By Saiyed M. Fauzan Ali
Our planet cradles some of the most inexplicable and astonishing places that soundlessly await discovery. Whether they are difficult to land upon or frequented destinations for sightseeing, these enigmatic places intrigue us to the extent that we just want to dig deep into their mystery.
In the South Easter Pacific Ocean towards the southeastern most point of the Polynesian Triangle, an isolated volcanic island emerges out of the sea with huge statues of humanoid heads carved out of stone. These sculptures are called ‘Moai’, a name which was given to them by the Polynesian people. The desolated island known as ‘Rapa Nui’ is at a distance of 2300 miles from the Chile Republic, and the only way to get to Rapa Nui is by means of a Plane. The LATAM airways operate the flights from Chile to Rapa Nui and it takes over 5 hours to reach the Island. Setting foot on the Island, one will witness the gigantic stone statuaries of large anthropoid heads erected across the Island. When you see a ‘Moai’ statue your attention is quickly drawn towards its bizarre oversized head, and this is the point when your curiosity reaches its peak, and your mind gets chock-full of thoughts and questions piquing your interest.
Who build these sculptures? What really happened to the occupants? Is it true that they merely vanished? Or perhaps, there is another clue to this mystery.
According to several archeologists, the huge megaliths called the ‘Moai’ were built somewhere between 1400 and 1650 A.D. by the occupants of Rapa Nui. There are approximately 1000 of these statues that cover the Island and each of the statue’s weight is up to 86 tons and are measured to be approximately 10 m in height. Archeologists have revealed that these statues are built from the tuff (Volcanic Ash) of ‘Rano Raraku’, which is situated on the lower slopes of Terevaka in the Island of Rapa Nui. Although, Rapa Nui is a very small Island that takes up only 63 sq. miles of Land in the Pacific Ocean; nonetheless, the Island has gained a lot of attention from anthropologists, archeologists, and bloggers over the past many years
The mystery of Rapa Nui is not connected to the statues alone but it also links to the peculiar demise of a highly ingenious civilization that once occupied the Island. The strange and untimely demise of such a clever civilization became the center focus of many movies, award-winning books, and scientific studies. Books such as ‘Island at the End of the World’ by Steven Fischer, and movies like ‘Rapa Nui’ directed by Kevin Reynolds attempt to portray the story behind this bizarre Island and its occupants. As scientists, anthropologists and archeologists struggled to unearth the truth behind the inhabitants of Rapa Nui and their anomalous demise, its mystery further deepened, and therefore, this is where our story begins.
Several accounts related to Easter Island have been promulgated, however, the decades-long debate still continues as to what really happened on the Island. Scientists and Anthropologists believe that centuries ago a group of Polynesian people sailed in the sea navigating their wooden outriggers by the stars and ocean swells. Why did they leave their native homeland is a mystery that has not been solved yet. However, they made a small Island covered with hills and palm trees their new home, and they named it Rapa Nui. These people were highly skilled farmers, and they had a vast knowledge of agricultural techniques that can be used to feed a huge population. On this Island which is 2300 miles west of South America, the occupants chiseled away at the volcanic stones and tuff and designed monolithic heads to honor their ancestors. They engineered a technique to move these humongous statues across the Island and placed them on ahu, which are tombs of people they represent. However, soon after their arrival on the Island the population shriveled, and vanished. Jeepers! How can such a resourceful civilization just shrink and disappear? Well, there are a lot of theories linked with the mystery of their disappearance. Nevertheless, the two most popular explanations that oppose each other are ‘ecocide’ and Dr. Hunt’s Discovery.
The former traditional explanation argues that the inventive people began to multiply and broke up into tribes. They started cutting down trees to make room for crops and other resources. Therefore, the palms that the Island so dearly relied upon started to dwindle, and soon there were no trees left on the Island. Moreover, the small Island was incapable to hold such an unconstrained population. Hence, the people damaged their own environment and committed eco-suicide. The land soon became barren and people began to starve. Warfare broke out among the tribes, and shortly they were all gone. In his book ‘Collapse’ Jared Diamond explains the demise of the people of Rapa Nui and uses it as a model to point out what could happen if a population’s hunger is left unrestrained.
However, the latter justification is quite opposite to the ‘ecocide’ theory. Dr. Terry Hunt, a famous anthropologist began his excavation on the Island in the year 2000. His team found human and rat bones, which indicated that there were rats alongside humans on the Island. Some scientists believe that rats could have been the reason for deforestation. However, Hunt felt that this could not have been the only reason for the population’s demise. So they dug deeper until they found some soil which was free from human contact. Hunt was sure that this would tell them the point of first human interaction with the Island. Hence, the samples were sent to the lab for radiocarbon dating, and this is where things became mysterious. Hunt was expecting to receive a date somewhere around 800 A.D. as found by other archeologists, however, the results showed that the people did not arrive at the Island before 1200 A.D.
This clearly indicated that the islanders arrived four centuries later than expected. Perhaps, the deforestation happened immediately after their arrival. Hunt also found a plethora of rat bones on the Island, which indicates that stowaway Rats would have been the culprits alongside humans. The rats started feeding on the Palm seeds and multiplied into millions in just a few years. Soon the Island got infested with rats, eating up all of the seeds resulting into no new regeneration. Moreover, the people cutting down trees and burning them would have furthered the process. Hence, the degeneration of trees led to the demise of both rats and the humans. Hunt says that the European’s arrival to the Island aggravated the situation. They brought along several diseases, such as smallpox and Syphilis. The process of Rapa Nui Islander’s collapse had already begun, and the European’s finished it off. However, there is still one remaining question and that is the issue of the massive warfare. Since it is a fact that the people who arrived on the Island were Polynesian’s who are known to be violent people. Besides, the European described the Rapa Nui carrying spears in their hands, and they had terrible wounds on their bodies. Whatever the reason might have been for their collapse, the Rapa Nui left some huge souvenirs of the time they had spent here on earth.
– Saiyed M. Fauzan Ali is an MBA/M. Phil specialized in Supply Chain Management and the Founder of THS. The author had worked in the past as a research analyst and a Critical Reviewer, and he is a writing enthusiast.