Return to Easter Island:
Properly I understand it is called Rapa Nui.  Usually I resist change of things like names.  It seems degrading to people to deny them a name and if they already have a name then changing it somehow makes them seem less like old friends.  But in this case, I do take the point that Easter Island was named that because it was “discovered” on one Easter Day.  But of course since there were already people there, it wasn’t discovered at all at that point.  The natives presumably noticed that they were somewhere.  On the other hand I can pronounce Easter like an educated native born speaker of English.  I have no idea how to pronounce Rapa Nui.  If I tried it would probably set the teeth on edge of anybody who spoke the relevant dialect of the relevant language.  So Easter Island it is. 

I have mentioned Easter Island before and described their impressive accomplishment of surviving as a complex society capable of creating enormous statues and yet surviving twice as long as the usual maximum for a society larger than a village.  I had speculated that the statues represented families.  I said this on the basis of the fact that the only opinion I had heard was that of Thor Heyerdahl who said he was told it by the native.  If the statues represented families, then perhaps they had subdivided the population sufficiently to survive that long. 

There is now a contrary opinion.  According to Sacred Roads (SCIENCE vol. 328 no. 5981 May 21, 2010 page 957)  Sue Hamilton of University College London and Colin Richards of the University of Manchester in the UK, the statues or moai are arranged in a deliberate order.  They seem to lie along roads that lead to the volcano where the quarry is that the stone came from.  And as you approach the volcano the statues or at least platforms for them, become more frequent.  They interpret this to mean the volcano was a sacred site and thus the statues were laid out as a unified plan implying a united society.

I suppose it would be churlish to suggest that the statues tend to be along roads and close to the quarry because that would be the easiest place to put them up.  Still in all, this is a conflicting interpretation.

Of course the two theories are not in absolute conflict.  They could still represent families.  But as with anything new information invites new interpretation.

There have been 4,052 visitors so far.

Home page.