April 5, 1722: Jacob Roggeveen doesn’t find Terra Australis. The term is Latin for “Land of the South” and was a legendary land mass covering the “bottom” of the globe – more akin to Antarctica than Australia. Roggeveen’s father was a mathematician and geographer, and studied the science of navigation. Jacob eventually sailed for the Dutch West India Company seeking new lands. He sailed to what is today the Falkland Islands (naming them Belgia Australis) and rounded South America via the Strait of Los Angeles Maire. He went up the coast of Chile and landed near present day Valdivia. He then sailed west and stayed at the Juan Fernández Islands from February 24 to March 17. He again took to the sea.
On Easter Sunday he discovered Easter Island (Rapa Nui). The land was inhabited by about 2,000 to 3,000 people of Polynesian descent and 887 moai, or stone carved statues. The island is triangular in shape and has about 63 square miles of land. It was first settled by people from Hawaii between 300 and 400 AD (or between 700 and 800 AD –archeological expert opinions disagree). People came by canoe or catamaran from the Marquises Islands (2,000 miles away) or Mangareva (1,600 miles away) or Pitcairn (1,250 miles away) to settle the island. Using reconstructed craft, in 1999 a trial trip from Mangareva took 17 days.
The most stunning feature of Easter Island is the artwork left for us to ponder. The 887 monolithic statues are more than just the heads, as they contain the torsos as well. The dates for their construction remains hotly debated and ranges from 400 AD to 1500-1700 AD. What all agree on is that most (95%) of the carvings were made from compressed volcanic ash or tuff found inside the extinct Rano Raraku volcano. The islanders carved the statues using stone hand chisels usually made from basalt toki. They had to be sharpened frequently by chipping off a new edge.
Each statue took five to six men about one year to make. They are each thought to represent a chief or important person. Only about one-fourth of the carvings are installed with about half remaining at the volcano. The remainder are around the island, probably abandoned before reaching their final destination. The larges moai is “Paro” and weighs 82 tons. Carving the statues was difficult enough, but moving them was another engineering feat. These large creations were hauled on a Y-shaped sledge taking 180 to 250 men pulling on ropes to move them. Erecting them at the new site also took skill and patience. Ahu are the platforms the statues rest on and vary in design.
That great menacing Easter Island face. – Lewis Grossberger
[They] seemed to be triumphing over us, asking: ‘Guess how this engineering work was done! Guess how we moved these gigantic figures down the steep walls of the volcano and carried them over the hills to any place on the island we liked!’ – Thor Heyerdahl
It may well be doubted whether human ingenuity can construct an enigma… which human ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve. – Edgar Allan Poe
But now I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth. – Umberto Eco
Also on this day: