.2

Fig. 4.2 Statues still in their extraction cavities.

Most of the island’s statues are 5.5 to 7 m tall, and very few are shorter than 3 m. The vast majority are made of Rano Raraku tuff, including all those erected on platforms. About 55 statues are made of other stone – red scoria, basalt, or trachyte – and are smaller than the average size of 5 m. The largest statue ever made, El Gigante, still lies unfinished at Rano Raraku. It was a monstrous 21.6 m (71.9 ft) long, and weighed up to 270 tons. Carvers completed the front and sides, but never liberated it from the rock below.

Fig. 4.3 Exterior quarry and slope of Rano Raraku. El Gigante can be seen towards the right, just above the path.3 (courtesy of Carlos Huber)

More than 230 finished statues were erected on the ahu platforms. A single platform might have up to 15 moai in a row, with some rows of statues being built up over time. The platform figures tend to be stockier and less angular than those at the quarry, with less accentuated features and less concave or prominent noses and chins. The biggest, at Ahu Hanga te Tenga, is 9.9 m (32.5 ft) long. The statue known as Paro, which once stood on Ahu te Pito Kura, is 9.8 m long and weighs 82 tons.

Fig. 4.4 Paro.


Although all the giant moai are similar, no two are exactly alike. Their base is about where the statue’s hips would be, the arms hang stiffly, and the hands, with long slender fingers, extend across a protruding abdomen. The heads are elongated and rectangular, with heavy brows and prominent noses, small mouths with thin, pouting lips, prominent chins, and elongated earlobes, some of which are carved to represent inserted ear ornaments. The statues’ physical features do not look at all Polynesian. John Macmillan Brown writes:

Taken as a whole they express haughty scorn and imperious will; it is the expression of victorious warriors and empire-makers … Though the arrogant and resolute look is given to the faces of all the statues, it is never the same on two faces; every one looks as if it had been intended to be an individual portrait …1

Fig. 4.5 A platform statue.

Early European explorers received the impression that the Easter Island statues were idols, but no moai is known to have borne the name of a divine personality, such as the creator god Makemake. All were known by the general name of aringa ora, the ‘living faces’ of the past. Captain Cook’s party heard the term ariki (chief) applied to some, while others had nicknames such as ‘Twisted Neck’, ‘Tattooed One’, and even ‘Bad Smell’ (due to the upturned nostrils). They are generally regarded as stylized representations of deified, high-ranking ancestors, serving to keep their memory alive, and as intermediaries between the world of the living and the world of the gods. It is thought that the coastal statues faced inland towards the villages to provide protection, by projecting the mana(occult power) of the akuaku (ancestral spirits) they represented. Their location close to the shore may also have been designed to prevent encroachment by the sea, in view of native legends that the original settlers had fled a partly submerged island.

Figures with hands resting on their stomach are common in the Marquesas and elsewhere in Polynesia, and also in South America. In the traditional Maori carving of New Zealand, the hands were placed there to protect ritual knowledge and oral traditions, which were believed to be carried in the belly. Jean-Michel Schwartz says that the position of hands indicates the point on the abdomen – the she men or ‘stone door’ – where Chinese medicine situates the ancestral centre of procreational energy and vitality, and the seat of immortality.2

It is believed that the statues may have been commissioned during the lifetime of elders, but that they did not have their eyes carved until they had been moved to the platforms – after the person had died. Only the platform statues were given eye-sockets, and in 1978 it was discovered that the sockets were once fitted with beautiful inlaid eyes of white coral and red scoria. Some platform statues were also given a red ‘hat’ (pukao), and there are signs that some may have been painted red and/or white.

The straightness or concave curve of the statues’ noses contrasts markedly with the frequently arched noses on the island’s wooden figures, and art historian Max Raphael argued that the nose was shaped as a symbolic phallus, while the pouting or protruding thin lips with a groove between them suggest the form of a vagina. The islanders held that the entire moai was a phallic symbol.

As regards the reason for the statues’ elongated ears, H.P. Blavatsky made the following comments on long-eared statues of the Buddha: ‘The unnaturally large ears symbolize the omniscience of wisdom, and were meant as a reminder of the power of Him whoknows and hears all, and whose benevolent love and attention for all creatures nothing can escape.’3 The actual physical elongation of the ears as a mark of social rank and power in many different cultures may have arisen after the original purely symbolic meaning had faded.

The squared shape between the fingers of the statutes is thought to represent the hami, or sacred loincloth worn by chiefs and priests, or a kind of penis cover or shield. Many statues have detailed carvings on their backs, which are often interpreted as tattooed signs of rank. Some statues also bear carvings of birdmen, double-bladed paddles, and vulva signs, but these seem to be later additions. The lines that curve across the small of the back are often said to represent a ‘belt’ associated with the loincloth. However, this is unlikely since it consists of an arched rainbow motif that does not continue round to the sides and front.

Fig. 4.6

Fig 4.7

Some islanders interpreted the triple bow with a circle (or sometimes two) above it and an M-shaped design below it as representing a rainbow with the sun above and rain beneath.4 Francis Mazière was told by a native that they represent the elements of life: sun, moon, and thunder, with thunder signifying electricity.5 Schwartz argues that they represent the three elements of the universe: sunlight, water or sea, and mountain or earth. He says that the circle at the level of the sacrum indicates that mana entered there; ancient Chinese medicine calls that part of the body ming men or ‘door of life’.6 Some writers, including H.P. Blavatsky, have drawn attention to the overall resemblance of these three symbols to the Egyptian ankh, also known as the ansated cross or tau, which signifies life, regeneration, and the descent of spirit into matter.7

Fig. 4.8 This basalt statue, 8.2 ft tall and weighing 4 tons, is now in the British Museum.


Rano Raraku contains numerous now empty niches where statues have been hacked out, as well as 397 figures visible on the outer and inner slopes illustrating every phase of the carving process. As a result of rubble and silt being washed down the slope, the statues set up at the foot of the quarry now stand so deep in the earth that no one has succeeded in pulling them down. Large areas of the quarry are in fact hidden under slope deposits, and many more moai undoubtedly remain to be discovered.

Fig. 4.9 A statue excavated by Heyerdahl’s team.

The yellow-brown tuff of Rano Raraku is compacted volcanic ash. The hardness of the rock should not be judged by the crumbly outer surface of the statues. The figures are as hard as bone below the outer surface, and so is the exterior surface where it has not been subjected to the rain. The Spanish visitors of 1770 struck a statue with a hoe, and sparks flew. At some time, an attempt was made to decapitate a statue, but it ended in failure and the damage extends no further than a hand’s breadth into the giant neck. Using a hammer and chisel, a member of Heyerdahl’s team took half an hour to chip off a bit of rock the size of a fist in the quarry.1 Other writers seem to contradict this, saying that underneath the outer layer, the rock is not much harder than chalk, and can be cut and shaped quite easily even with stone tools.2 But it should be noted that the quality of the rock varies widely.

Fig. 4.10 A toki.

The quarry was once littered with thousands of crude pickaxes (toki) made of dense basalt. During the Norwegian expedition, Heyerdahl hired six men who used these tools to outline a 5 m (16 ft) statue. The rock was frequently splashed with water to soften it, but the picks quickly became blunted and had to be repeatedly sharpened or replaced. It took three days to produce a statue outline, after which they gave up.3 On the basis of this very scanty evidence it was somehow calculated that six men, working every day, could have completed a medium-sized moai in 12 to 15 months.

Fig. 4.11 Moai outlined by Heyerdahl’s team.

Most moai were carved face up, in a horizontal or slightly reclining position, usually with their base pointing down-slope, though some point the other way, others lie parallel to the mountain, and some are almost vertical – apparently to avoid wasting any space. First the sculptors opened up channels about 60 cm wide and 1.5 m deep around a volume of rock, and then proceeded to carve the head, body and sides, leaving a keel along the back, to keep it attached to the bedrock. With the statue held firm by a packing of stones and fill, the keel was finally hacked away. The quarry displays plenty of evidence of breakage or of figures having been abandoned due to defects in the stone.

Fig. 4.12

The statue then had to be moved down the slope (of about 55°), without damaging it or any other statues on the way down. Depressed runways or channels of earth seem to have been used for this purpose. It is thought that ropes may have been attached to horizontal wooden beams set transversely in the channels leading down the slopes. Some moai had to be lowered down the vertical cliff face, and then manoeuvred over statues on which work was still proceeding on the ledge below.

Fig. 4.13 Statues still lying at the top of Rano Raraku, where they were carved.4
(courtesy of John Flenley)

At the highest point on the inner face of the crater, there are a series of cylindrical holes over one metre in depth and width, with horizontal channels connecting them at the bottom. One view is that large tree trunks were stood in them with ropes around them, though some of the holes are puzzling, and it is thought they may have been used for coiling and storing the rope. But even if such a hoisting system once existed, it would only have been of use to operations at one part of the inner slope. Archaeologist José Miguel Ramírez argues that, given their location above a marginal area of the main quarries, the holes ‘do not seem to be related to the sliding of the moai, but to an ancient game called ma’ari, which consisted of going up and down the volcanic cliff with the use of ropes, as in a cableway’.5

Fig 4.14 Holes at the summit of Rano Raraku.

Near the foot of both the inner and outer quarry slopes, workers raised the statues into a standing position in holes or on terraces, and sculptors finished carving their backs. One of the island’s mysteries is why most of the carving was done before moving the statues to the platforms and even before bringing them down the quarry slope, instead of simply cutting out rough blocks, and then hauling them to a more convenient working place.

About 200 statues are still standing on either side of the crater’s lip, all with their backs to the hill. Although only the heads usually project above the surface, they are full statues like those on the platforms, the tallest being over 11 m (36 ft) in height. On the plain adjacent to the outer slope about 30 more statues lie on the surface, mostly on their fronts. Others are scattered along prehistoric ‘roads’ or tracks heading out of the quarry. It is commonly believed that the statues on the crater slopes were awaiting transportation to the platforms, but had not yet been moved because the people they represented were not yet dead, or because there was no room on the platforms or no resources for transportation.

If the intention was to move all the statues to the platforms, it is not clear why some were quarried inside the crater given the additional effort required to get them out of there. Many researchers think that the statues inside the crater were not intended to be removed, but were set up there permanently, facing the lake. This would explain why far more statues were left finished or unfinished at the quarry than could ever have been erected on existing platforms.

The statues at the foot of the outer slope of the crater appear to be set up in the ground in a disorderly fashion, some alone, some in clusters, sometimes blocking one another’s view. The arrangement of the standing statues inside the crater is more regular, but there still appears to be no order. Researchers such as Katherine Routledge, who headed the first archaeological expedition to Easter Island in 1914/15, and Francis Mazière, thought that some, if not all, of the statues standing on the outer slope may also have been intended to remain there, guarding the volcano. Some of the upright statues are in fact standing on stone pavements. Most standing statues, on both slopes, were raised roughly along an axis running from NW to SE, and every statue had a slightly different orientation. Mazière was told by a native that all the Rano-Raraku moai are sacred, and ‘each looks at a part of the world over which he has power and for which he is answerable’.6

Fig. 4.15 Two giants’ heads, their bodies buried by erosion. Regarded as some of the oldest and purest statues, they are just under 40 ft high.


  1. Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998 (1919), p. 165.
  2. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, p. 128.
  3. José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 71.


  1. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), p. 17.
  2. Jean-Michel Schwartz, The Mysteries of Easter Island, New York: Avon, 1975, p. 193.
  3. H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press, 1977 (1888), 2:339.
  4. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, p. 191.
  5. Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 130-1.
  6. Schwartz, The Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 119, 183, 193.
  7. The Secret Doctrine, 1:322; H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings (vols. 1-14), Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950-85, 7:297-8.


  1. Thor Heyerdahl, Aku-Aku: The secret of Easter Island, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958, pp. 130-1, 137-8.
  2. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 114-5.
  3. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 203.
  4. The Enigmas of Easter Island, plate ix.
  5. Ramírez and Huber, Easter Island, pp. 66, 79.
  6. Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, p. 124.

5. Moving the statues

The islanders have a legend that the statues were moved to the platforms and raised upright by the use of mana, or mind power. Either the god Makemake, or priests or chiefs commanded them to walk or to float through the air, and according to one legend, use was made of a finely crafted stone sphere, 75 cm (2.5 ft) in diameter, called te pito kura (‘the golden navel’ or ‘the navel of light’), to focus the mana. Legends about the use of levitation in the construction of megalithic monuments are found all over the world.1

Fig. 5.1 Te pito kura.

Some writers have said that high up on the rim inside the Rano Raraku crater is an open rock-hewn cave with a series of rock benches or seats lining its walls, oriented towards the crater lake. According to one tradition, seven masters, or magicians, sat together on the benches and combined their mana to make the statues walk out of the crater and around the island in a clockwise spiral.2 However, the ‘open cave’ could also be seen as nothing but an ordinary extraction cavity from which the statue has been removed, and irregular ‘seat-like’ depressions can be found elsewhere in the quarry.

Fig. 5.2 Above: ‘Seats’ in an ‘open cave’, or an empty extraction cavity? Below: A sketch showing how the ‘seats’ may have arisen.

Francis Mazière was one of the few scholars to take the legends about mana seriously:

What if certain men at a certain period were able to make use of electro-magnetic or anti-gravitational forces? … [O]n the sheer side of the volcano there is something wonderfully strange. Here statues were brought down over the top of dozens of others, without leaving any marks. Yet the movement of ten or twenty tons is by no means child’s play. …
The natives say that everything died on Easter Island when mana left it, while at the same time I see the amazing evidence of a quite extraordinary past. It may be that para-psychology will find a sympathetic vibration in this island with its perturbed, confusing magnetism.3

All modern mainstream researchers believe that muscle-power alone is sufficient to move the statues to the ahu, sometimes more than 20 km away, and to erect them. During Heyerdahl’s Norwegian expedition, about 180 men, women, and children pulled a 4 m (13 ft) statue weighing around 10 tons for a short distance on a sledge using two ropes. It would therefore have taken 1500 people to have moved Paro’s 82 tons, and the ropes would need to be several centimetres in diameter and 80 m long. The required manpower can be reduced significantly by pulling the sledge over log rollers. In a 1998 experiment organized by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, 40 men were able to move a 9-ton replica statue using this method.

The main problem in transportation is thought to be not so much the statues’ weight (the average being no more than 18 tons) but their fragility, since it was important not to damage the elaborate detail already carved on the figures. If transported on their fronts or backs, the statues would have required considerable wrapping and padding with vegetation to protect them, since none show any signs of rope marks or other damage. A major problem would arise as the columns of people pulling the sledge neared the coastal platform, as there would be nowhere for them to go – except into the sea. It is thought that this problem could have been solved by using levers. In one experiment, 12 men levered a 6-ton rock 15 ft in 1.5 hours. However, it has not yet been demonstrated that these methods could be used on a statue of average height and weight without damaging it.

Geologist William Mulloy suggested using a curved Y-shaped sledge made from the fork of a big tree, on which the statue rests face-downwards. Two gigantic wooden legs in the shape of a ‘V’ are attached to the statue’s neck by a loop, and when the legs are tilted forward, the rope partially lifts the statue and takes some weight off the sledge. The statue could therefore be rocked forward using the bulging abdomen as a fulcrum or pivot point. However, this technique – which has never been tried out in practice – puts particular stress on the statues’ fragile necks and not all the statues have the protruding stomachs ideal for this method.

Fig. 5.3 Mulloy’s method.

Czech engineer Pavel Pavel discovered that statues can be moved upright; they can in fact be made to ‘walk’. Two ropes are attached to the top of the statue and used to pull it to each side alternately, while another two are fastened down at the base and alternately pulled forward. As one team pulls on the top rope to make the statue tilt to the right, the other team pulls the left-hand side of the base forward before the giant tips back again. The teams then change sides, causing the statue to walk by wriggling forward from side to side. Mazière was told by a native that ‘the statues moved standing upright, making half turns on their round bases’, and many researchers believe that this is the method being referred to.

In one experiment on the island, a 2.8 m (9 ft) statue of 4 or 5 tons was moved using this method; only 3 men were needed to tilt it, and 5 to pull it forward. A 4 m (13 ft) statue of 9 tons was also moved in this way. Only 16 people were required to move it a distance of 6 m: 7 tilting and 9 pulling forward. It could therefore have been moved 200 m per day. It was so stable that it could tilt 70° without falling. This is because of the statues’ ingenious design: the thickness from front to back of the upper part is so insignificant compared to the bulky lower body that the centre of gravity is almost at the navel. Upright transportation avoids the need to take a standing statue at the quarry, tip it over onto a sledge, then raise it again at the platform.

Fig. 5.4 Tilt-and-swivel technique.4

During experiments conducted by geologist Charles Love in Wyoming, a 10-ton, 4-m replica statue, equivalent to the smallest 20% of the moai, was moved by crews of 14 to 21 men, but chips came off the front of its base, and the figure toppled over twice. Some researchers think that the tilt-and-swivel technique was probably used only for moving very short distances or for final positioning. Many researchers say that the bases of the statues do not show the amount of wear expected from this technique. Heyerdahl disagreed: he argued that statues that have not travelled far from the quarry have perfectly flat bases, but the farther away from the quarry they are, the more convex their bases become, until many of those erected on platforms have the edges of their bases completed rounded off from wear.

If the statues were moved upright, they would not have toppled over on a gentle slope of 10 or 12 degrees as they have a slightly forward-slanting base – stones had to be placed under some of those on reconstructed platforms to prevent them leaning forward. On the descending side of the slope, the statue could simply be turned round and moved backwards.

Love’s team found that if they placed a statue upright on two logs carved into sledge runners, and then raised it onto a track of small wooden rollers, it could be moved 45 m in 2 minutes using 25 men and 2 ropes. Some see this as the most efficient method for long-distance transportation: it causes no damage, and requires little wood, not much rope, and few people. Van Tilburg, on the other hand, says that both this method and the tilt-and-swivel method are incredibly dangerous: ‘The logistics of any upright method suggested to date are daunting-to-impossible on the rolling Rapa Nui terrain.’5 These two methods have yet to be tried out with taller statues on steep slopes. The results might be entertaining.

Fig. 5.5 Sledge-and-roller method. (courtesy of Charlie Love)

The general view is that different transportation techniques were used according to the size and stye of figure, the distance to be travelled, and the manpower, timber, and ropes available. It has been suggested that some figures might even have been transported 500 m to the shore and then floated on timbers or rafts around the coast to the platforms. At several points around the coast there are lava-flow causeways and paved ramps. There are unconfirmed reports from fishermen that submerged moai have been seen on the seabed.


Katherine Routledge discovered three main roads, each about 3 m wide, branching out from Rano Raraku. They were revealed when the level rays of the sinking sun showed up inequalities in the ground. Fallen statues lie along certain parts of the roads, but at very irregular intervals. The southern road can be traced from Rano Raraku, with one or two gaps, nearly to the foot of Rano Kao. 29 fallen statues lie scattered along it, most over 20 ft tall and some over 30 ft. Another road ran through a gap in the crater wall toward the western part of the island. It is not as regular as the south road, and has 14 statues, which grow further apart as the distance from the mountain increases. The third road runs in a northerly direction and is much shorter than the other two. It has only 4 statues covering a distance of about a mile, but the furthest image is the largest to have been moved (36 ft 4 in).

Routledge wrote: ‘Rano Raraku was therefore approached by at least three magnificent avenues, on each of which the pilgrim was greeted at intervals by a stone giant guarding the way to the sacred mountain.’1 In addition, there are signs that some of the statues on the southeastern side of Rano Raraku may have been on a fourth road along that side beneath the cliff, and a platform on the south coast was approached by an avenue with 5 or 6 statues.

Fig. 5.6

Many researchers disagree with Routledge and believe that all the statues found between the quarry and platforms were in the process of being moved. Geologist Christian O’Brien, however, felt that at least 56 of the 61 statues now found scattered on and off old roads in the island’s interior are in the place intended for their erection.2 Some of them stood on stone pavements, as did some of the upright statues at the foot of Rano Raraku.

Charles Love has examined about 20 km of the 40 km of roads built from Rano Raraku, focusing on the three main roadways plus several branch roads. Flenley and Bahn describe his preliminary findings as ‘startling’:

[The roads] traverse old basalt flows and the shallow valleys between them, and have a basic cut-and-fill construction; excavation of 10 m and 20 m stretches has revealed how they were cleared, cut, graded and, in many places, filled with soil. Various grades up and down slopes were cut and filled to help the statue movers, and it is clear that a great deal of cooperative labour was required for these roads – in the valleys, the fill construction can be built up to a metre or more with layers of clayey soil to make a flat surface about 5 m wide. In at least one area, a pavement was made, apparently to facilitate the movement of Paro through a section of rough bedrock. Some stretches of road were carved into the surface of the higher basalt flows, apparently to avoid a flat surface, with paths cut into a shallow V or a broad U shape, about 5.5 m wide and 30 cm deep (though in other places the roads seem half-worn in the ground surface, rather than cut into bedrock). Some segments of road have long rock alignments along the shoulders, which seem to be kerbstones set into the backfill, while others have numerous post holes dug into bedrock outside the kerbstones – presumably to accommodate some kind of contraption for pulling and prising the statue and its framework forward in places … Such features seem most common where the roadway slopes upwards.

Regarding the methods used to transport the statues, they add:

[W]e need to go back to the drawing board, because researchers have always assumed that the island’s roadbed surface was flat and the road horizontal; but … none of the moai-moving theories or experimental methods presented so far can cope with the structure of the roads he [Love] has excavated! The cut parts of the road are not conducive to rollers or tilting a statue along, and any contraption used would have to accommodate both the flat fill surfaces and the V-shaped surfaces. So the mystery of statue transportation remains intact …3

Furthermore, the fragile statues were transported to many distant ahu, up and down steep hills and over rough and stony ground, where there is no trace of any road at all. Katherine Routledge relates the following anecdote:

We were once inspecting an ahu built on a natural eminence, one side was sheer cliff, the other was a slope of 29 ft, as steep as a house roof, near the top a statue was lying. The most intelligent of our guides turned to me significantly. ‘Do you mean to tell me,’ he said, ‘that that was not done by mana?’4

Routledge points out that besides the ceremonial roads and their continuations, there are traces of a different track which is said to run round the whole seaboard of the island. It is known as Ara Mahiva, ara meaning ‘road’ and Mahiva being the name of the spirit or deity believed to have made it. The road showed up as a continuous furrow: on the northern and western coasts it runs for much of the way along cliff tops, and it runs up both the eastern and western edges of Rano Kao. Routledge comments: ‘This silent witness to a forgotten past is one of the most mysterious and impressive things on the island.’5

This road is referred to in a rongorongo tablet known as Apai, which was recited independently by two islanders. It contains the following:

When the island was first created and became known to our forefathers, the land was crossed with roads beautifully paved with flat stones. … Heke was the builder of these roads, and it was he who sat in the place of honour in the middle where the roads branched in every direction. The roads were cunningly contrived to represent the plan of the web of the grey and black-pointed spider, and no man could discover the beginning or end thereof.

At this point the recitation was interrupted because of unintelligible text in another language, but then comes a reference to a different ‘spider’, this one living in the aboriginal homeland (Hiva) ‘where the black and white-pointed spider would have mounted to heaven, but was prevented by the bitterness of the cold’.6

According to this legend, the island once had a network of roads resembling a spider’s web, radiating out from a central point, perhaps Rano Raraku. No network of this kind is visible today, though the existing roads could have formed part of it. We do, however, find an intriguing correspondence in Peru. The Nazca Plain is covered with numerous straight lines, zigzags, spirals, and geometrical figures, drawn on the surface of the desert by removing the mass of volcanic pebbles and boulders, and scraping off the surface layer of the earth. There are also outline drawings of faunal species – some of them hundreds of feet in extent – including a spider monkey, a gigantic lizard, a condor, an unidentified beaked creature, and a Ricinulei spider. To draw most of the animal glyphs, including the giant spider, the artist used a single line which turns and weaves but never crosses itself; in other words, it was drawn so that no one could discover where the line began or ended – just like the web of roads referred to in the rongorongo text.

Fig. 5.7 The Nazca spider, said by some researchers to represent Orion.

Raising the statues and headdresses

All the statues standing on platforms today have been re-erected during restoration work over the past 50 years. The first to be re-erected was a medium-sized (20 ton) statue at Ahu Ature Huki, Anakena, during Heyerdahl’s expedition in 1956. Twelve islanders used two wooden poles to raise it 3 m onto its platform by gradually slipping rocks underneath, and they had it standing in only 18 days.1 Since the levers were used against the statue itself, large scars were caused. All experiments to date have involved horizontal statues, but it is thought that if the figures arrived upright at their platforms, they could have been raised in the same gradual way, by being titled first one way and then the other, as stones or logs were inserted beneath them. Massive ramps do not seem to have been used to raise the statues onto platforms; this would have involved colossal amounts of extra labour.

Fig. 5.8 Re-erecting the statue at Ahu Ature Huki.

The pukao – the headdress or ‘topknot’ – is a soft red-scoria cylinder quarried from the small crater at Puna Pau. Some take the form of a truncated cone, while others have a narrower knob at the top. Since only about 60 statues have them, they are believed to be a late addition, associated only with statues on the largest and most important platforms. Some researchers see them as a sign of continuing rivalry between villagers or kin-groups.

Fig. 5.9 Interior of Puna Pau.

As at Rano Raraku, work at Puna Pau seems to have ceased unexpectedly, as about 30 cylinders lie inside or just outside the quarry. They range from 6 to 9 ft in diameter, are 4 to 8 ft high, and weigh up to 20 tons; nearly all of them are now carved with petroglyphs. According to legend, they were moved by mana, but the conventional view is that they were rolled out of the quarry and over the hilly terrain to their destinations using levers. No one has yet given a practical demonstration of this, and no traces of tracks leading out of the crater and across the rugged volcanic terrain have been found. The headdresses seem to have been reworked on reaching the platforms. Some were carved to a more elliptical cross-section, and a shallow mortise was made in the base; some of the Anakena statues have tenons on their heads to fit these mortises.

Fig. 5.10 Pukao outside the crater.

Placing the headdresses on top of the statues’ heads was a tremendous feat of engineering. Those to be seen today on restored statues were all put there by cranes (fig. 5.11), and not without difficulty. Captain Cook suggested that ramps and scaffolding were used. Some scholars have proposed that the cylinders were lashed to the statues and both were raised together, but this is generally considered to be far too risky. Experiments by Pavel Pavel show that some pukao may have been put in position by gradually pulling them up sloping beams of wood. A concrete pukao, 1 m in diameter and weighing 900 kg, was raised onto the top of a 3 m concrete moai by only 4 men in 6 hours (fig. 5.12).2 It should be borne in mind, however, that Paro’s monstrous pukao, which was by no means the biggest, measures almost 2 m across, 1.7 m high, weighs about 11.5 tons, and had to be raised 10 metres into the air.

Fig. 5.11

Fig. 5.12

In the past, the reddish cylindrical headdresses have been regarded as hats, baskets, or crowns. Ancient-astronaut enthusiast Erik Von Däniken saw them as space helmets! The islanders call them pukao, which means ‘topknot’, a male hairstyle common on Rapa Nui when Europeans first visited the island, and the present consensus is that this is what they represent (fig. 5.13). However, in the Marquesas, a great stone was placed on the image of a dead man as a sign of death and mourning, and some believe the pukao may have had a similar meaning. Flenley and Bahn believe that they are a stylized version of the hau kurakura, a red feather headdress worn by warriors. Throughout Polynesia, red was associated with ritual and chiefly power, and red feathers were identified with the spiritual power of the gods. Jean-Michel Schwartz held that the pukao were a sign of knowledge, and the seat of the mystical force known as mana; all island traditions agree that it was the head that bore mana.3

Fig. 5.13 An islander with a topknot.

In conclusion, despite the numerous theories that have been put forward regarding the carving, transportation, and erection of the statues and their headdresses, and despite the numerous experiments that have been carried out, we are still very far indeed from having solved all the mysteries.


  1. See ‘Gravity and antigravity’, section 5, http://davidpratt.info/gravity.htm.
  2. David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1988, pp. 319-20.
  3. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, pp. 134-5.
  4. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, p. 240.
  5. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/easter/move/past.html.


  1. Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998 (1919), pp. 197-8.
  2. Christian and Barbara Joy O’Brien, The Shining Ones, Kemble, Cirencester: Dianthus Publishing, 1997, p. 509.
  3. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 131-3.
  4. The Mystery of Easter Island, p. 198.
  5. Ibid., p. 199.
  6. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 111; The Shining Ones, p. 510.

Raising the statues and headdresses

  1. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 204-6.
  2. Flenley and Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, p. 144.
  3. Jean-Michel Schwartz, The Mysteries of Easter Island, New York: Avon, 1975, pp. 16, 107, 113.

6. Platforms

Easter Island has at least 313 ceremonial platforms or ahu – open-air temple sanctuaries erected in honour of the gods and deified ancestors. A few were built inland but most are situated around the coast, usually at sheltered coves and areas favourable for human habitation, though a few are located on cliff edges. They are composed of a rubble core faced with masonry, for which no mortar was used. Seaward walls often consist of uncut stones, but sometimes they consist of precisely carved and fitted blocks. On the landward side was a ramp, paved with lines of beach boulders and sloping down to an artificially levelled plaza.

Some ahu are quite small, but others are remarkable pieces of massive communal engineering, 150 m (500 ft) or more long and up to 7 m (23 ft) high. Some required the moving of 300 to 500 tons of stone, while the Tahai complex comprised three structures requiring 23,000 cubic metres of rock and earth fill, weighing an estimated 2000 tons.

Fig. 6.1 Plan of an image platform.

Platforms served as social and religious centres, and also as boundary markers. A few platforms seem to have been built to contain burials, but this does not seem to have been the original function of the image platforms. No early skeletons have been discovered, whereas elaborate cremation pits have been found behind the central platform at many complexes, in contrast to the rest of central and eastern Polynesia, where cremation was not practised. At a later stage, bodies were interred in stone-lined tombs in the platforms and ramps. After the moai had been toppled, bodies were placed around the fallen moai or on other parts of ramps and then covered with stones. Semi-pyramidal platforms were the last type of ahu to be built: they were usually superimposed on the earlier, statue-bearing platforms, and seem to have been designed purely for burial purposes. Less than 75 are known, compared with more than 125 image platforms.

Some platforms seem to have been built in a single episode, but most image platforms show evidence of more than one construction phase, and some as many as eight. Based on radiocarbon dating, the earliest structure, at Tahai, is dated at 690 AD, though some archaeologists regard the association of the dated material with the structure as extremely doubtful.1 Platform building is generally believed to have become an obsession by 1200, and to have lasted until well into the 16th century.

Cyclopean masonry

The finest platform masonry, such as that found at Ahu Tahiri (one of the two ahu at Vinapu), consists of ‘enormous squared and tooled stones, that turn the edge of the toughest modern steel’.1 The best facade slabs commonly weigh 2 or 3 tons. At Vinapu one of the polished basalt slabs measures 2.5 by 1.7 m (8 by 5.5 ft) and weighs 6 or 7 tons, while one at Ahu Vai Mata is 3 by 2 m (10 by 6 ft), and weighs 9 or 10 tons.

The cyclopean masonry of Ahu Vinapu and certain other platforms is reminiscent of that of ‘Incan’ (or rather pre-Incan) monuments to be found at Cuzco, Sacsayhuaman, Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu, and Sillustani in Peru. John Macmillan Brown writes:

The colossal blocks are tooled and cut so as to fit each other. In the Ahu Vinapu and in the fragment of the ahu near Hangaroa beach the stones are as colossal as in the old Temple of the Sun in Cuzco, they are as carefully tooled, and the irregularities of their sides that have to come together are so cut that the two faces exactly fit into each other. These blocks are too huge to have been shifted frequently to let the mason find out whether they fitted or not. They must have been cut and tooled to exact measurement or plan. There is no evidence of chipping after they have been laid. Every angle and projection must have been measured with scientific precision before the stones were nearing their finish.2

Fig. 6.2 The seaward wall at Ahu Tahiri, Vinapu, originally one course higher.


Fig. 6.3 Details of the seawall.

In Peru, megalithic masonry is found on a far vaster scale and the polygonal blocks often have far greater dimensions. On the basis of carbon dating, orthodox researchers claim that the accurate mortarless fitting of large polygonal blocks began in Peru after AD 1440, whereas Easter Island had similar dressed stonework before AD 1200 and therefore could not have been influenced by South America in this respect! However, there is not a scrap of hard evidence to support the claim that magnificent colossal structures like the ‘fortress’ at Sacsayhuaman just outside Cuzco were built by the Incas just a few hundred years ago. Although the Incas were excellent stone masons, they used small rectangular blocks, perfectly fitted. Layers of Incan masonry can often be seen on top of the earlier, larger, polygonal construction. For all anyone knows, the oldest, cyclopean masonry at Sacsayhuaman could be hundreds of thousands of years old!

Fig. 6.4 Part of the cyclopean fortress at Sacsayhuaman, Cuzco.

Fig. 6.5 Masonry similar to that at Vinapu can be found at Sillustani, near Lake Titicaca, Peru.

The practice of dating stone structures by carbon dating organic remains found in association with them can obviously lead to flawed results. The same method has been used to date the beginning of the classic construction phase at Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco) to AD 800. But the fact that the site was inhabited at that time does not preclude the possibility that some of the original structures were built ages earlier.

There are signs of different stages of ahu construction at Vinapu. Detailed examinations during Heyerdahl’s first expedition led to the conclusion that ‘Vinapu 1’ or Tahiri (the structure with the classical stone masonry) belonged to the earliest building period (which in Heyerdahl’s view still meant the 8th century AD), contrary to all previous theories, and that the platform had twice been rebuilt and added to by far less capable architects. The modern orthodox view, however, is that Vinapu 1 dates to AD 1516, whereas Vinapu 2 – a structure displaying a rougher, typically east Polynesian facing of vertical slabs – is earlier (AD 857). So we’re supposed to believe that both the most outstanding masonry on the island and the shoddy semi-pyramidal platforms belong to the same late phase of the island’s history!

Fig. 6.6 Aerial view of fallen moai at Ahu Tahiri.3 (courtesy of John Flenley)

The official position is that all Easter Island’s platforms are simply variations of the marae platforms of central and eastern Polynesia, which were socio-religious centres and shrines to ancestral gods. Vinapu’s megalithic stone wall is said to bear only a superficial resemblance to the classic ‘Incan’ masonry because, unlike the solid block construction used in Peru, the Easter Island walls are merely a facing of slabs that mask a rubble core.

However, there are also striking similarities with the pre-Incan Andean style of masonry. Each slab is convex or pillow-shaped, with slightly bevelled edges, and stones with projecting edges are fitted into stones with receding edges. The blocks are irregularly shaped, fit together with the utmost precision, and small holes or chinks are filled with perfectly fitted stones. A block in one corner of the Vinapu wall has a projecting knob – just like many large blocks in Peru. The corners of the seawall are rounded, and its entire face is in fact slightly convex, again as in the Andes. Prof. Camila Laureani, a connoisseur of Tiwanaku- and ‘Inca’-type masonry writes: ‘Ahu Vinapu is an architectonic construction which combines the essential characteristics of the structures in the Altiplano of Peru-Bolivia in a manner so evident that one cannot doubt the arrival on the island of a contingent of these people.’4

Fig. 6.7 Megalithic seawall of Ahu Tepeu.

In addition to Ahu Tahiri, many other platforms have perfectly-fitted stone masonry, such as the 3-m-high seawalls of Ahu Tepeu and Ahu Vai Mata. The outer surface of the upright stones in the latter two ahu, like that of the slabs used in Ahu Tahiri, is pillow-shaped. Captain Cook was particularly impressed by the huge wall of perfectly dressed megaliths at Hanga Roa, which he compared to the wall at Vinapu. Although no cement was used, the joints were exceedingly tight, with enormous stones mortised and tenoned into one another.5 The wall was unfortunately destroyed by European settlers in a futile attempt to build a harbour.

Fig 6.8 Huge stones in the seawall of Ahu Vai Mata, 2.8 m high and 69 m long.

William J. Thomson, who spent 12 days on the island in 1886, described an ahu with a record number of 16 fallen statues that lay on an inaccessible terrace halfway up the cliffs east of Rano Kao, but it later fell into the sea. On the high plateau of the north coast Thomson’s party saw another ahu, known as Ahu Oahu, that later suffered the same fate. His drawing of this ahu shows the same masonry technique admired by Captain Cook’s party in Hanga Roa and Vinapu. Another impressive platform stood nearby.6

Fig. 6.9 Drawing of Ahu Oahu. The central stone weighed an estimated 6 tons. The upper row of stones has been turned over sideways to make a firm support for a later statue.

Cut stone blocks of megalithic proportions are found scattered around at Anakena, and are also found in the Ahu Nau Nau platform there, though they are not perfectly fitted. This suggests that another, superior platform used to exist there, which has been dismantled.

Fig 6.10 The seawall of Ahu Nau Nau shows at least six stages of construction.
Note the inclusion of a moai head.

During Heyerdahl’s expedition in 1987, excavations were carried out on the landward side of Ahu Nau Nau. A neatly fitted pavement made of boulders was found 7 ft below the surface. Three feet below it, a layer of soil full of human refuse was found, which was radiocarbon dated to AD 850. Trenches sunk along the landward side also uncovered a beautiful wall of megalithic slabs, perfectly hewn and fitted. According to Heyerdahl, this type of masonry

was unmistakably an Early Period product that had been buried in silt before the Middle Period ahu was erected. A closer inspection proved that these fine slabs had been part of an even older structure originally existing elsewhere, one that had been dismantled by man or destroyed by nature. The slabs had been dragged to this place from another site, and although perfectly polished and joined in the original wall, they had then been reworked to fit them together according to another plan.

This discovery demolished the popular theory that such walls had appeared at a late stage on Easter Island and represented the high peak of local evolution due to the lack of timber. This buried wall was clearly older than the Middle Period walls visible above ground. Nothing like it has been found on a single island in the whole of Polynesia, but it is typical of the megalithic walls of South America.7

Heyerdahl adds that the widespread belief that the splendid walls in Peru date from the late Inca period has been disproved, and that the Incas learned the craft of masonry from their predecessors in Tiwanaku. Excavations of the earth-covered pyramidal mound at Akapana in Tiwanaku have shown it to be a terraced pyramid from long before the age of the Incas. It is faced with accurately hewn and artistically jointed blocks, just as on Easter Island.

Fig. 6.11 Megalithic walls at Anakena (above) and Tiwanaku (below).

Astronomical alignments

Around 20 ahu appear to have been oriented astronomically, so that the moai faced the rising or setting sun at the solstices or equinoxes. The inland ahu with astronomical orientation are generally linked with the solstices, especially the winter solstice, though the moai of Ahu Akivi face the setting sun at the equinoxes. Astronomically oriented ahu along the coast tend to be positioned so that the moai look straight east or west. This is true of Ahu Tahiri (Vinapu 1), whereas Ahu Vinapu 2 marks the summer solstice.1

Fig. 6.12 Ahu Akivi was one of the few platforms built inland. Its seven hatless moai stand about 16 ft tall and weigh about 18 tons each.

Graham Hancock points out that Ra, the name of the Egyptian sun god, appears frequently in connection with Easter Island’s sacred architecture, its mythical past, and its cosmology. Raa means ‘sun’ in the island’s language. There were clans called Raa, Hitti-ra (sunrise), and Ura-o-Hehe (red setting sun), the crater lakes are named Rano Kao, Rano Aroi, and Rano Raraku, and Ahu Ra’ai was aligned to two volcanic peaks to act as a marker and observatory for the path of the sun on the December solstice.2

Traditions state that ages ago there existed on the island a brotherhood of ‘learned men who studied the sky’, the tangata rani. Katherine Routledge was taken to a northwest facing cave near Ahu Tahi and told it had been ‘a place where priests taught constellations and the ways of the stars to apprentices’. Near the eastern extremity of the Poike headland she was shown a large flat rock called papa ui hetu’u, or ‘rock where they watched the stars’, incised with a spiral design. Nearby there is another engraved stone on which 10 cup-shaped depressions are visible, which are said to have represented a star map.3

At Orongo, on the edge of Rano Kau crater, there are four small holes pecked through the bedrock just beside an ahu. Detailed observations at the solstices and equinoxes showed that the four holes constituted a sun-observation device. The season for the summer paina ceremony honouring the dead depended on the position of the three stars of Orion’s Belt.

Hare paenga

Hare paenga are long, narrow houses resembling an upturned canoe, with a single narrow doorway in the middle of one side. The foundation stones of these elliptical houses were made of cut basalt. To make the pointed ends the right shape, the blocks had to be hewn to the correct curvature. The stones measure 0.5 to 2.5 m long, 20 or 30 cm wide, and at least 50 cm high; the largest weigh up to 10 tons. Small holes were bored in their upper surfaces, into which the islanders inserted thin branches to support the arched reed roof. The dwellings varied enormously in size; some could house more than 100 people, but others only half a dozen.

Fig. 6.13 Hare-paenga foundations.

The foundation stones must date to an early period of the island’s history, since they were often reused in later platform walls (they can be seen stacked on Ahu Tepeu, fig. 6.7). Thor Heyerdahl mentions that the excavation of the pre-Inca image platforms at Tiwanaku has uncovered stones remarkably like the paenga of Easter Island (fig. 6.13). We do not know what they were originally used for, only that they were reused in walls of a later period.1

Fig. 6.14 Tiwanaku.

But were the paenga stones originally intended for the foundations of thatched houses? As John Macmillan Brown said: ‘The timbers of their houses look ridiculous alongside the cyclopean stone-foundations, into the small holes in which they were stuck.’ The stones are of the hardest basalt, tooled to perfection, and ‘were evidently intended by their original architects to bear the framework of great structures’. He also says: ‘It is difficult to understand how they bored the inch-deep holes for the wooden posts in the adamantine basalt of the foundation stones.’2

During Heyerdahl’s excavations at Ahu Nau Nau, an enormous, stone-lined, boat-shaped enclosure immediately to the landward side was discovered. Although archaeologists assume that all such structures are the foundations of boat-shaped houses, some traditions refer to them as ‘boats of bones’ and associate them with a builder-god named Nuku Kehu who came to Easter Island with Hotu Matua. There are also seven boat-shaped platforms known as ahu poepoe, which were used as tombs. The best example, 21 m long and 4 m high, with the bow elevated over a metre above the stern, lies just west of Anakena close to the ocean, ‘as if it were ready’, comments Father Sabastian Englert, ‘to carry its deceased passengers to some far away coast’.

Graham Hancock says that the ahu poepoe and the ‘boat house’ foundations are reminiscent of the ‘boat graves’ associated with pyramids and tombs in ancient Egypt – which might be stone or brick replicas of boats or full-sized sailing vessels. The ancient Egyptian funerary and rebirth texts describe the souls of deceased kings passing between earth and heaven in such boats. An Easter Island legend about the god-king Hotu Matua says: ‘He came down from heaven to earth … He came in the ship …’3

Other noteworthy examples of exquisite craftsmanship are popoi pounders which, says Heyerdahl, ‘were so perfectly formed and balanced, with the slender lines, graceful curves and high polish that our engineers refused to believe that such work was possible without the modern lathe’. He also mentions examples of exquisitely fashioned basalt fish hooks, which the first European explorers never saw being used and which the natives refused to part with.4 These have not been found on other Polynesian islands.

Fig. 6.15 Basalt fish hook.

The basalt mystery

To carve the moai statues, huge amounts of rock had to be hacked away around each one of them. In theory, this work could have been done using the basalt picks that have been found in abundance at the Rano Raraku quarry – though no one in modern times has felt like demonstrating how a complete statue can be carved by such arduous and primitive means. The possibility that more advanced tools and methods were used at certain times for some of this immense labour cannot be ruled out.

Fig. 6.16 Is this how all the carving was done?1

Although the platforms are mainly composed of unworked basalt blocks, many have retaining walls made of skilfully cut and fitted blocks. Carving these slabs would have been a tremendous undertaking, and this also applies to the shaping and boring of the basalt hare-paenga foundation blocks, the carving of basalt statues, the cutting away of basalt to make the roads, and the carving of several thousand petroglyphs in relief on tough basalt rock. The working of basalt poses problems of an altogether different magnitude than the softer volcanic rock found at Rano Raraku. What tools were used for this purpose? And have any experiments been conducted to test the proposed methods, as in the case of statue carving, raising, and transportation?

John Flenley and Paul Bahn argue that although there are still plenty of ‘intriguing questions’ to be answered about Easter Island, there are no genuine mysteries, though that doesn’t stop them entitling their book: The Enigmas of Easter Island. Interestingly, the problem of working basalt does not merit a single mention anywhere in their informative but conservative book! When asked by email how the basalt was cut, John Flenley said he had no idea, and Paul Bahn replied: ‘a good question, and one which, I think, has never really been tried out with experiments. Obviously the basalt can only have been worked with stone of equal or greater hardness, which can only mean basalt from the island.’2

But as Macmillan Brown pointed out, most ahu blocks are ‘of a vesicular basalt that European masons would find hard to work even with tools toughened by admixture of the rare metals’. Believing however that the masons had nothing but clumsy stone tools at their disposal, he says that each of the scores of immense shaped stones, weighing from 2 to 20 tons, ‘must have taken a workman with his stone implements, aided by sand and water, years to cut and groove’.3 It seems unlikely, though, that such skilled work would have been undertaken with such patently inadequate tools. The reason no one has ever conducted any experiments to see whether basalt can be precision-cut using basalt tools is very simple: no one is dumb enough to even try!

The Poike ditch is a deep and possibly entirely artificial ditch separating the eastern headland from the rest of the island. Although largely filled with silt today, it has a rectangular bottom, 3.7 m deep, about 12.2 m wide, and is about 3.5 km long. The tough basaltic rock removed could easily have supplied building blocks for all the platforms on the island with cyclopean masonry. Ahu Tahiri, Ahu Tongariki, and many more platforms were constructed from blocks of black basalt of a similar type. The ditch was a considerable feat of excavation, and is unlikely to have been chipped out with small basalt picks!

After the initial excavation of the lower trench through the lava flow, a considerable period appears to have elapsed during which a layer of inwash from the surrounding area, at least 1.8 m thick, accumulated in the ditch. There is evidence that some time after the original cutting, partial reexcavation took place, but exactly when is unclear. Carbon dates obtained so far do not tell us when the trench was first excavated, only that it could have been no later than 200 AD – and possibly ages earlier.4


  1. José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 25.

Cyclopean masonry

  1. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), p. 1.
  2. Ibid., pp. 257-8.
  3. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, plate xiii.
  4. Quoted in Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, pp. 230-1.
  5. Ibid., pp. 43-4.
  6. Ibid., pp. 105-7.
  7. Ibid., pp. 230, 233.

Astronomical alignments

  1. Ramírez and Huber, Easter Island, pp. 53, 110.
  2. Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the lost civilization, London: Michael Joseph, 1998, p. 242.
  3. Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998 (1919), p. 235.

Hare paenga

  1. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, pp. 56-7.
  2. Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, pp. 162, 241.
  3. Hancock and Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror, p. 233.
  4. Thor Heyerdahl, Aku-Aku: The secret of Easter Island, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958, p. 340; Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 114.

The basalt mystery

  1. Catherine and Michel Orliac, The Silent Gods: Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Thames and Hudson, 1995, pp. 6-7.
  2. Emails of 24 May 2004.
  3. Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, p. 2.
  4. Christian and Barbara Joy O’Brien, The Shining Ones, Kemble, Cirencester: Dianthus Publishing, 1997, p. 518.

7. Rongorongo

Even orthodox researchers have to admit that the Easter Island script – Rongorongo – constitutes a genuine enigma. Rongorongo now survives only as markings on 25 pieces of wood scattered around the world’s museums, though other tablets might still be hidden in the island’s sacred family caves. Some signs also survive on paper in makeshift ‘books’ from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The glyphs contain about 120 basic elements – human figures in a variety of positions, birds, animals, plants, celestial objects, and geometrical shapes – but these are combined to form between 1500 and 2000 compound signs. Many of the motifs are also found in the island’s rock art, but none are found on any statues or platforms.

Fig. 7.1

The writing was inscribed on the rongorongo boards in neat rows a centimetre high. Alternate lines are written upside down, with the end of one line running into the beginning of the next – a system known as boustrophedon (‘as the ox ploughs’). This means that, starting from the bottom lefthand corner of a tablet, the writing proceeds from left to right but at the end of each line the tablet has to be turned round.

The precise nature of the rongorongo script is uncertain. The prevailing view today is that

the motifs represent a rudimentary phonetic writing system, in which picture symbols were used to express ideas as well as objects. In other words, the individual glyphs do not represent an alphabet or even syllables, as in other scripts, but are ‘cue cards’ for whole words or ideas, plus a means of keeping count, like rosary beads. Each sign was a peg on which to hang a large amount of text committed to memory.1

According to legend, Hoto Matua brought 67 rongorongo tablets with him containing traditions, genealogical tables, and other records of the past, and he was accompanied by learned men who knew the art of writing and reciting the inscriptions. Some researchers have argued that the rongorongo script is not ancient but was invented by the islanders after the Spanish visit in 1770, when a written proclamation of annexation was offered to the chiefs and priests for them to sign. Some of the symbols used by the natives in signing the proclamation resembled the rongorongo hieroglyphs. We’re supposed to believe that the rest of the script was invented later! It’s possible that all the existing rongorongo tablets are no more than a few hundred years old; one, for instance, consists of a European oar. But the inscriptions could have been copied from earlier specimens.

The last truly literate islanders died either as a result of the 1862 slave raid or the subsequent smallpox epidemic. Natives who later claimed to be able to read Rongorongo appeared to be either reciting memorized texts or merely describing the figures rather than actually reading them, and sometimes gave different renderings of the same text. The script has still not been deciphered, despite claims to have done so. In 1995, for example, Steven Fischer announced that most of the tablets were religious chants taking the form: god A copulated with goddess B begetting a particular animal, plant, or natural phenomenon. However, his claims to have deciphered the script have been roundly attacked by other researchers.2

Thor Heyerdahl argued that Rongorongo was related to several South American scripts. He mentioned the pictographic writing of the Cuna Indians of Panama and northwest Colombia, who recorded songs by painting on wooden tablets. Some of the symbols are identical with those of Easter Island, and the script was written in boustrophedon style. The writing systems found among early historical (post-Columbian) Aymara and Quechua tribes of the Lake Titicaca area also used boustrophedon. Even the Incas reportedly had a writing system: their history was recorded on ‘boards’, which were passed down through the generations of rulers and guarded by learned men.3 The Spaniards found some stored in the Temple of the Sun and burned them, being more interested in the gold frames.

Conventional researchers believe that the rongorongo script is Polynesian, with its signs reflecting the local environment and culture. They acknowledge that boustrophedon was used in Peru but say that there is no affinity between the signs used in the two places, though there might have been some influence in either direction. Some see far more significant similarities between certain rongorongo motifs and designs employed in the Solomon Islands in Melanesia, though a direct migration from there to Easter Island is no longer considered tenable. Rongorongo specialist Thomas Barthel speculated that the script originated on the Polynesian islands of Huahine or Raiatea and he believed it came to Rapa Nui with Hotu Matua.

Putting modern preconceptions aside, Rongorongo may reflect a variety of influences. In the 1930s Guillaume de Hevesy identified similarities between the rongorongo signs and 130 signs used in the at least 4500-year-old script found in the towns of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa in the Indus Valley. The orthodox view is that any similarities have been exaggerated and are purely coincidental.4 The Indus Valley script was usually written from right to left, but there are a few early cases of boustrophedon. (Some Etruscan and Hittite texts are also written in boustrophedon style, as are some Greek ones from about the 6th century BC.)

The seals used in the Indus Valley were made of soapstone. It is noteworthy that one Easter Island legend says: ‘The first race invented the Rongo-Rongo writing: they wrote it on stone. Of the four parts of the world that were at one time inhabited by the first race, it is only in Asia that this writing still exists.’5 Interestingly, Mohenjo Daro and Easter Island lie almost exactly 180° apart: the former is situated at 27°23’N and about 69°E and the latter at 27°08’S and 109°23’W.

Fig. 7.26

Other writers have pointed to resemblances between rongorongo signs and about 40 archaic Chinese ideographs, mostly dating from before the 8th century BC. Jean-Michel Schwartz asserts that there are resemblances not only in the form of the characters, but also in their meanings.7

Three symbols of knowledge:

Fig. 7.3

Rongorongo is often said to be the first script to be found in Oceania. However, in 1913 John Macmillan Brown found a script of some 60 characters on Woleai Atoll in the Caroline Islands (fig. 7.4).8 Whereas the Easter Island script is largely ideographic, the Woleai script was syllabic, but unlike any other in the world. It was used by the young chief of the island and was known only to five people on it, though it was also in use on Faraulep, a small island about 160 km to the northeast. In 1908 an expedition to Faraulep collected a number of symbols forming part of a counting system. The numbers ranged from 100,000 to 60 million and would have had no use in daily life. It seems unlikely that the Woleai script originated on a small isolated island.

Fig. 7.4

Also worthy of mention are the pictographs that have long been known in the Chatham Islands east of New Zealand. They may have been related to some writing system, and were said by natives to have long predated the Morioris, the island’s early Polynesian inhabitants.


  1. John Flenley and Paul Bahn, The Enigmas of Easter Island, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, p. 187.
  2. Jacques B.M. Guy, ‘The Easter Island tablets’, http://www.netaxs.com/~trance/rongo2.html; http://www.rongorongo.org.
  3. Graeme R. Kearsley, Mayan Genesis: South Asian myths, migrations and iconography in Mesoamerica, London: Yelsraek Publishing, 2001, pp. 536-7.
  4. W.R. Corliss (comp.), Ancient Man: A handbook of puzzling artifacts, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1978, pp. 616-9.
  5. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, p. 207.
  6. Jean-Michel Schwartz, The Mysteries of Easter Island, New York: Avon, 1975, p. 164.
  7. Ibid., pp. 93-9, 179, 181.
  8. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), pp. 52-3, 84.

8. Chronology

Radiocarbon dating shows that Easter Island was inhabited by 690 AD, and possibly by the 4th century. This fits in with the tradition that there had been 57 generations of kings since Hotu Matua; allowing an average of 25 years per generation, this takes us back to 450 AD. Some archaeologists suspect that the island must have been settled several centuries earlier. There is of course no evidence – only theories and assumptions – to rule out the possibility that the island was inhabited millennia before this; as mentioned in section 2, some native traditions point to pre-Polynesian settlement. However if ‘unacceptably’ early carbon dates were obtained they would most likely be dismissed as ‘contaminated’.

As already explained, the standard view is that Polynesians discovered Easter Island by chance and that after its initial colonization it was not visited by anyone else until the Europeans began to arrive in the early 18th century. Archaeologist José Miguel Ramírez, however, holds that the variety of vegetal species introduced by the initial settlers shows that a systematic, planned colonization was involved, and adds: ‘It would also not be logical to hold that this amounted to a single contact with the people involved, who thereafter remained in absolute isolation until historical times.’1

Thor Heyerdahl argued that the island was originally settled by South Americans, and centuries later by Polynesians (though probably brought there by South Americans). As shown in section 3, the evidence is ambiguous but is certainly consistent with some sort of South American influence alongside the prevalent Polynesian influence. The island could have received settlers or visitors from both east and west on many occasions. There is clear evidence of different phases of development in statue carving and platform construction, and the insistence that all the archaeological remains must be crammed into a history spanning just 1500 years is theory-driven. The rongorongo phenomenon is also difficult to fit into conventional theories about Easter Island.

A great deal of excavation work still needs to be done. At Anakena the present surface of the sandy plains lies 4 m above the bedrock. At Rano Raraku the ground on which the giant statues were set up is often 6 m below the present surface. As Heyerdahl says: ‘Nobody could tell what kind of monuments and information a coat of soil as high as a house might still conceal.’2 Francis Mazière put it in a nutshell: ‘The ground of this island will have to be dug deep to discover the true beginnings …’3

Statue carving

All Easter Island’s giant statues were supposedly made within the space of a few hundred years. Different phases are clearly discernible, and may be separated by far longer periods than orthodox opinion allows. It is significant that the statues do not bear the slightest resemblance to the Polynesians, and in terms of size, appearance, and number are unique in the Pacific.

In addition to the famous stone giants, there are smaller statues, between about 1 and 2 metres tall, with more rounded and naturalistically-shaped heads that were never designed to wear topknots. They have short faces and deep eye cavities, and none have long ears. They are made of red tuff, black basalt, or the yellowish-grey Rano Raraku stone. They have little in common with the giant statues except that they usually hold their hands on their stomachs with their fingers pointing towards one another. These are generally thought to be oldest carvings on the island, and to have preceded the Rano Raraku figures, as some have been found buried beneath thick layers of earth, and also built into later platforms. However, some of them appear to be recarved fragments of Rano Raraku tuff that used to be statues of the classical type. So some may be ‘early’ and others ‘late’.

The average height of the platform statues is 4 m (13 ft), whereas that of those not on platforms is 6 m (20 ft). It is usually argued that the tallest of the giant statues were the last to be made, as these are still found at the quarry. But some or all of these may date from another, earlier era altogether, and may not have been intended to be taken to the island’s platforms. There are in fact striking differences between the statues at Rano Raraku and those that once stood on the platforms around the coast. As several writers have remarked, the latter seem to be later: the general appearance remained the same but degeneration had set in: their features are less harsh, their arms and hands are atrophied, they no longer have the slender delicacy of the first statues, and they sometimes have no symbols on their backs.

Fig. 8.1 Statues on Ahu Nau Nau, Anakena, restored in 1978.

Pierre Loti, who visited Easter Island in 1872, assigned the statues standing at Rano Raraku to a very early period.

They are the work of less childish artists who knew how to give them an expression. They frighten. … What human race do they represent, with their pointed noses and their thin lips that show a pout of disdain or mockery? … According to the tradition conserved by the old people they were earlier than the arrival of their own ancestors. The migrants from Polynesia … found the island deserted, guarded only by these monstrous visages. … Gnawed by lichens they seem to have the patina of fifty centuries like our celtic menhirs.1

Fig. 8.2 One of the early, purest statues on the outer slope of Rano Raraku.

Francis Mazière, too, distinguishes between two periods of sculpture. He believed that many of the statues at Rano Raraku, including nearly all the raised statues at the foot of the volcano, belonged to the first period. During a huge excavation at Rano Raraku, he uncovered two 10-m statues, undamaged by erosion, which were completely white and very highly polished. The wings of the nose and the trace of the muscles in the upper lip were handled with striking delicacy and technical skill. Their elegant hands, joined at the height of the navel, in a meditating posture, ended in prodigiously long, tapering nails. The top of their heads was very narrow and clearly not designed for a cylindrical red hat. More such statues were subsequently uncovered.

There are also marked differences among the Rano Raraku statues themselves: in general, the statues inside the crater are smaller and less carefully made than those on the outer slope. Mazière wrote that on the outer slope ‘the great majority of the sculptures are very highly finished, whereas those on the crater side are decadent – much coarser: they are the work of another set of people altogether’. He said that the statues on the inner side of the volcano were of ‘commonplace technique’ and ‘commonplace stone’ – ‘debased copies’ of the outer-slope statues.2

Fig. 8.3 Statues on the inner slope (above) and outer slope (below) of Rano Raraku.

Mazière wondered why the lower statues on the outer slope were covered with rubble and earth, while for over 60 m above them lay other figures, free from the rock and ready to leave their hollows.

Either the men had begun by cutting into the cliff at the top and had brought the statues down the slope, in which case the lower statues were inexplicable. Or they had started at the bottom, in which case why had they not taken away the statues that we had just discovered, why was each not taken away as it was finished and ready to go?
A more thorough analysis showed us that all the statues carved at the top of the cliff – and this applied to the whole rim – were far less carefully made and above all were cut out of a distinctly poorer stone. They belonged to the second period.
This tended to strengthen our opinion: there had indeed been two periods, two migrations, and in between the quarry had been abandoned for years and years. During this time erosion covered the first series of overlapping statues that began at the foot of the cliff. The second migration, seeing the standing giants, took over that splendid art, changing and debasing it. The newcomers built the ahu, and by a curious anomaly they set up these adopted gods on their platforms, in the Polynesian manner.3

But perhaps there have been more than just two migrations and two periods of carving. And why assume that the Polynesians were the first inhabitants of Oceania to set up statues on platforms?

If the statues at Rano Raraku were carved at different periods, then the fact that unfinished statues lie all over the inner and outer slopes would mean that work came to a sudden end more than once, indicating that history does indeed repeat itself.

Dating the statues and platforms

During excavations at Rano Raraku, Katherine Routledge noted that thin lines of charcoal,  resulting from grass or brushwood fires, were found at various depths and marked old land surfaces, subsequently covered by later landslips. These successive descents of earth and debris made it virtually impossible to apply stratigraphic dating, which is based on the principle: the deeper the layer, the older it is.

Heyerdahl’s belief that the finest statues were carved and erected on platforms during the ‘middle period’ was partly based on his interpretation of radiocarbon dates of 1467 and 1206 for two charcoal samples from mounds of quarry cuttings on the flanks of Rano Raraku. However, as geologist Christian O’Brien points out, a section through the mound ‘shows clear evidence of land slip formation with some added dumping of coarse stone debris’. He thought it quite conceivable that charcoal from a fire which occurred in the mid-19th century, by reason of one earth tremor, could have been buried deep beneath stone-chippings from an age a thousand years earlier. He concludes that the erect statues were in place when the charcoal was formed from which the samples were taken: ‘Their carving, then, pre-dates 1476 A.D. ± 100 years, and this is the only deduction that can be made from the evidence.’ He says that to work out by how much requires an examination of the state of preservation of the statues and platforms.1

Many statues are severely weathered and others far less so. This does not automatically prove that they were produced over a long timespan since the volcanic tuff from which they are carved is of uneven quality. As already mentioned, the rock of which some statues are made is extremely hard: one statue was struck with a hoe which rebounded in a shower of sparks. Referring to the statues standing at the foot of the volcano, Mazière wrote:

How long have they stood there? And why are some of them carved from a different stone, one unweathered by the wind? For there they are, unchanged by rain, wind or sand, while others are eaten away and covered with moss. The natives say, ‘The ones lichen does not grow on are still alive.’ And perhaps this is true, as it is for many objects that are called magical because they receive vibrations and retain them.2

Fig. 8.4

One of the statues at Rano Raraku bears a carving of a ship, which is crudely executed and clearly a piece of later graffiti (fig. 8.4). Heyerdahl found the top of the masts above the then ground surface, while the rest of the carving was buried below it. O’Brien points out that the weathered parts of the masts are only marginally less clear than the parts of the masts which had been buried – probably for at least 400 years. He concludes that, if this is a measure of the weathering that has taken place over 400 years, the deep and extensive weathering of the head must have taken considerably longer, perhaps 2000 years or more.

Hard sandstone and limestone, blocks and statues, in other parts of the world, have survived for millennia with no more weathering than the better Easter Island statues, and those made from igneous rock have survived far longer with scarcely a change. …
Knowing the composition and state of preservation of the cyclopean blocks at the Greek sites of Mycenae and Tiryns, which are 4000 years old, and have been exposed to a climate not greatly different from that at Easter Island, we could not contemplate any age range less widely spread than 3000 B.C. to 500 A.D. for both the earliest ahu and the statues.3

Even this estimate may yet turn out be extremely conservative.

A further clue to the chronology of Rano Raraku is the fact that since the earliest statues were carved, a layer of debris, eroded soil, and wind-blown dust 6 m or more thick has accumulated, burying the raised statues at the foot of the slope up to their necks. Nearby there are smaller statues lying on the surface, which must clearly date from a far later time. During the carving process and immediately after work was abandoned (which appears to have happened more than once), there would have been no protective, stabilizing vegetation cover at worked areas of the slope. Since charcoal layers indicate several former vegetation-covered land surfaces, the enormous volume of soil and debris around the statues does not seem to have accumulated before vegetation had taken hold. Once this had happened, subsequent changes in ground level would have proceeded very slowly, except as a result of earth tremors and very severe rainfall; during the past 150 years hardly any silt from the quarry uphill has been deposited. Careful study of the degree of erosion at different heights of upright statues could shed more light on this matter.

As regards the platforms, Heyerdahl assigned the initial construction of the finest ahus to the ‘early period’ (pre-400 AD to c. 1100 AD). However, the workmanship displayed at Vinapu and other ‘early’ platforms stands in marked contrast to the inferior statues that he assigned to the same period. In Heyerdahl’s view, the platform masonry of the ‘middle period’ shows neither the technical perfection nor the artistry of the earlier masons. The main aim was to create strong platforms capable of supporting ever taller and heavier statues, in the quickest and most practical way possible. But again there is an incongruity in his position, because although the platform builders of the middle period used small, easily moved and usually uncut stone, ‘their work with statue bases, statues, and topknots shows skill and willingness to handle large stones at least equal to that of the Early Period’.4

The orthodox position is that the finest masonry dates from the latter part of the ‘middle period’ (1100-1680). However, the shoddy semi-pyramidal platforms were certainly a very late development, and it is highly unlikely that the finest platform masonry dates from the same period. Even with metal tools the very precise cutting of such tough basalt would have been a tremendous achievement, and the later natives are not known to have had any metal tools.

It is quite clear that a great many platforms have been rebuilt and modified several times. This applies, for example, to the platform at Anakena, and the evidence suggests that earlier finely carved blocks were fitted together less precisely in later versions of it. The megalithic wall found during Heyerdahl’s excavations at Anakena also predates the present platform, and its beautifully hewn slabs appear to have originally been part of an older and finer structure. Given the toughness of the basalt used to build the platforms (which poses major problems that conservative researchers simply ignore), the oldest parts of the ahus could have stood for countless millennia without suffering serious weathering. If the earliest statues and platforms were in fact the most skilfully made, this raises the question of where the unknown sculptors and builders learned their craft.

The Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island were certainly capable of building large structures with uncut basalt rocks or rebuilding structures from older cut blocks, but there is no solid evidence that they had the means to precisely cut large basalt blocks themselves. As already noted, the basalt hare-paenga foundation stones and basalt statues, which were sometimes built into later platforms, may also belong to a very early period. As regards the carving, moving, and raising of gigantic statues made of volcanic tuff, we have no way of knowing for certain what the early Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island were capable of. But much of the work currently attributed to them may belong to long bygone ages.

Conventional researchers proclaim that it is ‘insulting’ and even ‘racist’ to suggest that the Polynesian ancestors of the present islanders were not responsible for all the archaeological wonders we admire today. But emotive name-calling hardly amounts to a rational argument!

It is commonly said that no volcanic activity has taken place during the human occupation of Easter Island, since the island’s folklore contains no references to this phenomenon. However, during the Chilean expedition of March 1936, some islanders did in fact relate a legend that an ancient race had been wiped out by a cataclysmic eruption of two sacred volcanoes.5 Geologists think a minor volcanic eruption may have taken place only 12,000 years ago, but there have been many large-scale eruptions over the past few hundred thousand years.

Theosophical hints

H.P. Blavatsky describes Easter Island as a portion of a submerged Pacific continent.1 According to theosophy, the main portions of the ancient continental systems of Lemuria and Atlantis sank many millions of years ago (in the late Mesozoic and early to mid-Cenozoic respectively), but remnants of various sizes are said to have continued to exist for a long time afterwards. For instance, Ruta, a large island in the Pacific Ocean, was destroyed between 850 and 700 thousand years ago, and Daitya, a fairly large island in the Indian Ocean, sank about 270 thousand years ago. The last remaining ‘Atlantean’ island of noteworthy magnitude, Poseidonis, about the size of Ireland, which was situated in the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Straits of Gibraltar, was submerged in a great cataclysm in 9565 BC.2

Thus the fact that Blavatsky links Easter Island’s civilization with both the Lemurians and Atlanteans does not mean that its present archaeological remains must be millions of years old! As well as saying that the Easter Island statues represent the last descendants of the Lemurian race,3 she writes:

The Easter Island relics are … the most astounding and eloquent memorials of the primeval giants. They are as grand as they are mysterious; and one has but to examine the heads of the colossal statues, that have remained unbroken on that island, to recognise in them at a glance the features of the type and character attributed to the Fourth Race giants. They seem of one cast though different in features – that of a distinctly sensual type, such as the Atlanteans (the Daityas and ‘Atlantians’) are represented to have in the esoteric Hindu books.4

One of the stanzas of Dzyan states that the Atlanteans built great images 27 ft (8.2 m) tall, the size of their bodies. Blavatsky adds that most of the gigantic statues discovered on Easter Island are 20 to 30 ft high, and those found by Captain Cook were nearly all 27 ft tall and 8 ft across the shoulders. She dismisses the standard view that they were made by the Polynesians and are not very old as ‘one of those arbitrary decisions of modern science which does not carry much weight’. She goes so far as to say that the statues could only have been made by giants of the same size as the statues themselves!5* It should be borne in mind, however, that the statues range from under 2 m to nearly 22 m in height.

*Katherine Routledge cited this statement, together with several inaccurate descriptions of the present archaeological remains on Easter Island (largely the result of Blavatsky using inaccurate contemporary accounts), as evidence that nothing Blavatsky said on the subject needed to be taken seriously.6 But no writer is infallible. Another example is the following very feeble argument for the existence of a large Pacific continent in the remote past: the present inhabitants of the different island groups in the Pacific tend to speak similar languages and to have similar beliefs and customs, yet ‘according to every testimony’ they could never have communicated with one another before the arrival of the Europeans, as they did not have the compass or the necessary boats and navigational skills!7

Blavatsky indicates that Easter Island (i.e. the land then existing at that location) once formed part of the gigantic Lemurian continent.8 She writes:

… we find the Lemurians in their sixth sub-race building their first rock-cities out of stone and lava. One of such great cities of primitive structure was built entirely of lava, some thirty miles west from where Easter Island now stretches its narrow piece of sterile ground, and was entirely destroyed by a series of volcanic eruptions. The oldest remains of Cyclopean buildings were all the handiwork of the Lemurians of the last sub-races …

She goes on to say that the stone relics on Easter Island are in the cyclopean style, and have been compared to the temple of Pachacamac in Peru and the ruins of Tiwanaku in Bolivia.9

Referring to Atlantis, Blavatsky writes:

This continent was raised simultaneously with the submersion of the equatorial portions of Lemuria. Ages later, some of the Lemurian remains re-appeared again on the face of the Oceans. Therefore, … the Fourth Race Atlanteans got some of the Lemurian relics, and, settling on the islands, included them among their lands and continents … Easter Island was also taken possession of in this manner by some Atlanteans; who, having escaped from the cataclysm which befell their own land, settled on that remnant of Lemuria only to perish thereon, when destroyed in one day by its volcanic fires and lava. This may be regarded as fiction by certain geographers and geologists; to the Occultists it is history.10

Easter Isle … belongs to the earliest civilisation of the Third Race. Submerged with the rest, a volcanic and sudden uplifting of the Ocean floor, raised the small relic of the Archaic ages untouched, with its volcano and statues, during the Champlain epoch of northern polar submersion, as a standing witness to the existence of Lemuria.11

The end of the Champlain was dated in Blavatsky’s time at about 200,000 years ago.12

The last quotation implies that at least some of Easter Island’s statues were immersed in seawater for a considerable period, unless all the present statues postdate the cataclysm referred to. Charles Ryan stated that although most statues were made of friable conglomerate material, some were carved from very hard volcanic rock. He thought that the hard ones may be immensely older than those made of soft breccia, or that the latter may once have been much harder, and are disintegrating because they are so old. He also argued that if, as Blavatsky hints, the statues had been submerged for a long time, they would not have been subject to weathering or violence. But he admitted that ‘this theory raises other difficulties’.13

G. de Purucker stated that he ‘could not accept a very enormous antiquity for the statues, though they might be as old as the Egyptian Sphinx, whatever the age of that famous monument may ultimately be discovered to be’.14 No definite age is given for the Sphinx in theosophical literature, but it is suggested that the great pyramids, probably including all the three main Giza pyramids, were built about three precessional cycles (78,000 years) ago, during the precessional cycle that began 87,000 years ago.15 Since a temple beside the Sphinx is connected with the Second Pyramid of Giza by a causeway, the Sphinx may be about the same age. As already mentioned, however, the statues seem to date from very different eras.

De Purucker also writes:

How about those wonderful platforms out in the Pacific built with uncemented stone, which have stood for ages, so old that they are not merely weather-beaten but weather-worn; and in the mild climate of the Pacific Isles you can understand that stones would last longer than they would in the northern countries where frost and hot sun and rain and wind and beating sand will wear down rocks easily. How many thousands of years have those platforms on Easter Island stood, mute witnesses of a banished knowledge of some kind?16

Ryan points out that whereas the statues could have been sculptured with primitive stone tools, the platforms were made of large blocks of adamantine basalt. The seawall at Vinapu consists of beautifully cut and dressed blocks, comparable with the famous casing stones of the Great Pyramid, and equal to the finest pre-Incan cyclopean structures in Peru, but no tools adequate to such a task have been found.

In some of the ahus the irregularities in shape of the faces of the colossal polygonal stones that meet one another are so cut that the surfaces exactly fit together, like those at Cuzco in Peru and Cosa in Etruria. There was no mortar to fill gaps, and the extremely hard stones must have been cut and tooled to exact measurement with great precision in order to fit so well.17

How could primitive artisans have worked these stones so beautifully – or at all? The Easter Islanders had no metal tools and their small, weak stone tools would be about as effective as a knitting needle to cut out and shape blocks of the hardest basalt … One archaeologist calculated that it would take a man’s life-time to carve one stone of such intractable material, even if it were possible without modern power machinery. The ahus are a far greater mystery than the statues so far as their fabrication is concerned.18

It is not impossible that the ahus are immensely older than the statues, and represent the work of the extremely ancient inhabitants of the land of which Easter Island is a remnant, while the statues are far more recent – perhaps copies of older ones. The basalt-stones are so hard that they might have been in place for hundreds of thousands of years or more without crumbling …19


  1. José Miguel Ramírez and Carlos Huber, Easter Island: Rapa Nui, a land of rocky dreams, Alvimpress Impresores, 2000, p. 20.
  2. Thor Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, New York: Random House, 1989, p. 239.
  3. Francis Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, London: Collins, 1969, p. 148.

Statue carving

  1. Quoted in John Dos Passos, Easter Island: Island of enigmas, New York: Doubleday, 1971, p. 92.
  2. Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, pp. 127, 212.
  3. Ibid., pp. 142-3.

Dating the statues and platforms

  1. Christian and Barbara Joy O’Brien, The Shining Ones, Kemble, Cirencester: Dianthus Publishing, 1997, pp. 513-5.
  2. Mazière, Mysteries of Easter Island, p. 127.
  3. The Shining Ones, pp. 521, 523-4.
  4. Heyerdahl, Easter Island: The mystery solved, p. 196.
  5. The Theosophical Forum, March 1938, pp. 207-8.

Theosophical hints

  1. E.g. H.P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine, Pasadena, CA: Theosophical University Press (TUP), 1977 (1888), 1:439, 2:316fn, 331, 337; H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings (vols. 1-14), Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950-85, 7:292-3.
  2. See ‘Theosophy and the seven continents’, http://davidpratt.info/continents.htm.
  3. The Secret Doctrine, 2:339-40.
  4. Ibid., 2:224.
  5. Ibid., 2:331, 336-7.
  6. Katherine Routledge, The Mystery of Easter Island, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998 (1919), p. 290fn.
  7. The Secret Doctrine, 2:788-9; Blavatsky Collected Writings, 2:434-5; H.P. Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled, TUP, 1972 (1877), 1:594-5fn.
  8. The Secret Doctrine, 2:323-4.
  9. Ibid., 2:317, 336-7.
  10. Ibid., 2:326-7.
  11. Ibid., 2:327-8.
  12. Charles Gould, Mythical Monsters, San Diego, CA: Wizards Bookshelf, 1981 (1886), pp. 98-9fn.
  13. Charles J. Ryan, ‘The latest news from Easter Island’, The Theosophical Path, Nov 1925, pp. 474-82; The Theosophical Forum, May 1946, pp. 233-6.
  14. Charles J. Ryan, ‘New light on Easter Island’, The Theosophical Forum, Feb 1949, pp. 86-96; also The Theosophical Forum, May 1946, pp. 233-6.
  15. See ‘The Great Pyramid’, http://davidpratt.info/pyramid.htm.
  16. G. de Purucker, Studies in Occult Philosophy, TUP, 1945, p. 136.
  17. The Theosophical Path, Nov 1925, pp. 477-8.
  18. The Theosophical Forum, May 1946, pp. 234-5.
  19. The Theosophical Path, April 1927, p. 357.

9. Sunken lands

… Easter Island – the living and solitary witness of a submerged prehistoric continent in the midst of the Pacific Ocean.  – H.P. Blavatsky1

Read my lips: the islands of Polynesia are not, nor have they ever been, a part of a sunken continent.  – A modern ‘expert’2

Easter Island lies some 500 km east of the crest of a submarine mountain range called the East Pacific Rise; it is also situated on the Easter fracture zone. The island is believed to be the summit of an immense mountain formed by the outpouring of molten volcanic rock from the seafloor. It rests on a submarine platform some 50 or 60 m below the ocean’s surface, but 15 to 30 km off the coast, the platform ends and the ocean floor drops to between 1800 and 3600 m.

Easter Island owes its roughly triangular shape to the three volcanoes located at its corners: Poike, Rano Kau, and Terevaka. In addition to these main volcanic centres there are at least 70 subsidiary eruptive centres. The oldest lava flows have been dated at up to 3 million years old, but more recently lower dates of half to three-quarters of a million years have been published.3 Some scientists think the earliest lavas of Easter Island (now well below sea level) erupted around 4.5 to 5 million years ago.4*

*For conversion between ‘scientific’ and theosophical dates, see ‘Geochronology: theosophy and science’, http://davidpratt.info/geochron.htm.

Legend describes Easter Island as having once been part of a ‘much larger country’. Successive ice ages during the Pleistocene have lowered sea level by at least 100 m and possibly far more at times, and Easter Island would then have been larger than it is today. According to the ruling geological paradigm of plate tectonics, Easter Island has never been part of a sunken continent. However, the plate-tectonic model is challenged by a mountain of evidence. Some of the main problems are outlined below.

Fig. 9.1
Francis Mazière thought that the legendary lost continent of Hiva might have been a long continental ridge (the East Pacific Rise). As explained below, growing evidence is emerging that far larger areas of the Pacific Ocean were once land.

Plate tectonics – a dogma in distress

Although most earth scientists jumped on the plate-tectonic bandwagon in the 1960s and 70s, the theory has always had its critics. Their number is increasing as evidence contradicting the reigning paradigm continues to accumulate.1

According to plate tectonics, the earth’s outermost layer, or lithosphere, is divided into separate ‘plates’ that move with respect to one another on an underlying plastic layer known as the asthenosphere. The lithosphere is said to average 70 km in thickness beneath oceans, and to be 100 to 250 km thick beneath continents. However, seismic tomography (which produces 3D images of the earth’s interior) has shown that the oldest parts of the continents have very deep roots extending to depths of 400 km or more, and that the asthenosphere is absent or very thin beneath them. Even under the oceans there is no continuous asthenosphere, only disconnected asthenospheric lenses. In addition, the boundaries of the main plates are sometimes ill defined or nonexistent. These crucial facts – which go largely unmentioned in modern geological textbooks – render the large-scale lateral movement of individual ‘plates’ impossible.

Plate tectonics claims that new ocean crust is constantly being created by upwelling magma at ‘midocean’ ridges (including the East Pacific Rise) and subducted back into the mantle along ocean trenches, mostly located around the Pacific Rim. This would mean that the entire ocean crust should be no more than about 200 million years old. Yet, although ignored by the textbooks, literally thousands of rocks of Palaeozoic and Precambrian ages have been found in the world’s oceans. For instance, the rocks forming the St. Peter and Paul islands near the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge gave ages of 350, 450, 835 and 2000 million years, whereas according to plate tectonics they should be only 35 million years old. Rocks from central Tahiti in the South Pacific have proven to be over 800 million years old. Contrived and unconvincing attempts are occasionally made to explain such anomalies away – e.g. as crustal blocks that somehow got left behind during ‘seafloor spreading’.

Everyone accepts that enormous areas of the present continents have repeatedly been submerged beneath the sea; about 90% of all the sedimentary rocks composing the continents were laid down under water. But due to their ingrained beliefs, plate tectonicists tend to ignore the growing evidence that there used to be large, now submerged, continental landmasses in the present oceans – landmasses that are completely ignored in imaginative reassemblies of today’s supposedly drifting continents. Several geoscientists have called for a major effort to drill the ocean floor to much greater depths to verify whether, as the data available already suggest, the basalt layer that is currently labelled ‘basement’ conceals more ancient sediments below it.2

The earthquakes taking place at different depths on the landward side of ocean trenches define a Benioff zone, which is interpreted in plate tectonics as a ‘descending plate’. How ocean crust is supposed to descend into the denser mantle has never been satisfactorily explained. Moreover, Benioff zones have a highly variable and complex structure, with transverse as well as vertical discontinuities and segmentation, and bear little resemblance to the highly stylized pictures of continuous downgoing slabs depicted in geological textbooks.

Fig. 9.2 Earthquake distribution perpendicular to the Andes (15-30°S).
The outlined ‘subducting slab’ appears to be a product of wishful thinking.3

The volume of crust generated at ocean ridges is supposed to be equalled by the volume subducted. But whereas 80,000 km of midocean ridges are supposedly producing new crust, there are only 30,500 km of trenches and 9000 km of ‘collision zones’ – i.e. only half the length of the ‘spreading centres’. If subduction was really happening, vast amounts of oceanic sediments should have been scraped off the ocean floor and piled up against the landward margin of the trenches. However, sediments in the trenches are generally not present in the volumes required, and they do not display the expected degree of deformation. Plate tectonicists have had to resort to the far-fetched notion that soft ocean sediment can slide smoothly into a subduction zone without leaving any significant trace.

An alternative view of Benioff zones is that they are very ancient fractures produced by the cooling and contraction of the earth, and currently represent the deformation interface between the uplifting island arc/continental region and the subsiding ocean crust and mantle.

Most plate tectonicists believe that chains of oceanic islands and seamounts in the Pacific are the result of the Pacific plate moving over ‘hotspots’ of upwelling magma. This should give rise to a systematic age progression along hotspot trails, but a large majority show little or no age progression. For instance, the ages of islands and seamounts along the Sala y Gomez ridge (on which Easter Island and Sala y Gomez Island are located) fail to increase systematically to the east.4 Hotspots are commonly attributed to ‘mantle plumes’ rising from the core-mantle boundary. But critics have shown that plume explanations are ad hoc, artificial, and inadequate, and that plumes are not required by any geological evidence.5 An alternative proposal is that ocean island chains are formed by magma that rises from much shallower depths, perhaps from a network of magma ‘surge channels’ in the lithosphere.

The continents and oceans are covered with a network of major structures or lineaments, many dating from the Precambrian. In the Pacific basin there are intersecting megatrends, composed of ridges, fracture zones, and seamount chains, running NNW-SSE and WSW-ENE (fig. 9.3).6 In plate tectonics, seamount chains supposedly indicate the direction of plate movement, but to produce these orthogonal megatrends the plates would have to move in two directions at once! Although plate tectonicists invoke ad-hoc ‘microplates’ and ‘hotspots’ whenever the need arises, they are unable to offer a satisfactory explanation of any of these megatrends, and prefer to ignore them.

Fig. 9.3 The Pacific ‘plate’.

Furthermore, some megatrends continue into the Australian, Asian, and North and South American continents where they link up with major Precambrian lineaments, implying that the ‘oceanic’ crust is at least partly composed of Precambrian rocks – as has been confirmed by deep-sea dredging, drilling, and seismic data. The Easter fracture zone lies on the Central Pacific Megatrend, which spans the entire Pacific and continues across South America into the Atlantic Ocean.7 These interconnecting lineaments demolish the plate-tectonic myth that ‘plates’ and continents have moved thousands of kilometres over the earth’s surface.

Sunken continents

It is commonly argued that Easter Island can never have formed part of a continent because no granite or sedimentary rocks such as limestone and sandstone have ever been found there – only igneous rocks. But as H.F. Blandford pointed out back in 1890:

[T]he occurrence of volcanic islands does not prove that the area in which they occur is not a sunken continent. If Africa south of the Atlas subsided two thousand fathoms [3660 m], what would remain above water? So far as our present knowledge goes, the remaining islands would consist of four volcanic peaks – the Cameroons, Mount Kenia, Kilimanjaro, and … Ruwenzori, together with an island, or more than one, which, like the others, would be entirely composed of volcanic rocks.

He added that there is ‘clear proof that some land-areas lying within continental limits have within a comparatively recent date been submerged over a thousand fathoms, whilst sea-bottoms now over a thousand fathoms deep must have been land in part of the Tertiary’.1

Easter Island’s volcanic rocks consist mainly of basalts and andesites and a small amount of rhyolite. Basalts are considered to be a major component of the ocean crust, but flood basalts are also found in abundance on the continents. Furthermore, as more and more basalts are analyzed, the difference in the composition of oceanic and continental flood basalts is becoming increasingly blurred.2 In the plate-tectonic scheme, andesitic volcanoes are supposed to form along the edge of a continent, above a mythical subduction zone.3 Easter Island of course now lies 3600 km from the nearest continent. The coarse-grained equivalent of rhyolite is granite, which is found in abundance on the continents – and increasingly under the oceans. Some geologists in the past have described Easter Island’s rocks bluntly as ‘continental’.4 Plate-tectonicist P.E. Baker puts it more cautiously: ‘the lavas in general are rather more siliceous than is usual for an oceanic setting’; rocks from other islands on or near the East Pacific Rise, such as Pitcairn and the Galapagos, are similar in this respect.5

Soviet scientist N. Zhirov pointed out that ‘continental’ (sial) rocks such as granite, schist, rhyolite, and/or andesite have been found on many Pacific islands, including the Marquesas Islands, the Galapagos Islands, the Fiji Islands, the Tonga Islands, the Kermadec Islands, Chatham, Bounty and Oakland Islands, and Chuuk, Yap, and Man Islands in the Carolines. Most geologists nowadays prefer to assume that andesite and rhyolite rocks found in oceanic settings formed by high levels of fractional crystallization of oceanic basalts – but this is entirely hypothetical.6

Continental crust is usually said to average 35 km in thickness compared to only 7 km for oceanic crust. The crust is 40 km thick beneath North Australia, 20 km thick in the eastern part of the adjacent Coral Sea, 22-28 km thick in the Fiji-Tonga-Samoa area, and as much as 36 km thick at the Tonga Islands. There are over 100 submarine plateaus and ridges scattered throughout the oceans, dotted with islands, and many may be submerged continental fragments that have not been completely ‘oceanized’, as suggested by ‘anomalously’ thick crust and finds of ‘impossibly’ ancient continental rocks.

Fig. 9.4 Worldwide distribution of oceanic plateaus (black).

In the early 20th century, geologist J.W. Gregory concluded from a detailed survey of geological and palaeontological evidence that landmasses of varying sizes had been uplifted and submerged at various times in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, most of them disappearing by the Miocene. He wrote: ‘The direct geological evidence is overwhelming, that large blocks of the Earth’s crust rise and fall for vertical amounts greater than the greatest depths in the oceans.’7

Russian geoscientist E.M. Ruditch concluded from a detailed study of ocean drilling results that there is no systematic correlation between the age of shallow-water sediments and their distance from the axes of the midoceanic ridges. This disproves the seafloor-spreading model, according to which the age of sediments should become progressively older with increasing distance from the midoceanic ridge. Some areas of the oceans appear to have undergone continuous subsidence, whereas others have experienced alternating episodes of subsidence and elevation. He believed that major areas of the oceans were formerly land. The Pacific Ocean appears to have formed mainly from the late Jurassic to the Miocene, the Atlantic Ocean from the Late Cretaceous to the end of the Eocene, and the Indian Ocean during the Paleocene and Eocene.8 This corresponds closely to the theosophical teachings on the submergence of Lemuria in the Late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic, and the submergence of Atlantis in the first half of the Cenozoic.9

Fig. 9.5

The map of former land areas in the present Pacific and Indian Oceans presented in fig. 9.5 was compiled by geoscientists J.M. Dickins and D.R. Choi on the basis of ocean-floor sampling and drilling, seismic data, and the location of ancient sediment sources.10Only landmasses for which substantial evidence already exists are shown, but their exact outlines and full extent are as yet unknown. Some geologists have argued that the area in the Southeast Pacific labelled S3 probably extended much further west and encompassed what is now Easter Island.11

Lost Pacific islands

Easter Island legends tell of the first settlers arriving after their native land had been submerged, and of a giant named Uoke, in a fit of anger, causing the subsidence of a large continent, of which Easter Island is a remnant. Similar traditions of vanished continents are found throughout Polynesia and Melanesia, and in other areas bordering the Pacific. For instance, the Hawaiians believed there was once a great continent stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand, but it sank, leaving only its mountaintops as islands. Such legends do not specify when the various landmasses are supposed to have existed. Although it is certain that no large continents in the Pacific have been submerged during the past few millennia, several writers believe that islands of reasonable size have done so.

When the Dutchman Roggeveen discovered Easter Island in 1722, he was actually searching for Davis Land. An English buccaneer named John Davis reported sighting this island in 1687 in latitude 27°20’S. He said it was 800 km from the coast of Chile, low, flat, and sandy, but with ‘a long tract of pretty high land’ to the northwest. This description in no way applies to Easter Island. The general belief today is that Davis had misjudged his position, as was by no means unusual in the case of the early mariners, and that Davis Land was Mangareva, the chief island in the Gambier archipelago, far to the west of Easter Island.

However, in the early 20th century Lewis Spence and John Macmillan Brown took the report of Davis Land at face value, and concluded that an archipelago of considerable extent must have foundered in this area between 1687 and 1722. Brown thought that Sala y Gomez, a rocky islet just above water some 415 km northeast of Easter Island, was probably the remains of Davis Land; there are numerous reefs around it and the water in its vicinity is shallow.1 The Easter Islanders called it Motu Matiro Hiva, meaning ‘islet in front of Hiva’, Hiva being the name given to their legendary homeland.

In addition to the Easter Island archipelago, Spence and Brown argued that land had also been submerged in several other parts of the Pacific within the last few thousand years.2 They held, for instance, that the Caroline archipelago could be the remains of a vast island-empire in the eastern Central Pacific. The ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei, with its massive walls, earthworks, and great temples, intersected by miles of artificial waterways, would have required a workforce of tens of thousands (see section 10). Brown pointed out that within a radius of 2400 km there are no more than 50,000 people today, and added: ‘It is one of the miracles of the Pacific unless we assume a subsidence of twenty times as much land as now exists.’3 On the little coral island of Woleai, some 1600 km west of Pohnpei, he found a written script still in use, quite unlike any other in the world (see section 7).

Quite a few islands that mariners have reported on their travels have later gone missing.4 For instance, in 1879 an Italian captain announced his discovery of Podesta Island, just over a kilometre in circumference, 1390 km due west of Valparaiso, Chile. The island has not been found since, and was removed from charts in 1935. An island near Easter Island was sighted in 1912 but was likewise never seen again. Sarah Ann Island northwest of Easter Island was removed from naval charts when a search in 1932 failed to find it. The need for caution in interpreting such accounts is underlined by the following incident: in 1928 the captain and two officers on a British luxury liner announced that Easter Island itself had vanished – but a Chilean gunboat was sent to the island and found it in its usual place!

In 1955 US military pilots sighted an island 615 km west of Honolulu, but it disappeared within a few weeks, leaving only sulphurous streaks on the surface. In February 1946, a British warship witnessed the birth of two volcanic cones 320 km south of Tokyo; they rose to a height of 15 m and spread out over an area of about 2.5 sq km. Two months later they had dissolved into a shoal considerably larger than their initial size. In addition to temporary volcanic islands that suddenly appear in deep ocean basins, there are also islands that rise and fall in more shallow regions. Fonuafo’ou (Falcon Island) in the Tonga group, was born in 1885 when an eruption raised a shoal 88 m above the ocean surface. Over the next 13 years, its 3-km-diameter mass disappeared. It was reborn in 1927, and today is about 30 m high. Metis Island, 120 km from Fonuafo’ou, popped up in 1875 and vanished in 1899.

Hunter Island was discovered in 1823 at 15°31’S and 176°11’W. It was a fertile land, inhabited by cultivated Polynesians who had the curious custom of amputating the little finger of the left hand at the second joint. But the island was never seen again. The three Tuanaki Islands, part of the Cook group in the South Pacific, disappeared around the middle of the 19th century. These islands, too, were inhabited by Polynesians, but in 1844 a missionary ship failed to locate them. Several former inhabitants of the islands, who had left in their youth, died in Rarotonga during the 20th century.

Although a few small islands seem to have sunk in the Pacific in the past few millennia, the evidence that archipelagoes on the scale that Spence and Brown had in mind existed during this period is extremely slim. But, as explained above, landmasses of continental size undoubtedly existed in the Pacific in the much more distant past.


  1. H.P. Blavatsky Collected Writings (vols. 1-14), Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1950-85, 7:292-3.
  2. http://www.islandheritage.org/mysteries.html.
  3. K.M. Hasse, P. Stoffers and C.D. Garbe-Schönberg, ‘The petrogenetic evolution of lavas from Easter Island and neighbouring seamounts, near-ridge hotspot volcanoes in the SE Pacific’, Journal of Petrology, vol. 38, no. 6, 1997, pp. 785-813.
  4. R.I. Rusby, ‘GLORIA and other geophysical studies of the tectonic pattern and history of the Easter Microplate, southeast Pacific’, in: L.M. Parson, B.J. Murton and P. Browning (eds.), Ophiolites and their Modern Oceanic Analogues, London: Geological Society Special Publication no. 60, 1992, pp. 81-106 (p. 101).

Plate tectonics – a dogma in distress

  1. See ‘Plate tectonics: a paradigm under threat’, and ‘Sunken continents versus continental drift’, http://www.davidpratt.info (Earth science).
  2. J.M. Dickins, D.R. Choi and A.N. Yeates, ‘Past distribution of oceans and continents’, in: S. Chatterjee and N. Hotton III (eds.), New Concepts in Global Tectonics, Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech University Press, 1992, pp. 193-9.
  3. See ‘Problems with plate tectonics’, http://davidpratt.info/lowman.htm.
  4. J.G. Clark and J. Dymond, ‘Geochronology and petrochemistry of Easter and Sala y Gomez Islands: implications for the origin of the Sala y Gomez Ridge’, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research, vol. 2, 1977, pp. 29-48.
  5. H.C. Sheth, ‘Flood basalts and large igneous provinces from deep mantle plumes: fact, fiction, and fallacy’, Tectonophysics, vol. 311, 1999, pp. 1-29.
  6. N.C. Smoot, ‘Magma floods, microplates, and orthogonal intersections’, New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, no. 5, 1997, pp. 8-13.
  7. N.C. Smoot, ‘Earth geodynamic hypotheses updated’, Journal of Scientific Exploration, vol. 15, no. 4, 2001, pp. 465-94.

Sunken continents

  1. Quoted in Lewis Spence, The Problem of Atlantis, London: William Rider & Son, 1924, pp. 34-5.
  2. A.A. Meyerhoff, I. Taner, A.E.L. Morris, W.B. Agocs, M. Kaymen-Kaye, M.I. Bhat, N.C. Smoot and D.R. Choi, Surge Tectonics: A new hypothesis of global geodynamics (D. Meyerhoff Hull, ed.). Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1996, pp. 192-3.
  3. D. McGeary and C.C. Plummer, Physical Geology: Earth revealed, Boston, MA: WCB, McGraw-Hill, 3rd ed., 1998, pp. 170, 266.
  4. P.L. Lyons, ‘Continental and oceanic geophysics’, in: H. Johnson and B.L. Smith (eds.), The Megatectonics of Continents and Oceans, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1970, pp. 147-66 (p. 162).
  5. P.E. Baker, ‘Preliminary account of recent geological investigations on Easter Island’, Geology Magazine, vol. 104, no. 2, 1967, pp. 116-22.
  6. N. Zhirov, Atlantis. Atlantology: basic problems, Honolulu, HA: University Press of the Pacific, 2001 (1970), pp. 150-1.
  7. J.W. Gregory, ‘The geological history of the Pacific Ocean’, Quarterly Journal of Geological Society, vol. 86, 1930, pp. 72-136 (p. 132).
  8. E.M. Ruditch, ‘The world ocean without spreading’, in: A. Barto-Kyriakidis (ed.), Critical Aspects of the Plate Tectonics Theory, Athens: Theophrastus Publications, 1990, vol. 2, pp. 343-95.
  9. See ‘Theosophy and the seven continents’, http://davidpratt.info/continents.htm.
  10. J.M. Dickins, ‘What is Pangaea?’, in: A.F. Embry, B. Beauchamp and D.G. Glass, Pangea: Global environments and resources, Canadian Society of Petroleum Geologists, Memoir 17, 1994, pp. 67-80; D.R. Choi, ‘Geology of the southeast Pacific’, parts 1-3, New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, no. 7, pp. 11-15; no. 8, pp. 8-13; no. 9, pp. 12-14, 1998. See also: B.I. Vasiliev & D.R. Choi, ‘Geology and tectonic development of the Pacific Ocean. Part 3: Structure and composition of the basement’, New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, no. 48, 2008, pp. 23-51; B.I. Vasiliev & T. Yano, ‘Ancient and continental rocks discovered in the ocean floors’, New Concepts in Global Tectonics Newsletter, no. 43, 2007, pp. 3-17.
  11. L.S. Dillon, ‘Neovolcanism: a proposed replacement for the concepts of plate tectonics and continental drift’, in: C.F. Kahle (ed.), Plate Tectonics – Assessments and Reassessments, Memoir 23, Tulsa, OK: American Association of Petroleum Geologists, 1974, pp. 167-239 (p. 222); Zhirov, Atlantis, pp. 154-5.

Lost Pacific islands

  1. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), p. 45.
  2. Lewis Spence, The Problem of Lemuria, Kila, MT: Kessinger, n.d. (1933), p. 143.
  3. The Riddle of the Pacific, p. 52.
  4. Vincent Gaddis, Invisible Horizons, New York: Ace Books, 1965, pp. 25-47.

10. Megalithic Pacific

Fig. 10.1 The Pacific Ocean and its islands.

The settlement of the Pacific is currently thought to have begun some 50,000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers first colonized Australia and New Guinea in the western Pacific, at a time when they were joined by land due to the lower sea level resulting from the ice age. Migration proceeded eastwards, and reached the northern Solomon Islands about 28,000 years ago. The Polynesian islands are believed to have been settled for the first time only within the last 2000 years or so, because the Polynesians took a long time to develop the navigational expertise enabling them to sail far offshore. However, dates for the settlement of the various Pacific islands are very tentative since they are based mainly on the oldest radiocarbon dates so far obtained; future excavations and discoveries may indicate that human habitation goes back countless millennia earlier.

The history of even the past few thousand years is as yet poorly known. For instance, despite persistent denials by many orthodox archaeologists, there is growing evidence for transatlantic and transpacific contacts between a variety of ancient cultures, including the Egyptians, Libyans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Hindus, Dravidians, Chinese, Mayans and Incas.1 Some ancient maps provide tantalizing but controversial evidence that the earth had been mapped over 10,000 years ago, during the last ice age.2 There may have been several waves of migration into the Pacific from different directions, and over a timespan far vaster than mainstream archaeologists are willing to contemplate.

The origin of the Polynesians is still controversial. The prevailing theory in the late 1800s and early 1900s was that the Polynesians were an Indo-European group who came to the Pacific via India; this was partly based on linguistic evidence. Nowadays the Polynesians are generally believed to have originated in East Asia or Melanesia. Genetic studies are said to show that about 94% of Polynesian mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) are of East Asian origin and 6% of Melanesian origin; about 34% of Polynesian Y chromosomes are of East Asian origin and 66% are of Melanesian origin; and about 79% of the Polynesian autosomal gene pool is of East Asian origin and 21% is of Melanesian origin. These data suggest a dual origin of Polynesians with a high East Asian but also considerable Melanesian component.3 The dominant theory is that the ancestors of the Polynesians originated in China/Taiwan and migrated south to the Philippines some 6000 years ago. But some researchers argue that genetic data as a whole favour an origin in island Southeast Asia approximately 10,000 years earlier, at a time when lower sea levels meant that Indo-China, Malaysia and Indonesia were joined by land, forming a huge peninsula known as Sundaland.4

More controversially, there are various genetic and cultural similarities between the Polynesians and the Tlingit, Kwakuitl and Haida Indians of Alaska and Canada – something not readily explained by any mainstream theories.5 And in addition to the link between Polynesian and Sanskrit, a strong Libyan influence on the early Polynesians’ alphabet and language has been identified; Libyan sailors were employed on Egyptian ships, which travelled to the Indo-Pacific region for trading and mining purposes.6

Graeme Kearsley says that the Polynesians

are in many respects closely allied to Caucasians and were in many studies considered as such, and this racial heritage is still obvious in many islands in Eastern Polynesia as it was to the first European explorers. These migrations followed the same pattern as land migrations in that the male migrants, or mariners, traded, bought or captured marriage partners from coastal or island peoples thereby producing mixed race descendants. Therefore variable racial inheritance is clearly in evidence throughout the islands of the Pacific …7

Reports by the earliest European visitors contain many references to the variable skin colour of Polynesians on different islands and also on the same island. Some Polynesians appeared to be Indians of the Americas, while others were of ‘Jewish’ type or wore turbans. There were reports of a high proportion of tall, pale-skinned natives, sometimes with reddish hair, often holding positions of high rank. As time went by, there were fewer such sightings; the whites in Tahiti, for example, succumbed more readily to diseases brought by Europeans than the black-haired Polynesians. For many thousands of years there appear to have been trade links, cultural transfers, and migrations from Asia, India, and the Middle East across the Pacific to the Americas, and also contacts from the Americas across the Pacific back to Asia.

The following brief tour of the Pacific focuses on remains of monumental and megalithic architecture. As on Easter Island, some of the structures may be the work of very ancient and as-yet-unknown cultures.


In the mid-1980s a rectangular stone structure, measuring about 250 m long, 100 m wide, and 25 m high, was discovered off the small Japanese island of Yonaguni. It now lies in depths of up to 30 m of water but would have been exposed about 10,000 years, when the sea level was much lower, at which time it would have stood on the tropic of Cancer. The structure includes wide terraces, large steps, ramps and trenches, and two megalithic blocks 6 m high, about 2.5 m wide, and 4.9 m thick. Some of the stones show tool marks, and it seems likely that the structure is a natural geological formation that has been worked and modified by human hands.1

Fig. 10.2 Submerged structure near Yonaguni.2 (courtesy of Robert Schoch)

Other sunken structures have been found over a distance of 500 km between Yonaguni and Okinawa. They include paved streets and crossroads, huge altar-like formations, grand staircases leading to broad plazas, and processional ways surmounted by pairs of towering features resembling pylons.3

Throughout the Mariana Islands latte stones are found – tall stone columns with a hemispherical capstone, looking like mushrooms. The upright stones usually occur in double rows of 6 to 14 stones. Latte stones range from small crude structures constructed of natural boulders to massive stone columns, square in shape, 4.5 m or more in height, capped with enormous blocks of stone. The island of Tinian has two of the largest standing megaliths. The pillars are 5.5 m in circumference at the base and 4.5 m at the top. They are 3.7 m high and support capitals 1.5 m high and 1.8 m in diameter. Each coral monolith weighs about 30 tons. There were originally 10 pillars arranged in two parallel rows, known as the House of Taga.4

Fig. 10.3 House of Taga, Tinian.

When the Spaniards first arrived in the early 16th century, the lattes were already partly in ruins. The natives (descendants of the ancient Chamorros) disclaimed all knowledge of the builders, and ascribed the stones to the ‘spirits of the before-time people’. Since the natives called them the ‘houses of the old people’ and still build their houses on supports, it is commonly assumed that the lattes once supported wooden houses, though no one has ever seen them used for that purpose. Another view is that the taller lattes once supported the roof of ancient temples, as in the Temple of Luxor at Karnak, Egypt.

The marked differences in the shape, size, and quality of the lattes suggest that they could have been made by different cultures at widely different times. The earliest radiocarbon date from organic material found in the vicinity of the lattes is 900 AD – but this tells us nothing about when they were made. In 1949 two pieces of iron were discovered under the base of one latte pillar. These pieces of iron were not intrusive, and some archaeologists have concluded that at least one latte stone must have been erected after the arrival of the Spaniards – the possibility that earlier cultures on the island may have used iron is ruled out on ideological grounds.5

Pohnpei (or Ponape, also called Ascension) is a volcanic island in the eastern Caroline Islands, and may have been the centre of a vanished empire. In the lagoon on the southeastern coast of Pohnpei lies Nan Madol, the ‘Venice of the Pacific’. It covers more than 18 square kilometres, but the core of the site is about 1.5 km by 0.5 km and contains 92 artificial islands built in the lagoon and surrounded by man-made canals. The islands were made by stacking large undressed hexagonal basalt prisms, most weighing under 10 tons, on the coral reef and filling in the centre of the islet with coral. The buildings are rather crude, but the scale of the work is very impressive. The largest structure, Nan Douwas, oriented to the cardinal directions, consists of two concentric perimeter walls separated by a seawater moat and enclosing a central pyramidal mound. The walls are made from basalt megaliths over 6 m long and reach 7.6 m in height, but could have been far higher originally. The largest stone, a massive basalt cornerstone on the southeast side of Nan Douwas, weighs around 50 tons.

Fig. 10.4 Nan Douwas.6

Between 500 and 750 thousand tonnes of building material were transported from varying distances to the site. Although legend speaks of the prisms being magically floated through the air, the official view is that they were carried on coconut palm rafts. Lost prisms can in fact be seen on the bottom of the lagoons along the route from the quarries, indicating that at least some were transported by this means. Ashes at the bottom of a fire pit on one of the artificial islands were dated to 1000 AD, but this only shows that the city was inhabited at that time – not that the entire city was built then. In any event, traces of an earlier layer of construction have also been detected.

According to legend, two wise and holy men, Olosopa and Olosipa, selected the site of Nan Madol after they climbed a high peak and saw an underwater city below; Nan Madol was built as a ‘mirror image’ of its sunken counterpart. Legend speaks of two sunken cities and of underwater tunnels. The existence of extensive undersea ruins has been confirmed. They include a series of tall pillars standing on flat pedestals, reaching heights of up to 8 m.7

The ancient giant stone city of Insaru on Lelu Island, which lies adjacent to Kosrae (the easternmost of the Carolines), was also made of huge basalt walls and pyramids, with the islands and buildings being intersected by a canal network connected with the ocean. The ruins are very similar to those of Nan Madol but not as extensive. Some of the walls are over 6 m high, and the megalithic basalt blocks weigh up to 50 tons. Whereas Nan Madol has sunk somewhat, Lelu appears to have risen slightly since the canals are almost dry. Where the stones came from is a mystery; legend says the city was built in one night by two magicians.

Fig. 10.5 An 1899 photo of one of the massive walls on Lelu Island.8

On the Palau islands, the westernmost of the Carolines, over 5% of the land surface is terraced, and whole hills have been sculpted to resemble step pyramids. Some of the terraces are 4.5 m or more high and often 9 to 18 m wide. The terraces do not feature at all in local oral traditions, and no one knows who built them. The Bairulchan megalithic site on Babeldaob has two rows of large basalt monoliths, some with facial features carved on them. There are 37 stones in all, some weighing up to 5 tons, and the largest being 3 m tall. Similar monoliths can be found on Vao and Malekula in the Vanuata Islands (New Hebrides).


Fig. 10.6 Left: Stone monoliths on Palau’s Babeldoab Island. It is thought they may once have supported a massive structure.
Right: Part of a broken monolith on Malekula.9


On the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia there are about 400 large tumuli or mounds, ranging from 9 to 50 m in diameter, and 0.6 to 4.6 m in height. The material composing them seems to come from the immediate surroundings: coral debris, earth, and grains of iron oxide. The larger tumuli enclose cement columns of lime and shell matter, suggesting that the tumuli are the product of human activity. Many archaeologists doubt this as the early settlers did not use cement, and they theorize that the mounds were built by huge, now-extinct, flightless birds for incubating their eggs! However the cylinders inside the tumuli are of a very hard, homogeneous lime-mortar, containing bits of shells which have yielded radiocarbon dates of 5120 to 10,950 BC; even the later date is some 3000 years earlier than humans are believed to have reached the southwest Pacific from the Indonesian area.1


The Polynesian triangle stretches from New Zealand in the southwest to Hawaii in the north to Easter Island in the southeast. Nowhere in the Pacific are there as many impressive megalithic remains concentrated in so small an area as on Easter Island. Nevertheless, there are several notable structures on other islands.

The island of Tongatapu in the Tonga Islands has the only megalithic arch in the South Pacific – the trilithon of Ha’amonga. Each of the upright coral pillars is 4.9 m high and weighs about 50 tons. The lintel, which is set into grooves in the upright stones, is 5.8 m long and weighs about 9 tons. One theory is that the trilithon was erected in the 14th century for a king to sit on as he drank an alcoholic beverage known as kava!

Fig. 10.7 The trilithon of Ha’amonga.1

The ceremonial centre of Mu’a (formerly Lapaha), a canal city on Tongatapu, has many megalithic platforms (known as langi). The central area of Mu’a was surrounded by a huge canal or moat. Massive rocks at an ancient port on the lagoon side of Mu’a indicate that huge vessels once docked there. The island has risen about a metre over the last few thousand years and such structures as the wharf and canal/moat are now useless. Langi Tauhala, a pyramidal platform at the old fortress of Tongatapu, is made of massive cut stone blocks. It contains probably the largest structural stone ever used by the Polynesians: measuring 7.4 m long, 2.2 m high, 0.4 m thick, and weighing 30 to 40 tonnes, it is notched and fitted into an adjacent block, and forms part of a wall 222 m long.

Fig. 10.8 The largest stone block in Langi Tauhala, Mu’a. The unusual notching can be seen on the far right.2

Fig. 10.9 Other stonework at Lapaha.

On the basis of carbon-dating, Samoa is believed to have been settled by the Lapita people around 1200 BC, at about the same time as Tonga. On Savai’i island is an enormous flat-topped, known as the Pulemelei – the largest surviving mound in Polynesia. Made from natural basalt stones, it measures about 60 by 65 m at the base, and rises in two tiers to a height of about 12 m. At either end is a slightly sunken ramp to the top, together with a pavement, and it is surrounded by numerous other platforms, roads, and stone walls, as would befit a major ceremonial centre. On Upolu is another ceremonial centre consisting of immense earthen mounds, seven of which are truncated, rectangular pyramids. The largest of them surpasses the Pulemelei in size: it is 105.5 by 95.8 m at its base, about 12.2 m high, and appears to be made entirely of earth. The mounds are generally thought to have been used for the former royal amusement of pigeon-snaring, but it seems unlikely that this was their original purpose.


Fig. 10.10 Above: The Pulemelei mound (left and centre) and a star-shaped mound (right) on Savai’i, Samoa.
Below: The upper platform of the Pulemelei mound.3

Malden Island (one of the Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati [pronounced: Kiribas]), now uninhabited, has some 40 stepped pyramidal platform-temples, 3 to 9 m high, 6 to 18 m wide, and 27 to 60 m long, with traces of paved roads leading down to the sea.4

On Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, piercing the ears and extending the earlobes were old customs, as was the case on Easter Island, in ancient India, and in Peru. The Rarotonga dialect is close to the Rapanui language. The island has a megalithic road that once encircled the entire island, as well as several pyramidal platforms. Some sections of the road were paved with perfectly fitting slabs, but most of it has now been paved over with asphalt. The kerbing is composed of neatly fitted blocks of prismatic basalt laid closely together. It is better constructed than the roads on Malden Island, and similar to those found in Peru. Rectangular enclosures associated with ceremonial platforms are set off from road.

Fig. 10.11 Paved road encircling Rarotonga.5

Truncated, pyramidal platforms, or marae, are found throughout the Society Islands, some consisting of megalithic stones, carefully shaped and fitted. The largest of all the Polynesian stone structures was Marae Mahaiatea on Tahiti. In overall appearance it was a stepped pyramid with a broad flat top. It measured 21.6 by 81.4 m at the base, and rose in 11 steps to a height of over 13 m. The courses were made of coral blocks, faced with squared volcanic stones. It is said to have been completed shortly before Captain Cook’s visit in 1769, but was demolished after 1897.

Fig. 10.12 A 1799 etching of Marae Mahaiatea.6

Fig. 10.13 The largest tiki found in Polynesia. It stands 2.75 m (9 ft) tall, and consists of 2 tons of basalt. It was carved on Raivavae (one of the Austral Islands), the religious centre of Polynesia, but now stands at Tahiti’s Gauguin Museum. Claims that the moai statues of Easter Island are a development of the Polynesian tiki are unconvincing.

Fig. 10.14 On the remote island of Rapa – also known as Rapa Iti (Little Rapa) to distinguish it from Rapa Nui (Big Rapa, i.e. Easter Island) – the hills are carved with overgrown terraces and mysterious pyramids; it is not known who made them.7

Marae Taputapuatea on Raiatea (the largest of the Leeward Islands) is 43 m long, 7.3 m wide, and up to 3.7 m high. It is thought to have been erected in the early part of the 2nd millennium AD, but was built over an older platform. It is one of the largest and best preserved platforms in Polynesia, and one of its most sacred sites. Like those of Raiatea, the marae on Huahine and Bora Bora are constructed of large coral slabs, whereas comparable structures on Tahiti and Moorea are made of round basalt stones.

Fig. 10.15 Coral slabs in Marae Taputapuatea.

Fig. 10.16 Coral slabs in Marae Tainuu, Raiatea.

Throughout the Marquesas Islands the remains of great stone platforms, walled house sites, and terraces, most of them overgrown with jungle vegetation, provide silent testimony of a vanished culture. The largest archaeological site in Polynesia is found on Hiva Oa, and occupies the whole of the Taaoa Valley. This partially restored site has over 1000 paepae (platforms on which houses were built), a large tohua (public ceremonial centre), and several me’ae (sacred platforms taboo to the public). Some of the platforms are 120 m long and 30 m wide, and contain cyclopean basalt blocks weighing over 10 tons. However, no carefully cut stonework comparable to Ahu Vinapu on Easter Island has been found.

Fig. 10.17 Platform in the Taaoa Valley.

Fig. 10.18 On the massive Te I’ipona me’ae at Puama’u on Hiva Oa stand
five huge stone tiki, the largest being 2.43 m tall.

One of the most impressive archaeological sites is the unrestored ancient ceremonial centre in the Taipivai Valley on Nuku Hiva. It includes a massive platform, Vahangeku’a Tohua, built on an artificial terrace on a hillside. Measuring 170 by 25 m, it contains an estimated 6800 cubic metres of earth fill, and was faced by a wall almost 3 m high consisting of enormous basalt blocks, some of them 1.5 m high and just as broad.

Fig. 10.19 Megalithic 3-m-high wall of Vahangeku’a Tohua, Nuku Hiva.

In 1956 archaeologist Robert Suggs carried out excavations at Hikouku’a in the Hatiheu Valley on Nuku Hiva, a sacred site that had long been concealed from western visitors. His crew dug several trenches in the huge platform in the hope of finding datable artifacts. Their finds included a musket used in the American Civil War, a French brandy bottle, and a glass bowl manufactured in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Suggs concluded that the platforms had been constructed since the arrival of the Europeans in the Marquesas.

However, novelist Herman Melville had visited Nuku Hiva in 1842, and described the massive platforms as being of such antiquity that his Marquesan guide said they were ‘coeval with the creation of the world’. Melville’s book on the subject appeared in 1846, 15 years before the American Civil War. Yet Suggs believed the platforms were still being constructed in the mid-1800s! He had fallen into the common error of assuming that the dates of artifacts or burials found in association with megalithic structures are reliable indicators of when the original structure was built.8 The structures could of course be thousands of years older, and could have been renovated, rebuilt, or enlarged several times.

Nowadays the Marquesas Islands have about 8000 inhabitants. The population is thought to have peaked at about 100,000 a few centuries ago, but was decimated following the arrival of the Europeans at the end of the 16th century. The Marquesas are frequently assumed to have been settled by people of western Polynesian origin, probably from Tonga or Samoa, around 300 AD, but Suggs argues that they were settled much earlier, around 300-500 BC. The islands are widely believed to have been one of the main points from which Polynesians spread throughout the Pacific; the Marquesan language is closely related to the languages of Hawaii, Mangareva, and Easter Island.

A minority view is that the Marquesas were populated from Mexico or Peru, but opponents point out that no South American pottery or tools have ever been found in Polynesia. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the Marquesas, as one of the most easterly parts of Polynesia, played a key role in two-way contacts between Asia and the Americas. There are many cultural parallels between the Marquesas and the cultures of Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.

For instance, ear elongation was practised in the Marquesas, as it was in Peru. The Marquesans also practised skull elongation, a custom found in Peru and also among the Flathead Indians of Montana. Bug-eyed statues similar to those found on the Marquesas are found in Bolivia and Peru, especially at Tiahuanaco and Chavin, and they have also been compared to Chinese Bronze Age statues. The ancient sacred centre of Nuku Hiva was probably the Taipivai Valley, which lies next to the sacred mountain of Taipi. Interestingly, the sacred centre at Tiwanaku bears a similar name: Taypi. Near the temple platforms on Nuku Hiva, and on certain other Polynesian islands, sacred banyans were grown; banyans can also be seen growing from stone platforms in India.9

World grid

Many ancient cultures were familiar with the important astronomical cycle known as the precession of the equinoxes.1 Due to a very slow gyration of the earth’s axis, the spring equinox occurs about 20 minutes earlier every year, and the rising sun moves slowly against the backdrop of the zodiacal constellations from one equinox to the next, at an average rate of 1/72 degree per year. It therefore moves 1° in 72 years, 30° (one constellation of the zodiac) in 2160 years, and takes 25,920 years to make a complete circuit of the zodiac.2 Numbers such as 54, 72, 108, 144, and 180 (all multiples of 18) are known as precessional numbers, and were assigned special significance in ancient societies.

As Graham Hancock has pointed out, if we take the meridian of Giza-Heliopolis in Egypt as the zero-meridian for measuring longitude, we find that the great temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia lies 72° east of the Giza meridian, the ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei lie 54° east of Angkor, and astronomically aligned megalithic structures on the islands of Kiribati and Tahiti, lie respectively 72° and 108° east of Angkor.

The next significant precessional number is 144. When we look 144° of longitude east of Angkor (which is also 144° west of Giza), we find only one island in the vicinity: Easter Island, which lies just over 3° (barely 320 km) to the east of the exact location. Hancock suggests that Easter Island might originally have been settled ‘to serve as a sort of geodetic beacon, or marker – fulfilling some as yet unguessed at function in an ancient global system of sky-ground coordinates that linked many so-called “world navels” ’.

The next significant precessional number is 180. Hancock writes:

Exactly 180 degrees east of Angkor (and 108 degrees west of Giza), and almost exactly as far south of the equator (13 degrees 48 minutes) as Angkor is north of it (13 degrees 26 minutes), a colossal and unmistakable beacon does exist. It is the outline of a trident, or candelabra, 250 metres high, carved into the red cliffs of the Bay of Paracas on the coast of Peru and it is visible from far out to sea.
It seems to point inland, towards the plains of Nazca to the south and the Andes mountains to the east.3

Fig. 10.20 Candelabra, Bay of Paracas.4


  1. See Robert M. Schoch, Voyages of the Pyramid Builders: The true origins of the pyramids from lost Egypt to ancient America, New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 2003; Graeme R. Kearsley, Inca Origins: Asian influences in early South America in myth, migration and history, London: Yelsraek Publishing, 2003; David Hatcher Childress, Ancient Tonga & the Lost City of Mu’a, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996, pp. 76-9.
  2. Charles Hapgood, Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996 (1966); Graham Hancock, Underworld: The mysterious origins of civilization, New York: Three Rivers Press, 2002, pp. 453-548, 626-74. For a critical assessment, see: Sean Mewhinney, ‘Minds in ablation part 5: charting imaginary worlds’, http://www.pibburns.com/smmia5.htm.
  3. M. Kayser et al., ‘Genome-wide analysis indicates more Asian than Melanesian ancestry of Polynesians’, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 82, 2008, pp. 194-8 (www.sciencedirect.com).
  4. Stephen Oppenheimer and Martin Richards, ‘Fast trains, slow boats, and the ancestry of the Polynesian islanders’, Science Progress, vol. 84, 2001, pp. 157-81, http://class.csueastbay.edu/anthropologymuseum/2006IA/DNA_PDFS/mtDNA/Oppenheimer2001.pdf; Stephen Oppenheimer, Eden in the East: The drowned continent of southeast Asia, London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1998.
  5. Peter Marsh, Polynesian Pathways, 2002-08, http://www.polynesian-prehistory.com.
  6. Barry Fell, America B.C.: Ancient settlers in the New World, New York: Pocket Books, 1989, p. 180; Ancient Tonga, pp. 67-9
  7. Inca Origins, p. 8.


  1. Hancock, Underworld, pp. 596-625, http://www.grahamhancock.com; http://www.morien-institute.org/yonaguni.html.
  2. http://www.robertschoch.com; http://www.morien-institute.org/yonaguni_schoch1.html.
  3. Frank Joseph, ‘Japan’s underwater ruins’, http://www.atlantisrising.com/issue13/ar13japanunder.html.
  4. David Hatcher Childress, Ancient Micronesia & the Lost City of Nan Madol, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1998, p. 139.
  5. William R. Corliss (comp.), Ancient Infrastructure: Remarkable roads, mines, walls, mounds, stone circles, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1999, pp. 293-6.
  6. http://www.pbase.com/bolla49/image/56002204.
  7. Graham Hancock and Santha Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror: Quest for the lost civilization, London: Michael Joseph, 1998, pp. 202-3, 206-7; Ancient Micronesia, pp. 43-51.
  8. Ancient Micronesia, p. 85.
  9. http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/places/images/ga/palau_pillars.jpg; Ancient Micronesia, p. 110.


  1. William R. Corliss (comp.), Science Frontiers: Some anomalies and curiosities of nature, Glen Arm, MD: Sourcebook Project, 1994, pp. 19-20.


  1. http://www.sydhav.no/Tonga/haamonga.htm.
  2. Childress, Ancient Tonga, pp. 160/1.
  3. Corliss, Ancient Infrastructure, p. 267; http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/23b06b.
  4. David Hatcher Childress, Lost Cities of Ancient Lemuria & the Pacific, Stelle, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1988, pp. 205-7.
  5. John Macmillan Brown, The Riddle of the Pacific, Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited, 1996 (1924), p. 44/5.
  6. http://sorrel.humboldt.edu/~rwj1/POLY/poly008s.html.
  7. Thor Heyerdahl, Aku-Aku: The secret of Easter Island, London: George Allen & Unwin, 1958, pp. 288/9.
  8. Ancient Tonga, pp. 79-81.
  9. Kearsley, Inca Origins, pp. 480-1, 645, 647-8, 713, 734.

World grid

  1. Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend, Hamlet’s Mill: An essay on myth and the frame of time, Boston, MA: Godine, 1977.
  2. See ‘Poleshifts: theosophy and science contrasted’, part 1, http://davidpratt.info/pole1.htm.
  3. Hancock and Faiia, Heaven’s Mirror, p. 254.
  4. http://www.yannarthusbertrand.com/us/dayphoto/full/p089.htm.

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