The mysterious Rongorongo writing of Easter Island

The mysterious Rongorongo writing of Easter Island

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During the 19 th Century, ancient artifacts containing a set of etched symbols were discovered on the world-renowned Easter Island, a small remote island located a few thousand miles west of South America, and famous for the hundreds of giant monolithic anthropomorphic statues called moai. The intricate designs appear to be glyphs, or a form of writing, but the meaning of the glyphs has never been deciphered. Some believe that decoding the mysterious writing could offer answers into what caused the collapse of the ancient Easter Island civilization.

The famous moai of Easter Island

The famous moai of Easter Island (BigStockPhoto)

The Rongorongo writing was first discovered by Eugène Eyraud, a lay friar of the Roman Catholic Church, who went to Easter Island as a missionary on January 2, 1864. In an account of his visit, he wrote of his discovery of twenty-six wooden tablets containing the unusual inscriptions:

“In every hut one finds wooden tablets or sticks covered in several sorts of hieroglyphic characters: They are depictions of animals unknown on the island, which the natives draw with sharp stones. Each figure has its own name; but the scant attention they pay to these tablets leads me to think that these characters, remnants of some primitive writing, are now for them a habitual practice which they keep without seeking its meaning.”

A mid-section of the Santiago Staff with Rongorongo script

A mid-section of the Santiago Staff with Rongorongo script. ( Wikipedia)

The name Rongorongo comes from the Rapa Nui language, which is the native language of Easter Island, and means "to recite, to declaim, to chant out.” The irregularly shaped wooden tablets were weathered, burned, or otherwise damaged when they were found. The glyphs were also found on a chieftain's staff, a bird-man statuette, and two reimiro ornaments. The glyphs are written in-between lines that run across the tablets. Some tablets are “fluted” with the inscriptions falling within the channels created by the fluting.  The Rongorongo images are shaped like humans, animals, plants, and geometric forms. Every symbol that contains a head is oriented with the head facing up, and either facing forward, or profiling to the right. Each symbol is approximately 1 centimeter high. The orientation of the writing is read from left to right, bottom to top. This is known as reverse boustrophedon. According to oral tradition, the tools used to make the carvings were obsidian flakes or small shark teeth.

The Rongorongo characters

The Rongorongo characters were typically written between lines that run across the tablet. ( Wikipedia)

The age of the tablets is unknown, as very little direct dating has been done, but they are believed to have originated around the 13 th Century, around the same time as forest clearing.  However, this is merely speculative as the inhabitants of Easter Island may have felled a small number of trees for the specific purpose of creating the wooden tablets.  One glyph appears to resemble a palm tree, and is thought to be the Easter Island palm, which disappeared from the island’s pollen record in 1650, suggesting the script must be at least that old.

Side a of Rongorongo Tablet

Side a of Rongorongo Tablet, the Stephen-Chauvet fragment. ( Wikipedia)

Deciphering the glyphs has proven difficult. Assuming that Rongorongo is writing, there are three barriers that make it difficult to decipher: the limited number of texts, the lack of illustrations and other contexts with which to understand them, and poor attestation of the Old Rapanui language, which is likely to be the language reflected in the tablets. Some believe that the Rongorongo is not true writing, but proto-writing, which is a set of symbols that convey information without containing any truly linguistic content. According to the Atlas of Language, the Rongorongo “was probably used as a memory aid or for decorative purposes, not for recording the Rapanui language of the islanders.”

While it remains unclear exactly what the Rongorongo is intended to convey, the discovery and inspection of the tablets remain an important key to understanding the past civilizations of Easter Island. The intricately inscribed, neatly lined images indicate that the ancient island civilization had a message to convey, whether it was a casual display for decorative purposes, or to pass messages and stories forward from generation to generation. Perhaps deciphering the codes will someday lead to answers about the collapse of the island civilization, but for now, the tablets remain a mysterious symbol from the past.

Featured image: Rongorongo Tablet. Replica at the Englert Museum. ( Flickr)

Sources:

Rongorongo – Wikipedia. Available from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rongorongo

Rongorongo – Omniglot. Available from: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/rongorongo.htm

10 of the World’s Biggest Unsolved Mysteries – Mother Nature Network. Available from: http://www.mnn.com/lifestyle/arts-culture/photos/10-of-the-worlds-biggest-unsolved-mysteries/rongorongo

Comments

It's upside down needs to be turned 180 deg.

I am an amateur and a member of a team who have been working on the Indus script for almost 30 years. We are using a homemade tool to study the Indus signs, we do not use the computer except for power-point presentation. We have studied the 'fish; sign in the Indus script and found that it does not represent the fish, but represents WOMEN of various social status in the Indus script. The similarity between the two is striking. After reading TV Mcdowell's comments I was shocked at his observation that who ever had written the rongorongo script were in dire mortal distress and according to me were going to be killed. This is amazing! Our observation of the Indus script hardly expresses violence and the signs inscribed appears to be those of a homely people involved in productivity and a peaceful way of life. It is not impossible that the Indus people when they were at the height of their achievements were attacked by unknown races who destroyed the Indus civilization and annihilated it. Those who escaped recorded the ghastly events and left it for posterity unaware that no one would be able to read it. T V Mcdowell could be right in his observation that the impression of impending doom and domination by unknown people is portrayed by the rongorongo script. The texts of the Indus script hardly portray any kind of violence. The Sumerians who were referred to as the 'black -headed ones' or the 'watchers' or people from a faraway land in the east or 'heaven' or the 'nephilims' were undoubtedly the migrants from the Indus valley after it was destroyed. A small group escaped southward and finally reached the Easter Island.This may be the truth. Thank you T V Mcdowell for your excellent view.

I am an amateur and a member of a team who have been working on the Indus script for almost 30 years. We are using a homemade tool to study the Indus signs, we do not use the computer except for power-point presentation. We have studied the 'fish; sign in the Indus script and found that it does not represent the fish, but represents WOMEN of various social status in the Indus script. The similarity between the two is striking. After reading TV Mcdowell's comments I was shocked at his observation that who ever had written the rongorongo script were in dire mortal distress and according to me were going to be killed. This is amazing! Our observation of the Indus script hardly expresses violence and the signs inscribed appears to be those of a homely people involved in productivity and a peaceful way of life. It is not impossible that the Indus people when they were at the height of their achievements were attacked by unknown races who destroyed the Indus civilization and annihilated it. Those who escaped recorded the ghastly events and left it for posterity unaware that no one would be able to read it. T V Mcdowell could be right in his observation that the impression of impending doom and domination by unknown people is portrayed by the rongorongo script. The texts of the Indus script hardly portray any kind of violence. The Sumerians who were referred to as the 'black -headed ones' or the 'watchers' or people from a faraway land in the east or 'heaven' or the 'nephilims' were undoubtedly the migrants from the Indus valley after it was destroyed. A small group escaped southward and finally reached the Easter Island.This may be the truth. Thank you T V Mcdowell for your excellent view.

Hello,

I am Nathan Burgess, discoverer of what feasibly may be Aztlan.

It is below the Arizona / New Mexico Border with Mexico.

It has unusual cities, unknown until now. It has over 1000' megalithic designed structures.

It is scattered over a 1000 square miles.

It has world class structures and megaliths never before known to the world.

If interested, I could use help....

Nathan Burgess
972-971-8361

reference: Side a of Rongorongo Tablet, the Stephen-Chauvet fragment. ( Wikipedia)

This image is upside down.

Turn it 180 degrees, then you will see a one man dominating another by forcing him into a kneeling position, a kneeling and screaming man with his mouth opened extremely wide yelling up at the heavens. There are also fish and what appears to be either a turtle or a man on what looks like a surfboard or dugout canoe. There are 2 distressed people. It appears a famine is being recorded here for future generations.

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