Easter Island - Conclusion
A tradition of carving on stone can be traced westward through eastern Polynesia, central Polynesia, New Caledonia, and Malaysia. Wherever suitable surfaces were located, aboriginal populations tended to place petroglyphs or paintings on them. For many islands, no data are available; whether this means that rock art is absent - or simply not reported - is unknown.
New Caledonia has numerous rock art sites, including panels of cupules and vulva designs, as well as human faces that appear to be similar to those of Easter Island. In eastern Polynesia, the Hawaiian Islands have the largest number of petroglyphs. Both paintings and petroglyphs have been documented in the Marquesas, although petroglyphs [over 6,000] are by far in the majority. A few have been reported from the Society Islands; Tahitian motifs include stick-figure humans, turtles, a few canoes and representations of masks and mourner's headdresses. In New Zealand, sites with paintings are common, although a few petroglyphs have been reported.
The favoured petroglyph motif in the Hawaiian Islands is the stick-figure anthropomorphs, often in active poses. In contrast, not one human stick-figure motif has been found on Easter Island. There are, however, petroglyphs that bear a striking resemblance to the birdman figure of Easter Island. No direct contact with Easter Island is postulated; these artistic conventions appear to reflect common ancestry and belief systems leading back to Southeast Asia.
The rock art of the Marquesas, when compared with the rock art of Tahiti, Hawai'i, and New Zealand, provides more correlations with Easter Island. This seems reasonable because the Marquesas are the likely point of dispersal for the settlement of the rest of east Polynesia, including Easter Island (Bellwood 1978:365).
The state of rock art research in the rest of Polynesia is still "in process." Databases are growing as the result of ongoing archaeological fieldwork, and certain similarities, as well as divergences, are becoming apparent.
At this stage of research, Georgia Lee states that the rock art of Easter Island is far more elaborate and diverse than that found in other Polynesian island groups. However, it is distinctly Polynesian and clearly comes from a common artistic heritage and system of beliefs, legends, and myths. Nothing in the entire corpus of Polynesian petroglyphic art bears any resemblance to the rock art of South America.
The petroglyphs of crouching profile figures that are found in Hawai'i, the Marquesas, and Easter Island can be followed back across the Pacific into Southeast Asia. As if coming from a deep unconscious, this motif appears to be a key figure in our search for origins and connections.
In the same way that statues of human figures on Easter Island evolved from earlier Polynesian prototypes, there was parallel efflorescence in the creation of the petroglyphs on Easter Island. In typical fashion, there was a progression from simple to complex, from pecked lines to the elaborate bas relief figures that border on sculpture.
Wherever human beings have been, they have made their mark upon the landscape. With this mark, one declares that the place on which one stands is meaningful. In this way, humans show that they have a relationship with the world around them; a relationship whose sanction and purpose transcends the mere physical character of the place" (S. D. Gill 1982:20).
Georgia Lee's research on Easter Island has documented 4,000 examples of rock art and more than 4,000 cupules. A typology was derived from an inspection of motif types found in the database and, in turn, this typology provides distinctive patterns of distribution and development. These patterns show the evolution of certain motifs, such as birdman, and allow conclusions to be drawn concerning change in the culture and the rise of the warrior class. Distribution studies indicate that clan affiliations were being depicted; legends and prayers were tied to certain petroglyphs, and some sites with petroglyphs can be related to observations of the heavens. A few motifs can be explained by correlating information gathered by early ethnographers, and some have archaeological data that illuminate site functions.
Easter Island Introduction
Sentinels in Stone - Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |
The Rock Art of Easter Island
The Birdman Cult / Motif of Easter Island
Sea & Marine Creatures in Easter Island Rock Art
Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings
Dr Georgia Lee - Publications on Easter Island
Moai Location Map & Islanders
Contemporary Easter Island Art
Easter Island Glossary | A-M | N-Z |
Easter Island Conclusion| Page | 1 | 2 |