This is starting to piss me off.
In the grand scheme of things, there are a lot more things that are worthy of getting irked about, but this one never fails to get on my nerve.
It’s “the mystery of Easter Island.”
It never fails. Flip past the shows on crop circles, UFOs, and astroarchaology, leave some psuedo-scientific spoon-bending drivel on for half an hour while waiting for “Samurai Jack” and sooner or later, in the credits or the intro, the montage of photos of pyramids and glowing blob shots, they’ll flip past familiar stone heads dotting the shores of Easter Island. I was at a bloody museum, and they referred to “the mystery of Easter Island.”
And for the nth time, I find myself yelling “What’s the friggin’ mystery!?”
Is the mystery how people got out there? No. The skeletons on Easter Island have Polynesian DNA–they’re part of that vast wave of migrants that went out on teeny little rafts for weeks on end, risking life and limb, in hopes of hitting something. Impressive? Hell, yes. *I* couldn’t do it in a million years. But it’s not a mystery.
Is the mystery where the people went? No. Deforestation and soil erosion rendered the place unliveable–they cut down all the trees, they didn’t plant new ones, the soil’s shot, and one day somebody said “Dude. We don’t have anything to make rafts with anymore, we cut down the last coupla trees to roll that big stone head over there, and the crops aren’t growing. We’re screwed.” The inhabitants are still there, in the ground. They didn’t GO anywhere. It’s not a big island, and it can’t support as big a population as grew on it. Dig down through the strata, and it’s an open book.
Is the mystery “Why stone heads?” Seems like a pretty dumb mystery. Why tikis? Why the Washington Monument? Why crocodile headed heiroglyphics? That was the art form. A stone head is a pretty obvious thing to make. You’ve got a head yourself, after all. The moai look a lot like a lot of other Polynesian art. (Contrary to popular idiocy, they don’t look anything like Celtic monoliths, except being big, stone, and looking like people. If that’s the criteria by which things are considered related, then I, being medium sized, bipedal, and made of flesh, am an emu.)
Is the mystery “Why so MANY stone heads?” Hey, people with too much free time and religion get weird. You don’t even want to KNOW what the Yanomamo do when they’re bored. The Easter Islanders had hundreds of years, were arguably bigger fans of the stone head than any other population in history, and even they only got about a third of the moai into a finished position. A lot of them were left in the quarry. Moai are generalized representations of power and authority. The likely case is that tribe A (or clan A, moiety A, side of the island A) put one up, group B put up two, group A put up a bigger one, tribe B put up an even bigger one, and it devolved into keeping up with the Joneses on a monolithic scale. We don’t waste valuable sections of psuedoscientific TV debating why Haida tribes kept putting up bigger totem poles to impress each other–it’s bloody OBVIOUS. If you don’t believe people will get weird and dumb in competition with one another, you have obviously never seen one of those Packers fans who wear the giant foam rubber cheeses on their heads. Monoliths seems practically normal.
Is the question how they got the stones out there? Well, okay, I’ll give you that we don’t know which way they did it. However, this isn’t a Mystery, since there appear to be about a dozen ways you could do it, mostly involving sledges, rollers (made of all those trees they cut down), and backbreaking labor. The question is not “How could they possibly do this?” but “Out of three or four methods, which one was the easiest and involved the least chipping?” And yet, somehow I’ve never heard it phrased “The Mystery of Easter Island–Sledge or Roller?” This would be like saying “The mystery of crop-circles–how big a 2 x 4 does a bored farmer need to make one?”
This is not a case of people doing impossible things that we can’t duplicate today, this is a case of people doing difficult and tedious things that we can’t get enough volunteers willing to get sweaty to duplicate today. There’s a number of ways that are eminently possible that it can be done, it’s just HARD. It’s no more mysterious than those insanely ornately carved temples in India–hard work, hard work, time, hard work, manpower, and did I mention hard work?
It does not, however, require aliens. Nothing irks me more than the assumption that the ancients could not do something that simply required a lot of manual labor, and therefore it was aliens, Atlanteans, or maybe an early druidic branch of the Illuminati. Simply because I am a creampuff and cannot imagine spending all damn day hauling on a rope and roller to lug a giant rock around so that Moiety B will know who’s the hot shit on the island, does not mean that the ancients were so hindered. I can’t trail a giraffe for three days through the wasteland, then kill it with a sharp stick, either, but I’ve watched the footage of !Kung hunters doing it, somehow without the aid of aliens.
So what the heck is the mystery? Am I missing it? Do the stone heads all align on the equinox to spell out “Bob Is A Loser” and much time and inquiry is being devoted to who Bob was? What is so bloody mysterious?
I feel better now.