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The Cataclysm of Easter Island - Stones Walking

The Cataclysm of Easter Island - Stones Walking (Part 4)

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The theory that the statues had been moved to their places by the use of wooden rollers or sleds has some problems: one was that the island is so rocky, it would have been impossible to roll any logs across it, with or without statues on them.

Jean-Michel Schwartz says in his 1975 book The Mysteries of Easter Island that he believes the statues were not moved by wooden rollers or sleds but rather by using ropes around the statues which “walked” the statues in the same way as one might walk a refrigerator; by tilting it first to one side, shifting the airborne portion forward, and setting it down again. By this method, the statues would truly walk in a waddle fashion around the island.

Later, a Czech mechanical engineer named Pavel recreated this method along with Thor Heyerdahl. With twenty other men, they tied ropes around a statue and leaned it from side to side while pulling it forward with the rope, a slight variation on Schwartz’s method. The method worked, but was excruciatingly slow. It is an ingenious theory which takes into account the legends of the walking statues, but was it the actual method used?

Recently, National Geographic featured the “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory as a major story in their July 2012 issue. The article, with the headline: “Easter Island, The Riddle of the Moving Statues” mentioned the various mundane theories, although they omit any reference to Schwartz, who first wrote about his theory in French in 1971, with his book was published in English by Avon Paperbacks in 1975.

National Geographic gives the following timeline of “theories” on how the statues were moved: 1) Thor Heyerdahl and crew move a statue on a crude wooden sled pulled by a rope (1955); 2) the William Mulloy theory of rocking a statue forward on its belly in a basic cradle and frame above it with ropes (1970); 3) Pavel’s standing up with rope twist and turn theory (1986); 4) the theory of Charles Love of wooden rollers and sled (1987); 5) Jo Anne Van Tilburg’s sled pulled over a wooden ladder matrix (1998); and finally to 6) the 2011 demonstration by Terry Hunt and Carl Lippo of a newer version of the “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory which incorporates their unique “D-shaped” patterns that the tall moai made as they walked it with ropes.

The team of 18 moved a ten-foot-high statue weighing about five tons, several hundred yards during their test of their method in 2011. Hunt and Lippo theorized that only three teams of rope managers were needed to move the statues: two up front to twist and manipulate the statues from side to side in the “D-shape” and one group in the back to keep the statue stable. The National Geographic issue featured a team of islanders maneuvering a statue in this manner.

Essentially, we can put modern archeologists’ explanations of the moving of the statues into two categories: 1) moving the statues on their backs or stomachs on sleds or 2) moving them while they are standing up like a refrigerator. All the proposals are clearly based on these two schools of thought and Thor Heyerdahl is a leader in both, having jumped ship to the Schwartz-Pavel theory in the early 1980s.

But clearly, all the early investigators, when confronted with the problem of moving 5 ton statues all over the island (not just a few hundred yards), saw that moving them on some sort of sled on their backs and bellies would have been the easiest way to do it when you consider the crude (and otherwise) methods that we would suppose they had to use. So, dragging them downhill and across fields on a slick rainy day on sleds seemed like something that could have been achieved on a good day with a bunch of geniuses in control and lots of manpower to put energy into the project. The island is very rocky so roads and cleared pathways would have to be made.

But, this theory didn’t really jive with what the Rapa Nui folk were saying about their history. They were saying that the “statues walked.” They weren’t saying the statues slid into place and then got stood up… they were saying that they walked. It is worth noting that mainstream archeologists are saying that this was only a few hundred years before the contact so memory should be fresh in their minds, historically speaking.

So, “walk-like-a-refrigerator” theory is really the theory to go for, and it explains the walking part. Also, the Mulloy theory of rocking the statues did not work for the taller statues which were very tall and thin. Such 30-foot-tall statues being walked slowly around the island with ropes is certainly possible, but it would be slow going. It would be faster to drag them on sleds. Evidence indicates that they were completely finished, with all decorations, including ankh-like designs on their backs, before they left the quarry to go “walking.”

So, the questions that naturally come up when the moon is rising and the snow is falling off the pine trees: Why are these people even trying to move gigantic statues that weigh at least five tons and are more typically 20 to 40 tons? We they superb engineers and architects that after building all sorts of other moments (maybe on other islands?) that they just thought they would carve up a volcanic crater into hundreds of giant statues—and then move about a third of them around the island to “protect” it from some further cataclysms that had already devastated the island earlier?

Our group stood on a trail on a slope of the volcano with a dozen moai stood twenty feet tall around us, buried up to their waists or chests. One moai that Heyerdahl excavated in 1956 has a masted ship on its stomach. Heyerdahl believed that this was an ancient sailing ship used by explorers who came from Peru. Others say that the ship is an early carving of a European ship that visited the island. The only problem with this explanation is that the carving was only discovered after Heyerdahl had dug the soil around it away. It seems likely that the several feet of soil that had amassed over the drawing would have taken hundreds of years to accumulate.

The statues seem originally to have been standing on the slope just as they are found today and were typically forty to fifty feet tall. Indeed, some stood as tall as a seven-story building, and the largest, still in the quarry, was more than seventy feet tall. Therefore, it would seem that the carving of the ship on the belly of one of the statues would be far older than the discovery of the island in 1722. The statue itself must be centuries older than that.

I was immediately struck by the fact that the crater and the statues around it were quite different from the moais and ruins around the rest of the island. While the moais that were erected on platforms around the edge of the island were put there to protect the island, the purpose of these statues around the crater was something else. Many researchers believe that these statues around the crater were just waiting to be moved out, to “walk” as it were, to their ahu-platform somewhere on the island. Looking around, I thought not.

Something else that immediately came to my attention as I wondered at the gigantic statues around me were the large lichen spots on all of the statues. Lichen eats living rock and grows very slowly—fractions of an inch over hundreds of years. Ages of rocks are sometimes estimated by how large the lichen patches on them are. A large lichen patch would suggest that these statues were thousands of years old. In an effort to check this out, I measured lichen patches on uncut rock. They were only slightly larger than those on the statues themselves.

While at Orongo I scanned the cliffs to the south along Rano Kau for the elusive ahu and statues of Rikiriki (“very small, very little” in Rapa Nuian). In 1889, William Judah Thomson visited Easter Island for the Smithsonian Institution and wrote in the paper published by them in 1891 called Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island that Ahu Rikiriki was a statue at the extreme southwest end of the island which was placed midway between the sea and the top—on the face of a perpendicular cliff nearly 1000 feet high. Thompson states that 16 small statues are lying on this platform and seem to be in excellent condition. “We could find no way of reaching the narrow ledge upon which this platform stands. No roads lead down from the top; it cannot be approached from either side, and from below it is a straight up and down wall against which the sea dashes continually. It is hardly probable that the images were lowered from the top by ropes, and the natural conclusion is, that a roadway once existed…”

That statues had “walked” or even rolled to such a position seems incredible. Yet, more mysteriously, no trace of this platform or the statues has been found since, although the British traveler Katherine Routledge reported in 1919 that the statues were now lying at the floor of the cliff, presumably in the water. However, many researchers now question whether this remarkable ahu ever existed.

Part 5 - The Megalithic Wall of Vinapu

Part 6: The Museum in Hanga Roa

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

By David Hatcher Childress

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David Hatcher

David Hatcher Childress, known as the real-life Indiana Jones to the many fans of his books, is a captivating speaker and the author or coauthor of over 20 books. He has traveled the world several times over, seeking adventure... Read More

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