While doing research for my Remote Sensing project I happily stumbled across an entry in the book, Satellite Remote Sensing for Archaeology by Sarah H. Parcak, that I just had to look up. Once I got into it, I knew I had to share, since more than a few have asked about this very topic. Specifically, how the Easter Island Statures were moved. Well researchers Dr. Carl Lipo and Dr. Terry Hunt might have an answer, using Remote Sensing!
First, What are the Easter Island Statues? Officially called the Moai, they are stone monoliths depicting giant human figures with extremely large heads. The stone they are carved from is called Tuff, which is an easily carved, compressed volcanic ash [Radford 2012]. The tuff quarries are located in an extinct volcano called Rano Raraku on the northeastern part of the island [Radford 2012]. Experts, and locals, attribute them to depictions of ancestors and great leaders. Others, attribute them to, yes, Aliens and the like.
Before we get into what they found let’s look over some of the alternative theories out there.
The site called The Hidden Records is kinda typical of the kind of ideas Ancient Alien Theorists get. I like this one, mainly because it’s written by a guy named Wayne, who likes to refer to himself in the first person. This amused the Archy, so the Archy decided to peruse the Wayne’s entry on the Moai.
I’m not going to lie, I skimmed this site. It took a while for the Wayne to get to the point, which was that the Moai are somehow connected to an ancient global cult who worshiped bird-headed spacemen, as shown by the dubious claim that the statues are aligned with the “Sol-Star”. Also, carved onto the bodies are both the symbol ‘O’ and ‘M’ which, other than being two of the most simplest symbols to form, also connect the statures to the global Space-BirdMan cult.
The Wayne did throw a few questions out there, and a couple really caught my attention, manly because they were so easily answered. Not that this will impress the Wayne, he’s sure to point out, he’s never heard a satisfactory explanation for the correlations he sees, but that’s a true believer for you. These questions are pretty common among any conspiracy/true believer I’ve encountered.
“How strange is that just for starters? The first expedition unearthed them and documented the breaking discovery pictographic[sic] evidence, didn’t make it public in a big way at all, then for unknown reasons, buried them again! This is insane! What could have been so shocking for them to have been completely covered up again?”
This comment comes after a ramble about the excavation of the a few of the Moai statues. They were indeed excavated, and they do possess detailed bodies beneath the ground, but this comment shows the Wayne’s lack of understanding of how archaeology works. It also makes several assumptions that are not validated.
Firstly, The Wayne assumes the statues were originality buried. What the Wayne doesn’t seem to understand is that really heavy objects sink over time, especial when they are sat on bare ground. We see this a lot with headstones in cemeteries. The weight of the stone forces itself to sink into the ground over the years, especially in regions where there is rainy weather that softens the ground seasonally.
Secondly, it’s not so shocking that the archaeologists would have reburied the statue, it’s actually a very common practice that helps to preserve a site or object. Nearly everyone does it, especially when we’re looking at things that we are not intending to remove or if a dig takes more than one season. For some reason the Wayne thinks that all archaeologists do is dig things up, rip them from the ground, and then scamper off to a museum. Lots of things get left in-situ for prosperity and because the point was to examine them, not abscond with another culture’s artifacts.
Third, The Wayne assumes, as many alternative theorists do, that there is some great academic conspiracy that every “mainstream” researcher is in on. Therefor the researchers who worked on the Moai dig kept their findings quiet and then tried to hide the evidence because it’s so shocking. The reality is that there is a lot of academic research on the Moai and it’s very accessible to the public. Including the site the Easter Island Statue Project which is a great resource for those with questions about the Island and it’s ancient culture. They have links to their expeditions, excavations, and artifact logs. Dr. Hunt also makes his research accessible to the public via his personnel page.
But the Wayne goes on. This time about how he can’t possibly figure out how two civilizations develop independently of each other.
“By chance having two individual civilisations[sic] on opposite sides of the planet, one located in the middle of an ocean, having the same obsession with massive stone carvings and showing the same symbols, story, style and entity appearance is absolutely mind blowing!”
This is actually called Convergent evolution and applies easily to cultures as well as species. What I don’t understand is why people don’t get that we are all humans and each of us just as capable as the other. So why is it so hard to grasp that two different cultures can come up with the same idea? Especially when they live on the same planet, encounter the same natural forces, look up at the same sky, and share the same biological needs? The Wayne seems to be amazed that multiple cultures could look up at the starry sky at night and come up with constellations completely independent of one another. That idea confuses him, but a global Space-Bird Cult is completely reasonable.
It’s also a very sad statement how intellectually poor The Wayne, and most that think along these lines, think our ancestors were. Apparently our ancestors were so intellectually deficient that they couldn’t possibly figure out how to carve stone, make symbols into words, and have their own cultures without Spaceman helping them out. It’s terrifically insulting to ancient cultures, and vaguely racist. As usual, the Wayne is very white, and well, the Rapa Nui (who are the descendants of the Moai culture) are kinda brown-ish. It’s more of a micro-aggression then full-blown racism, but it’s a common thread in these “ancient people were visited by aliens” theories, and people need to be aware of it.
Anyway, I could spend all day breaking down the Wayne’s arguments, but I think we all get the idea. There are people out there who think the Moai were either built by aliens or for aliens.
So how did these huge Stone statues get from their quarries to where they are now? Well, they walked. According to the History Channel’s excellent mockery of a documentary called Ancient Aliens, when the Spacemen came down and had the statures carved to fit their egos, then they animated the statues so that they would walk to locations the would be found at.
But the History Channel may not be as wrong as they usually are. This time there is a bit of meat to this idea. Hunt and Lipo reproduced the “walking” of the statues by having three teams maneuver the statue using ropes [Boyle 2010]. It’s more fun if you watch this video:
But honestly, that’s not the coolest part for me. The coolest part is that Hunt and Lipo also have used infrared-satellight images to identify the very roads that the statures were probably walked down. These roads have been set upon by the natural processes that occur over time, but that’s whats so damn cool about using remote sensing, you can see the scars left behind by ancient peoples on the landscape!That’s pretty darn cool to me. You should be able to click through the image to get to the full paper. The picture is much nicer in the pdf version.
I was really excited when I saw this little tidbit, and I really wanted to share it with you. The more I learn about remote sensing the more I am stoked about learning to use it to aid in archaeology. Especially since I know this paper was used to help Lipo and Hunt form their “Walking Statue hypothesis which led to the testing of it, which aids in the debunking of sites like The Wayne’s.I want to leave you with one last quote from the Cosmic Log article because this really drives home the damage that racism of the Ancient Alien theorists cause:
“So did the statues rock, or roll? The debate over the two scenarios surrounding Easter Island’s past could well continue for generations. But it’s clear which scenario is preferred by the islanders themselves.
“The young people … they’re celebrating. I don’t think there’s any other word for it,” Hunt said. “One came up to me and said, ‘It’s so important for my generation to know we’re not failures.’ That brought tears to my eyes.” [Boyle 2012]
2012 How Easter Island’s Statues Walked. Cosmic Log, NBCNews.COM. http://cosmiclog.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/06/19/12302614-how-easter-islands-statues-walked?lite. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012
Lipo, Carl P. and Terry L. Hunt
2005 Mapping prehistoric statue roads on Easter Island. Antiquity vol 79: 158-168. http://www.anthropology.hawaii.edu/people/faculty/Hunt/pdfs/lipo&hunt%202005.pdf. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012
2012 Did Aliens Visit Eater Island? Discovery News. http://news.discovery.com/history/tv-show-aliens-visited-easter-island-120915.html. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012
Van Tilburg, Jo Anne and Cristián Arévalo Pakarati
2012 The Easter Island Statue Project. http://www.eisp.org. Retrieved Nov. 8 2012