Monday, August 11, 2008

Erich von Däniken vs. The Easter Islanders

Originally started, April 2, 2008. Posted (at last!) August 11. Enjoy.

This is actually part 2 in a series of posts on this blog. The first one is Erich von Däniken vs. All of Archaeology (starting with the Ancient Egyptians). In it, I describe how and why the Ancient Egyptians' civilization was, for a time, centered around building pyramids and how this was done, and even how the pyramids had been developed.
` Then, I talk about how this wacky European guy comes up with this idea that there's no evidence that humans built the pyramids and that aliens must have done it.

In this article, I'm composing a similar treatise, beginning with the history of a distant land and the mark its people left, starting many centuries ago....

Millions of years ago and far away - about two thousand miles from the nearest continent - a new lump of lava literally erupted from beneath the ocean. This lump, having sprung from three different volcanoes born in different geological ages, eventually grew into the low, windy island now called Rapa Nui. This island is relatively lonely - the nearest habitable island - Pitcairn - is yet fourteen hundred miles distant.
` Since its early beginnings Rapa Nui has been host to all manner of life as can be crammed into such a small place - including humans. But before the first miro (gigantic seafaring canoe) had ever struck its shores, the island was already brimming with life, its shallow slopes densely forested with lush ferns and grasses, various herbs, tall shrubs, and about six million palm trees.
` Among the larger plants included the mimosa shrub called a toromiro (Sophora toromiro), a burbark tree called the hauhau (Triumfetta semitriloba), a timber-bearing tree of the buckthorn family (Alphitonia zizyphoides) and a species of palm tree (Paschalococos disperta) which is known to be somewhat similar to the better-known Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis, a massive species which can grow over 80 feet tall and 5 feet across).

There was, of course, much living on this distant island besides vegetation - birds, for example: There were many rails, herons, barn owls and parrots that stuck to the land. The island also boasted the largest breeding colony of seabirds in the Pacific, occupied by no fewer than 25 species - tropic birds, albatrosses, shearwaters, terns, boobies, storm petrels, frigates, fulmars, petrels and prions.
` In the surrounding waters, of course, were many animals such as giant sea snails, crustaceans, fish, large turtles and sea mammals; including a breeding colony of seals actually on the island, in which case they would be the island's only native mammal.

At sometime shortly before our year of 900, another mammal species found the island - the human - bringing with it yet another mammal - the rat. And, typical of Polynesians, they had brought with them from Asia the chicken, banana, taro, paper mulberry, sugarcane and sweet potato.
` So, how did people without compasses manage to sail more than halfway across the Pacific Ocean? For one thing, finding a new island to begin with isn't as tough as you might think: Foraging seabirds can be seen coming and going for a hundred miles in each direction, effectively adding 200 miles to the diameter of each island.
` Plus, Polynesians have some very advanced navigational techniques, positioning slabs of coral to show them the exact direction to start out from to get to other islands, as well as being able to stay on course by using the stars and sun as navigational references.
` So, what island did this first population come from? Judging by the islanders' dialect (of the Polynesian language), they must have come from the relatively nearby Marquesa Islands. About halfway between the Marquesas and Rapa Nui are three small, uninhabitable islands (Pitcairn, Mangareva and Henderson), which bear evidence of an even more similar language, tools, carvings, burial platforms and human remains.
` How long would it have taken them to make the trip? In 1999, a traditional Polynesian sea canoe, the Hokuk'a, was sailed from Mangareva to Rapa Nui, only taking seventeen days for the voyage.

Equally sophisticated was their way of life on land, which was necessary because its resources were spread out over the island. The highest yielding farmland, for example, was in the south and east while fish were easiest to catch on the north and west coasts, so a complex organization and system of roads were devised in order to obtain and redistribute food.
` Similarly, the best yellow volcanic rock they used for their statues came from Rano Raraku in the northeast end, while the best red volcanic rock was found at Puna Pau in the southwest, and many of the basalt tools they needed to carve the statues with, and the curbstones for the houses of dignitaries were harvested from the quarry of Aroi in the northwest!
` This was rather tricky to deal with, considering that the Rapa Nui had developed 11 or 12 different territories, each with its own resources and its own chief. In order to get those resources to where they were needed, each of these chiefdoms were further ruled by one super-chief.

Despite the volcanic soils, some crops are hard to grow because Rapa Nui has more cold weather, wind, and less rainfall (only some 50 inches a year) than other Polynesian islands. One way to deal with the dry conditions was to build a dam on the south slope of Mount Terevaka in order to irrigate some fields.
` Also evident were composting pits lined with stones, as well as standing lava rocks, studied by archaeologist Chris Stevenson, which were arranged to protect plants and soils from being dried out by the wind:
` In the chief's huge plantations, much of which fed his labor force, one can still see how the large boulders were stacked to form windbreaks, and how rocks had been placed close together across vast areas in order to encourage the plants to grow up between them. In fact, they even used gravel as a kind of mulch, which may come to a surprise to some people since that would seem to be counterproductive.
` The reason that works so well is because these stones absorb heat during the hot day and release it at night, keeping the plants warm; they also retain moisture while at the same time preventing erosion from the rain - not to mention, they're full of minerals!

` Interestingly, the people who lived in the higher interior of the island were not those who worked in the fields; in fact, the fields were worked by the peasants, who mostly lived closer to the coast and traveled to work every day on fifteen-foot-wide roads edged with stone blocks.
` Around the remains of these peasants' houses were structures which were literally taboo (or tapu) to have in the large, well-built homes of the dignitaries (hare paenga): These structures included ovens, rock circle gardens and garbage pits. Also around the remains of houses around the island are no fewer than 1,233 very large stone chicken houses (hare moa).
` Around the hare moa - which were up to 70 feet long - were stone fences designed to keep the chickens in the yard but out of trouble. Human houses, however, were made of wood and thatch and have not survived the ages nearly as well.

The islanders used the fibrous burbark of the hauhau to make items such as strong rope, they chopped toromiro wood into mesquite-like firewood, and fashioned the trunks of multi-ton palm trees into tall ridgeposts for their meeting lodges, as well as large canoes.
` Aptly, the tallest mountain on Rapa Nui is named Terevaka, or 'place to get canoes' and its slopes are still littered with tools used to make them, which includes stone drills, knives, scrapers and chisels. The palm trees also bore fruits with three 'eyes' like a coconut, and they were probably cut down as well to harvest the palm heart.
` Because there were no coral reefs or shallow waters near the island - which serve as shelter to many species - the natives' lives depended on having seaworthy fishing vessels. Far out into the ocean their fishermen traveled to coral reefs and other hotspots for fish, turtles, giant sea snails, and even dolphins; from about our year of 900 through to 1300, a third of the remains found in middens were from common dolphins while less than a quarter were from fish.
` This is very interesting because normally, fish are usually found to have made up 90 percent of the remains of Polynesian diets, while dolphins made up less than 1 percent. It is partly for this reason that Rapa Nui is also the only Polynesian island where rat bones outnumber fish bones.

To Westerners, the only familiar icon of these island settlers' culture may be their multi-ton busts of dignitaries called mo'ai, most of which were yellow in color when they were first cut, though by now they have weathered to a dark grayish color.
` Over two hundred of these mo'ai, which are stylized busts of people, each with their own name, once stood on burial platforms arranged around the rim of the island. These burial platforms, called ahu, were about ten feet tall and 500 feet long, and are derivations of the temples of other Polynesian islands. The ahu are also largely composed of boulders, which were originally contained by yellow tuff, white coral and red scoria rock:
` The mo'ai upon them were positioned with their backs to the sea. Many mo'ai also have top-notches made of red scoria, making them even taller and more impressive.
` It is worthy to note that many of the ahu, have no statues at all, and that most of those that do have relatively small ones. It is only on certain ahu that the most impressive mo'ai stand; the largest of them, called Paro, is about 33 feet tall and weighs 72 tons, and was said to have been erected by a woman in honor of her husband.
` Why so big? Like the ancient Egyptian pharaohs (as I've written about previously), different clans were apparently trying to outdo one another by building increasingly more impressive funeral monuments.

Typical of Polynesians, these people had actually brought with them their skills at sculpting stone, using statue-carving techniques which are still similar to those found on Marquesa, Hawai'i, Raivave, the Society Islands, and New Zealand.
` They carved stylized wooden objects as well: Among these were crescent-shaped body decorations with stylized heads on either side, carvings of birds, carvings of skinny-looking naked men with goiters, various combinations of birds and naked men, combinations of lizards and men, fish with ringed heads, and clubs and canoe paddles with ends that resembled two human heads back-to-back.
` The carved human figures like the 'statues with ribs', or mo'ai kavakava (the skinny-looking men with goiters) may have been carved in order to raise whomever it represented to deity status. Similarly this is thought the case in many of the huge stone monoliths, called mo'ai ma'ea.

According to anthropologist Thomas Barthell, they were considered a 'living face' or memorial, standing guard over the Rapa Nui burial chambers, and through them, the dead were supposed to have been able to keep in contact with the living. (Also much like the monuments to the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs.)

Patricia Vargas described that: "The statues were placed on top of the central platform of the ahu facing the land, probably to protect the people and bring fertility to the cultivated fields through the power of mana. The statue obtained this ... power when it was erected on top of the ahu and the eye sockets were carved. Through them, the spirit of the ancestor entered the statue and then the mo'ai became the āriga 'ora or living face." Vargas C. 1988, p. 133

I will add; it has been noted that āriga 'ora may be better translated as 'lifelike face'.

So, how did the natives transform large chunks of compressed ash into towering monuments that overlook the land? Fortunately; "We know exactly how they were carved, where they were carved, why they were carved and when they were carved," so said Norwegian archaeologist Thor Heyerdahl, who began work on these questions in the 1950's.
` Though Heyerdahl ignored all evidence that the Rapa Nui were Polynesians, he did actually manage to construct and erect the statues using the islander's own technology. The first step was pretty easy to do, technically; the stone they used was a soft and porous volcanic tuff (basically, ash), so the sculpting itself is deceptively easy to do without metal tools.
` But how to start?
` At the quarries, the islanders had left no fewer than seven hundred more statues in various stages of completion, not to mention the basalt adzes and other tools which had been used to carve them; thus it is almost as if we have a motion picture of the beginning, middle and end stages of the carving - minus the people.

` For those who are interested, Jared Diamond captures the juicy details of the works-formerly-in-progress:
Some are still attached to the bedrock out of which they were being carved, roughed out but with details of the ears or hands missing. Others are finished, detached, and lying on the crater slopes below the niche where they had been carved, and still others had been erected in the crater.
` The ghostly impression that the quarry made on me came from my sense of being in a factory, all of whose workers had suddenly quit for mysterious reasons, thrown down their tools, and stomped out, leaving each statue in whatever stage it happened to be at the moment. Littering the ground at the quarry are the stone picks, drills, and hammers with which the statues were being carved.
` Around each statue still attached to rock is the trench in which the carvers stood. Chipped in the rock wall are stone notches on which the carvers may have hung the gourds that served as their water bottles.
` Some statues in the crater show signs of having been deliberately broken or defaced, as if by rival groups of carvers vandalizing one another's products. Under one statue was found a human finger bone, possibly the result of carelessness by a member of that statue's transport crew.
Though it hadn't been done for some time, Heyerdahl described how the natives "actually showed us how to carve a giant with the abandoned basalt rock tools, and how to move it on skids and erect it..."
` That's handy! If you don't know how people did something, just ask their surviving families! Heyerdahl's archaeologists rounded up some islanders and they hacked away at the spongy rock with the much tougher basalt tools. In a day's time, they had carved the outline of a new statue, lying with its face to the sky.

After one has the general pattern laid out, the next step is to carve out the entire outline save for a line along the very bottom, then break the underside free, lever it out and haul it on wooden skids.
` Once in its place, which might be miles away, the ridge of broken rock along its back would be chipped away and smoothed and the statue would be ready.
` I might add that techniques similar to these also explain why Polynesians could fell and haul multi-ton trees, and carve them into huge canoes and the like. (They probably did not use them as rollers on which to transport their statues, contrary to popular visualizations.)

Heyerdahl's team found that 180 people were easily able to use ropes to drag a 12-ton statue, which is a pretty average weight for a mo'ai. Once they'd gotten it out of the sand and onto firmer ground, it was considerably easier to drag, plus there were also roads built by the natives expressly to make it yet easier for dragging the statues into place on the burial platforms.

In another experiment, only twelve men were needed to lift an even larger statue of 30 tons into an upright position - and this took place over a period of 18 days. They used long, wooden poles as levers to lift the statue, threw some boulders underneath it, first on one side, then the other. Little by little, they slowly lifted the statue into a vertical position.
` Though the Rapa Nui of long ago would have similarly toiled long and hard in these processes, they would have also been celebrating this work with festivals as the Hawai'ians, Tongans, Tahitians and Marquesans are known to have when they transported fairly gigantic stone pieces.

The purpose of talking to the dead through the platform statues probably had partly to do with wielding the power of mana to ensure the birth of children and good crops. However, in our year 900 at the latest, the islanders were apparently in need of more fertility for the forests and possibly less fertility of their wombs:
` It is thought that the population could have swelled to over 15,000 islanders or more at the most, and it seems likely that they had something to do with what had happened next.

Scientists John Flenley and Sarah King actually took the time to carefully search through many layers of the island's microscopic sediment particles, and this is what they found: Between about 900 and 1300, the pollen of forest plants such as palm, toromiro and tree daisy had decreased as charcoal and the pollen from open-area plants such as herbs, grasses and crops increased, suggesting that human activity (i.e. cooking and cremation) is correlated with the disappearance of the trees.
` However, as the forests became sparse, wood charcoal levels dropped off at around 1440. Meanwhile, the use of ropes and timber in the upland plantations studied by Chris Stevenson may have kept going strong until about 1600.
` Humans, however, were not the only reason for deforestation, as is also true that the remains of palm nuts found today had been gnawed by rats, thus rendering them infertile. Also eaten by rats would be birds' eggs, and the extinction of all the land birds - which may have been key to pollinating and dispersing the seeds of many forest plants - would have probably taken a huge toll on the forest as well.

The native palm is thought to have become extinct shortly after the year 1400. Around 1500, remains of palm nuts, Malay apples and all wild fruits had suddenly disappeared from garbage heaps, along with dolphin, tuna and open-ocean fish bones - as did tools used to catch them: With no canoes, the seafarers could go to sea no longer and their open-ocean fishing days were no more.
` Is it any wonder that they had to abandon their quarries? They could no longer transport statues - in fact they had to stop using wood for cooking: The charcoal found in ovens and garbage pits shows that wood was replaced by grasses, herbs and crop wastes around 1640, even among the elite households.
` Their options for food were getting smaller; they wound up eating all of the local cowries and had to settle for black sea snails instead; they managed to kill half the nesting seabirds and so had to increase their production of chickens. Today, only one species of sea bird actually nests on the island, while nine of the original 25 species hang onto islets just offshore.
` And, because of all the tree-killing and land erosion, springs also began to dry up, and the land became more sandy. Soil that would yield not only trees but healthy crops was becoming rarer, and as a result, much of it traveled downhill, burying ahu and their mo'ai ma'ea positioned at the bottom of slopes. This was further complicated by lack of wild plant parts from which to make composts.

This may explain why their 'skinny-looking man' statues, the mo'ai kavakava, were so lean-looking, as the people had typically looked when Europeans had found them. Most impressively, these statues were expertly worked from knotted and fibrous scraps of wood of the toromiro shrub, whose grain limited what could be carved.
` Their carving tools included obsidian flakes, shark's teeth and stingray tail, and were thoroughly polished with coral until shiny. The eyes were made of bone with obsidian pupils, and many are known to have been wearing a neckpiece or had an oversize, elaborately-styled wig.

` The statue's lower ear lobes are long and stretched-out looking with holes in the center, the beard is a goatee, and the pate usually has a figure carved into it, perhaps representing the totem of that person's clan. (Note; skulls with somewhat similar figures carved into them have also been found, lending this idea some credence.)
` On the front of the neck is a bulging goiter, probably from eating too much salt and not enough of some other minerals, while on the back is a prominent hump, sometimes with a hole through the center for hanging the statue by the neck. Indeed, as explorers including Pinart noted, many islanders had bumps on the back of the neck.

` The torso has the appearance of someone who is dehydrated, evidently from chronic lack of fresh water and fruit, and the water they did have was rainwater - which is not always safe to drink - and would not have contained essential minerals. (Not to mention, they also drank much sugarcane juice, resulting in the most rotten teeth of all similarly 'low-tech' peoples; everyone had cavities by the age of twenty.)
` Though the muscles are firm and rounded-looking, the bones protrude quite noticeably. The back shows raised vertebrae joined by the ribs, ilia (pelvic bones), and decorations which may have been meant as part of the initiation costume.
` Since these statues were meant to represent dignitaries (who apparently stretched their ears out with weights), it would appear that - like the carved hands clearly show - that they had long fingernails from not having to work. The legs were actually carved from a separate piece of wood and were very small and curiously, have mere stumps for feet.

Perhaps a more grave result of having poor boats was that by now, no one could escape to another place where there might be more food. Instead, their plight became a civil war and this was when human bones, cracked to get at the marrow, were added to their garbage heaps.
` At this time, about the worst taunt one person could say to another was; "The flesh of your mother sticks between my teeth!"

It was either kill or be eaten, so many people modified caves into fortress-like structures, where they actually lived for long periods of time, as evidenced by the large amounts of items important to daily living and remains of meals deposited inside.

At this time, as the islanders told European explorers, the chiefs and priests kept promising to use their deity-like powers to increase abundance, but nothing ever came of their ceremonies or increasingly large monuments (Paro being among the last), which were used to impress the masses and possibly to plead for help from their ancestors.
` By around 1620, the building of monuments had stopped and by 1680, the matatoa (warrior class) had finally managed to overthrow the elite, replacing their religion of many gods with one of the god Makemake, called the Orongo or 'bird-man' cult. Indeed; it was during the 1600s and 1700s that the part-bird, part-man statues had been carved, as well as many stone and obsidian spearheads and daggers used in the slaughter of human beings.
` Similarly, people tried to sabotage their rivals by pushing their monoliths forwards onto stone slabs so that they would beak. On top of that, they would sometimes carve the Orongo symbols of women's genitals, bird-men and sometimes birds onto the desecrated mo'ai and ahu.

The way in which the bird men would select a leader would be to arrange a yearly competition in which men would swim across shark infested waters out to an islet and later return with the first sooty tern egg of the season - without breaking it!
` Also during this time, the majority of the population seems to have been utterly wiped out.

It was only in this sorry state on April 5th, in the year 1722, that Dutch explorers, headed by Captain Roggeveen, had finally come across this distant civilization. Since this day also happened to be Easter Sunday, the island was creatively dubbed 'Easter Island' though the natives apparently called it Te Pito Te Kainga, the 'navel of the earth'.
` This is what Roggeveen had to say about his most baffling find:
"We originally, from a further distance, have considered the said Easter Island as sandy; the reason for that is this, that was counted as sand the withered grass, hay, or both scorched and burnt vegetation, because its wasted appearance could give no other impression than of a singular poverty and barrenness."
By that time, the largest animals left were the chickens and rats brought over so long ago. Nary a land snail could even be found - the largest wild animal left was an insect.
` Similarly, botanists could only count about 47 species of vascular plants - mostly ferns, grasses and sedges - with two small types of tree and two kinds of woody shrub, each no taller than ten feet.

Oh yes. Wood, at this time, was a sign of wealth, and, as many people in the world might wear gold or precious stones, the Rapa Nui wore wooden ornamentation.
` Even their carvings of symbols were not carved on staves as they are on surrounding islands; to save timber the Rapa Nui packed them onto the entire surface of more compact wooden tablets.
` It should be noted, though, that these tablets - called rongorongo or 'talking boards' - were apparently not invented until after contact with Europeans, and in fact have been found to be carved on wood from the Europeans as well.

But how could they survive without much of this most basic necessity? With difficulty:
` The islanders found warmth difficult to keep during the wet and windy winter time, with driving rain and temperatures as low as 50 degrees, and even their practice of burning the dead had to cease. Even worse, there was scarcely any bark from which to make cloth!
` And, in order to save precious timber, their houses were long, narrow and low to the ground, built off of poles not rooted in the dirt but set in holes cut in curbstones. Even their canoe paddles were distinctive in their having to be made from two smaller pieces of wood because there weren't enough larger ones.
` And as for the canoes themselves, they were only ten feet long and could barely carry two people. As Roggeveen wrote;
"As concerns their vessels, these are bad and frail as regards use, for their canoes are put together with manifold small planks and light inner timbers, which they cleverly stitched together with very fine twisted threads. . . . But as they lack the knowledge and particularly the materials for caulking and making tight the great number of seams of the canoes, these are accordingly very leaky, for which reason they are compelled to spend half the time in bailing."
Even so, the Islanders - who had no clue that anyone else was 'out there' in the world - claimed that they had actually been 260 miles away to the Sala y Gomez reef. This puzzled the outsiders even more; they could not think of how these people had gotten all the way out there without decent canoes! After all, Roggeveen and crew had sailed from the nearest land, Chile, and that had taken them seventeen days!
` In fact, the natives were very hopeful for some more wood, especially if it meant that they could make canoes from it. In 1838, the captain of a French ship reported that when approached by people in five leaky canoes;
"All the natives repeated often and excitedly the word miru and became impatient because they saw that we did not understand it: this word is the name of the timber used by Polynesians to make their canoes. This was what they wanted most, and they used every means to make us understand this . .."
Overall, the Europeans were amazed that anyone had lived out this far, with or without canoes, and even more, that they had erected these huge statues! However, these statues were well on their way out; by about 1640, the last standing statue, Paro, was reported to have been toppled and broken below the head.
` The ahu on which the statues were placed were similarly desecrated, having their outer slabs pulled off to be used for other purposes, while the boulders inside remained alongside the fallen and broken statues.
` On other islands, the captain knew, people used trees for scaffolding, sleds, levers and rope for handling and moving huge statues. He wrote: "The stone images at first caused us to be struck with astonishment, because we could not comprehend how it was possible that these people, who are devoid of heavy timber for making any machines, as well as strong ropes, nevertheless had been able to erect such images, which were fully 30 feet high and thick in proportion."

As Heyerdahl had shown, however, it was perfectly possible for a relatively small group of people to carve, transport and erect the statues, as long as one had both harder stone tools and some good rope and wooden poles. You know, like from all the forests that used to exist?
` As for today, the hauhau tree is now very scarce, the toromiro tree is currently only found in cultivation, and most other large plants are completely extinct. As for the people; during the 1800s there were several outbreaks of smallpox and kidnapping of natives for auction as slaves - of note 1,500 islanders by 24 Peruvian slave ships. The population was decimated by 1864 only about 2,000 people had been counted.
` Now, with most people either dead, working in guano mines, or converted, Catholic missionaries observed the last-known 'bird man' competition in 1867. Even worse, sheep were introduced in the 1870s, and in 1988 the island was annexed by Chile and, basically, converted into one big sheep ranch.
` The islanders were confined to only one village, and forced to work for the Scottish-Chilean company without pay other than goods. In 1915 they tried to fight back, but this only caused the Chilean government to bring a war ship. Meanwhile, the sheep, goats and horses managed to eat off many of the remaining native plants and create even more the soil erosion. By 1934, the last hauhau and toromiro trees left on the island were gone.
` The Rapa Nui people were not allowed to be citizens of Chile until 1966, though since then they have taken pride in their heritage and have managed to bounce back from all this to some extent.

Well, that's the entire history of the Rapa Nui people, as I know it. (Meaning; I'm no anthropologist, but I pay close attention to them and try my best not to get things wrong.) Most importantly, I trust that you picked up on the idea that, say, the Rapa Nui were typical Polynesians who once had a lush forest available to them, and were more than able to carve and transport statues made out of what is effectively hardened ash, and in similar ways to other Polynesians.
` That much is more than clear, as far as science goes. However, I'd suggest you put on your mud goggles for the next part, because we will now venture outside of the bounds of science and head into the realm of fantasy.


Von Däniken's arguments against any of this ever being real:

So, by now I would think that you could see how everything we know now is more than enough to tell us how these people lived and notably, how they made their statues, which stopped as environmental conditions worsened.
` A lot of this puzzle was solved decades ago, though even then there were those who claimed that much of this was totally unexplained, or worse, unexplainable. You know, because they didn't bother telling people that it had been explained, or else didn't bother doing any research about it in the first place.

The anthropologist who formulated the current theory that Polynesians are from Asia - that would be one Robert Suggs - wrote that "The mystery of this island, then, is largely of an artificial nature, created for specific purposes by nonscientific authors."
` Erich von Däniken was one such author. He opined that the mo'ai could never have been crafted by human hands. It was just impossible, he claimed. Why? Lack of motivation.

I'm not kidding!

Instead, von Däniken came up with plenty of creative writing about the place. In Gold of the Gods? (1972) he wrote that the mo'ai are carved out of stone from some other place, without mentioning anything about the giant quarry full of identical statues which also happens to be on Easter Island.
` Nevertheless, this is unsurprising because most of his writing was done completely without observation or much research. For example, in 1968 he described the island this way;
Whole mountain massifs had been transformed, steel-hard volcanic rock had been cut through like butter….No trees grow on the island, which is a tiny speck of volcanic stone.
An utterly barren island? Never mind all those plants! Steel-hard volcanic rock? The last time geologists checked, all the statues - both in and out of the quarries - were carved from the volcanic island's porous lava rock. The same rock, indeed, that is said to cry out, "carve me!"
` However, when von Däniken had heard of Thor Heyerdahl's breakthrough in figuring out how the statues had been carved, he actually went to Rapa Nui and stopped by the quarry where they had been working.
` With one look at some of the 700 partially carved statues, he said "Nobody could ever have freed such gigantic lumps of lava with small, primitive stone tools."
` Why ever not, if it was so easy to dig through?
` Because, von Däniken explained, it would require first a reason, and then a lot of hard work and determination, which he asserted the natives never had in the first place.

Wow. Like, sure they could have done it, but he insults them by saying they simply had no motivation to go through with it. Of course, a lot of the how and why is known as well, so in the real world there's actually not much left to the imagination.
` Also, when Heyerdahl managed to transport the statues using wood and rope, von Däniken said to that: "[A]rchaeologists all over the world protested against this example. . . [T]hey claimed that no finds had yet supplied proof that the islanders ever had wood at their disposal as building material."
` Wow again.

However, von Däniken did stick to Heyerdahl's opinions when they coincided with his own. For example, Heyerdahl insisted that the natives told him secrets known to no other white man, and showed him statues called aku-aku that supposedly proved what they had said - though if you asked Robert Suggs, they're "the crudest of frauds."

Heyerdahl speculated that the natives had originally come from Bolivia in the Andean stone city of Tiahuanaco, which doesn't at all resemble Rapa Nui, and these South Americans in turn got their stone-crafting ability from... Europe!
` Sure, because only Europeans are capable of building great walls and statues of stone, right?
` This was great stuff, as far as Erich von Däniken was concerned. He went even further in Chariots of the Gods?:
Connections between Easter Island and Tiahuanaco automatically force themselves upon us. There, as here, we find stone giants belonging to the same style. It is more than 3,125 miles from Tiahuanaco to Easter Island. How can one culture possibly have inspired the other?
Because, he reasoned, Viracocha was an alien! (Can that technically be called reasoning?) As he wrote in Gods from Outer Space; "I also suspect that the same [alien] masters gave lessons on Easter Island, at Tiahuanaco, above Sacsayhuaman, in the Bay of Pisco and elsewhere."

He even went as far as to say that the aliens crash-landed on the island and carved the themselves. Of course. Did you expect anything significantly different from last time? mo'aiIn Return to the Stars (1972) he wrote:
The men who could execute such perfect work must have possessed ultra-modern tools.... A small group of intelligent beings was stranded on Easter Island owing to a 'technical hitch.' The stranded group had a great store of knowledge, very advanced weapons and a method of working stone unknown to us.... Perhaps to leave the natives a lasting memory of their stay, but perhaps also as a sign to the friends who were looking for them, the strangers extracted a colossal statue from the volcanic stone.
` Then they made more stone giants which they set up on stone pedestals along the coast so that they were visible from afar.... In the remote past there were intelligences with an advanced technology for whom the covering of vast distances in aircraft of the most varied kinds was no problem.
...And as for the hundreds and hundreds of incomplete statues still left in the quarries alongside the stone tools that had been used to carve them, as I mentioned before, those were just carved by people who were trying to copy the aliens' handiwork and eventually gave up because it was taking too long.

So... does he even offer any positive evidence for aliens? Sadly, all he has done, once again, is tried to make a mystery out of history. This is, in fact, what Suggs was getting at when he wrote some fifty years back, "the romanticist or adventurer . . . must create an aura of mystery and enigma about the 'Navel of the World' in order to make his theory more attractive, whatever the basic motivation may be."

It's amazing to me that I ever believed Erich von Däniken might be onto something truly amazing. Little did I know, the actual things learned by scientists are even more amazing, even if they are utterly down to earth.

4 comments:

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I remember reading von Däniken's book, Chariots of the Gods , back in the late ‘60s. I thought he had been discarded as a kook way back then.

S E E Quine said...

He has, actually, but he's still had tons of followers....

Aaron said...

Hey Spoony! Interesting post.

S E E Quine said...

Hey, Aaron! Long time no blog! Glad to see you around!
` Also, on second read (just now between third job hunting), I noticed this post - while indeed nice - is full of typos and sloppy editing.
` But wait til ya see what it'll look like on the Corrigendopedia!

Enough about me, I'ma go over to your blogs now!