Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Writing in South America – Part I

Easter Island (known as Rapa Nui in Polynesian) covers roughly 64 square miles in the South Pacific Ocean, and is located some 2,300 miles from Chile’s west coast and 2,500 miles east of Tahiti. Its earliest inhabitants are believed by anthropologists to have arrived in an organized party of emigrants around 300-400 A.D. 
     Tradition holds that the first king of Rapa Nui was Hoto-Matua, a ruler from Polynesia whose ship traveled thousands of miles before landing at Anakena, one of the few sandy beaches on the island’s rocky coast. The problem with that is simply that the winds and currents of the eastern South Pacific do not move in that direction from western Polynesia to Easter Island.
The overall South Pacific Gyre that flows counter-clockwise across the South Pacific (red arrow); Note the (dotted lines) fall out currents of the gyre as it circles around toward its movement north—these curve westward down into the center of the gyre into Polynesia, working against Polynesians moving eastward across the Pacific, and flow from South America toward Easter Island

The island sits in the middle of an open ocean, thousands of miles from the nearest neighboring island—Pitcairn Island is 1,289 miles to the east, or the mainland’s closest point in central Chile near Concepcion 2,182 miles away, and is part of the watercourse within the South Pacific Gyre. The island is 4,300 miles south of Hawaii, and 3,700 miles north of the Antarctic.
The Circumpolar Current, called the West Wind Drift, driven by the Prevailing Westerly Winds, flows all around the globe, unimpeded in the southern waters becasue it is free of land masses

Here, the main current flows west to east far south of Easter Island within the range of what is now called the Southern Ocean, which passes across the Pacific just north of Antarctica in a clockwise circular route to split at South America, with the lower portion flowing through the Drake Passage from the Pacific into the Atlantic, and the upper portion striking the South American continental shelf and bending upward, along the west coast of Chile in what is also called the Humboldt (Peruvian) Current until it strikes the Peruvian Bulge and is driven outward and eventually swings into the northern arm of the South Pacific Gyre, flowing westward back across the Pacific toward Indonesia and Australia, where it eventually is driven southward to pick up the eastward flowing Southern Ocean once again.
    Rapa Nui (Spanish: Isla de Pascua), was christened Paaseiland, or Easter Island, by Dutch explorers in honor of the day of their arrival in 1722. It was annexed by Chile in the late 19th century and now maintains an economy based largely on tourism.
Moai statues of monolithic human figures carved anciently by the Rapa Nui people on Easter Island. The tallest Moai, called Paro, was 33-feet tall and weighed 82 tons. By the latter part of the 19th century, all had fallen and these, facing inland at Ahu Tongariki, were restored by Chilean archaeologist Claudio Cristino in the 1990s

Easter Island’s most dramatic claim to fame is an array of almost 900 giant stone figures that date back many centuries. The statues reveal their creators to be master craftsmen and engineers, and are distinctive among other stone sculptures found in Polynesian cultures, and particularly those found in ancient Peru. There has been much speculation about the exact purpose of the statues, the role they played in the ancient civilization of Easter Island and the way they may have been constructed and transported.
    According to Andrew Lawler, “Polynesians from Easter Island and natives of South America met and mingled long before Europeans voyaged the Pacific, according to a new genetic study of living Easter Islanders” (Science, American Association for the Advancement of Science, New York, Oct 23, 2014).
Signs of Rapa Nui's volcanic origins

Where the early settlers of Easter island came from has long been a controversy among anthropologists, relying merely on speculation and a total misunderstanding of winds and currents of the eastern Pacific. However, now there is scientific evidence that suggests these people originally came from South America, though the idea is not well received among mainstream “scientists” who still want to claim man came over a Bering Sea Land Bridge from Siberia to Alaska and down the Western Hemisphere to South America. They simply cannot the face the fact that ancient man could have built ships to sail into the Pacific Ocean and reached Easter Island from South America.
    In a recent issue of Current Biology (J. Victor Moreno-Mayar, et al, Genome-wide Ancestry Patterns in Rapanui Suggest Pre-European Admixture with Native Americans, Vol.24, Iss.21, November 2014, pp2518-2525), researchers argue that the genes point to contact between Native Americans and Easter Islanders three centuries after Polynesians settled the island of Rapa Nui, famous for its massive stone statues. Although circumstantial evidence had hinted at such contact, this is the first direct human genetic evidence that has been found for it.
    These researchers genotyped and analyzed 650,000 markers for 27 living native Rapa Nui islanders, dating to 19-23 generations ago, in which the team found dashes of European and Native American genetic patterns. The European genetic material made up 16% of the genomes; it was relatively intact and was unevenly spread among the Rapa Nui population, suggesting that genetic recombination, which breaks up segments of DNA, has not been at work for long.
    Native American DNA accounted for about 8% of the genomes. Islanders enslaved by Europeans in the 19th century and sent to work in South America could have carried some Native American genes back home, but this genetic legacy appeared much older. The segments were more broken and widely scattered, suggesting a much earlier encounter—as early as 1280 A.D.
    This had always raised the question, did Polynesians land on South American beaches, or did Native Americans sail into the Pacific to reach Rapa Nui? “Our studies strongly suggest that Native Americans most probably arrived [on Rapa Nui] shortly after the Polynesians,” says team member Erik Thorsby, an immunologist at the University of Oslo.
    His beliefs, which could support the controversial theory posited by Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl more than a half-century ago, that Native Americans had the skills to move west across the Pacific from South America.
    On the other hand, native Americans could have landed on Rapa Nui initially many years earlier, with others coming much later, which is more consistent with the record of the native Easter Islanders whose own historical memory claims dating to when Europeans first discovered them. Also in support of this is the famed Sweet Potato, which was domesticated in the Andean highlands, and researchers recently determined that the crop spread west across Polynesia long before the Europeans arrived. Another hint of trans-Pacific exchange comes from chicken bones—unknown in the Americas before 1500 A.D.—excavated on a Chilean beach, which some believe predate Christopher Columbus.
     Easter Island, one of the youngest inhabited territories in the Pacific, as well as one of the most isolated, was first recorded by European contact on 5 April (Easter Sunday) 1722, when Dutch navigator Jacob Roggeveen visited for a week and estimated there were 2,000 to 3,000 inhabitants on the island. Later European visitors recorded the local oral traditions about the original settlers.
    In these traditions, Easter Islanders claimed they arrived on the island in one or two ships, with one named Hotu Matu'a, the legendary first settler of Rapa Nui, who is said to have brought 67 tablets from his “land to the east” homeland [South America], proclaimed, or so we are told, that decipherment of a small fraction of the Rongorongo tablets would be attempted by other, in this sense foreign or alien, great ma'ori (skilled or old ones), that these attempts would fail, and that the vast majority of them would perish.
(See the next post, “Writing in South America – Part II,” for information on the Rongorongo script and its interpretation and the historical memory of the first inhabitants of the island)

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