Did Aliens Build the Statues on Easter Island?
A Tiny Land About Which Science and Speculation Abound
Nearly everyone has seen the Easter Island moai, those mysterious megalithic statues—hundreds of them, which resemble haughty, inscrutable men, gazing down upon everybody and everything. Who would build such curious likenesses? Why couldn’t they have erected pyramids like everyone else?
Keep in mind, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited places on earth, about 2,000 miles from the nearest populated area. Yet, living in isolation for more than a thousand years, the island’s ancient inhabitants created a culture about which many bizarre notions have been theorized.
But what do we really know for certain about the ancient people of Easter Island and their enigmatic statues? Keep reading and you'll find out!
Polynesians May Have Been the First to Inhabit Easter Island
Most scientific evidence seems to indicate that seafaring Polynesians came to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, about A.D. 400 and began the civilization that produced those marvelous enigmatic statues weighing an average of 14 tons each. However, nobody knows what the statues are supposed to be. Perhaps they represent ancestors, powerful kings or priests, God or gods. We may never know for certain.
But many people have proposed alternative theories for the existence of the people of Easter Island and their strange statues.
Alternative Theories About This Mysterious Island
In books such as Gods from Outer Space, author Eric Von Daniken theorizes that extraterrestrials, marooned on Easter Island, used lasers or whatever to build the statues, presumably to amuse themselves or perhaps to show the native inhabitants how to impress future generations such as ourselves. Then a space ship shows up and takes the ETs back to Alpha Centauri (or wherever). Feeling confident, the native inhabitants try to produce the statues on their own, without lasers or whatever, but can’t repeat the performance, leaving many statues uncompleted. This theory seems plausible in a way, because many statues were started but never completed and erected, including the largest one, which weighs 270 tons!
Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl of Kon-Tiki fame posited that an advanced Caucasian race from Chile, originating from somewhere in the Middle East (one of the Lost Tribes of Israel?), ventured to Easter Island thousands of years ago and built the statues. They lived off the agricultural bounty of the fertile volcanic soil, enjoyed the shade of the ample palm forest and gathered the teeming sea life in the surrounding ocean. To many, the island probably seemed an idyllic place. Incidentally, Heyerdahl thought the cultures of the South Pacific were founded by peoples from South America, not the other way around, as most scientists now believe.
Researchers such as Graham Hancock, author of the impressive tome, Fingerprints of the Gods, hypothesize that Easter Island is the top of a much larger island that became, toward the end of the glacial period some 10,000 years ago, a kind of geodetic beacon to other “world navels.” In fact, Hancock thinks a mythical lost ancient race built or helped build virtually all of the world’s impressive monuments of antiquity. (What, the Egyptians don’t get credit for building the Pyramids?) Others think that Easter Island is a remnant of the Lost Continent of Mu, most of which sank in some long-ago cataclysm.
Anybody can have a theory, right?
But scientific research and investigation shows that Polynesians built the island's statues by carving them in the local volcanic rock. Carving them was one thing, but discovering how they were moved into place has also been a perplexing question. An article entitled “Engineers of Easter Island," published in the November/December 1999 issue of Archaeology, shows that the statues could have been transported and put in place using techniques the Polynesians perfected when constructing and moving boats while venturing from island to island for thousands of years, perhaps a long ago as 5500 B.C.E. (The Polynesians are also credited with building Nan Madol on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia, another megalithic site perhaps as mind-boggling as Easter Island.)
Then what happened on Easter Island becomes a rather muddy affair, because the inhabitants suddenly—or so it appears—stopped building the statues in the late 1600s or so. Also, at some point, the island’s forests disappeared and its population greatly declined.
What Could Have Happened to the Inhabitants of Easter Island?
In the book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, author Jared Diamond postulates that about 1400 the island’s civilization experienced a rapid decline because of an ecological imbalance brought about by deforestation, soil erosion and overpopulation. Diamond also thinks there was a civil war about 1680, which may have led to the toppling of many of the moai and perhaps even calamities such as cannibalism.
Diamond thinks these catastrophes led to a drop of perhaps one-tenth of Easter Island’s largest population. The culture essentially self-destructed, he asserts. Diamond coined the term “ecocide” to describe this condition, which has happened to many civilizations throughout history, particularly that of the Maya, who abandoned many of their cities because they had simply taken too much from the land. Of course, the smaller the land area, the easier it would be to cause an ecological imbalance or collapse. Easter Island covers only about 64 square miles.
But many researchers believe the decline of civilization on Easter Island didn’t occur until after the Europeans arrived in 1722. Eventually slavers and whalers came and took away many of the island’s inhabitants. Newly introduced diseases such as smallpox took their toll on the inhabitants as well. Regarding the state of deforestation that existed at the time, there is some controversy. Some arrivals reported that there were trees still standing, while others claimed there were few if any.
However, there is no proof that the island’s ecosystem collapsed before or after European contact. When Christian missionaries came to the island in the middle 1800s, the remaining inhabitants were queried about the island’s history, but their responses were inconclusive. Hopefully further excavations and research will yield the answer.
How Rats Wreaked Havoc on the Island
Nevertheless, there’s little doubt what caused some of the island’s woes: rats. On an installment of the Discovery Channel’s program Wild Pacific, it was pointed out that a plague of rats, perhaps the most potentially invasive of all animal species, ate the seeds of the island’s palm trees, essentially causing their eventual extinction, and the rats also consumed the eggs of the island’s once numerous seabird population. The show didn’t claim when the rats arrived, but they could have come with either the Polynesians or the Europeans. It seems rats will always be with us!
Astonishingly, the South Pacific’s only original written text was found on Easter Island. Basically a language of Eastern Polynesia, this rongorongo as it is called, a kind of pictographic writing similar in a fashion to Egyptian hieroglyphics (don’t you dare make the suggestion!), has been partially deciphered. Written on wooden tablets, this verbiage describes genealogical and cosmological connections, suggesting that these very portable tablets may have been used for ritualistic purposes, perhaps during chants. Maybe in the future more information from these tablets will be derived, enlightening us all.
So, for the foreseeable future at least, Easter Island will remain a hotspot for many pet theories regarding the origin and spread of civilization on earth. Scientists and crackpots alike will continue to make claims, spreading the gospel as they see it, and it will be left for us to decide what is fact or fiction.
Go ahead then, declare that aliens built the statues on Easter Island! As a title, it certainly catches the eye, but the facts will speak for themselves, as they always do.
As for what those curious statues represent, they somewhat resemble Rush Limbaugh, who, in a former life, must have put up those darn things!
© 2009 Kelley Marks