The remote rocky outpost in the Pacific Ocean known as Rapa Nui (Easter Island) is the source of several mysteries that puzzle people to this day. One is how what began as a lush place with dense tropical forests became almost completely denuded of all its trees, transforming it into a dusty wasteland that is now home to about 5,000 residents.
The second is the question of the nearly 900 huge statues that dot the 63 square miles of the island. What do they represent? And how were such massive objects (of heights as much as 33 feet and weighing 82 tons) transported from the quarry where they were carved and mounted on stone platforms that were themselves gigantic (up to 500 feet in length, 10 feet high, and weighing 10 tons), where they were arrayed like sentinels? In addition there were nearly 700 statues that seemed to have fallen along the journey and been abandoned, and these were even larger, as much as 65 feet tall and weighing up to 270 tons.
A recent re-broadcast of a National Geographic program discusses these issues but focuses on one idea for the transport of the statues, that they were ‘walked’ there using ropes. The scientists try to recreate the method.
It is an interesting program but while watching it I was struck by what a massive undertaking these statues were that must have consumed so much time and energy and resources of so many people. If all that effort had been used in the service of actually improving their lives and their island, they surely would have been much better off.
But while it is tempting for us to wonder how the islanders could have been so stupid, it is sobering to realize how we too spend so much time and energy and resources on wasteful and pointless endeavors like religion and war when we could use them to better the lives of everyone and to save our own environment.
Future generations may well marvel at our own stupidity and shortsightedness.