Easter Island has generated an amazing amount of theories and speculations, and many of these are based upon perceived “mysteries” of the statues and controversy over ‘who done it?’ Most conjectures revolve around diffusionist theories (people from elsewhere came to the island and carved the statues and built the shrines). But a few consist of astonishing leaps of imagination: laser beams, extra-terrestrials, elephants, anti-gravity, etc. Some of the wild speculations are based upon actual cultural remains, but with an astonishing twist. A few suggest disturbed minds.

The material falls into the “crazy theories” category, the outer space bunch, and natural catastrophes. Then there are those who focus on rongorongo (a mysterious script from Easter Island, carved on wooden boards—and just strange enough to entice a large segment of the rationally-challenged) and the Lemuria-Mu aficionados who work from a sunken continent theory. This latter group is allied with the Atlantis “group”.

The real “mystery” of Easter Island is why so many people feel compelled to fabricate such fabulous and extraordinary “solutions” when we know who built the shrines and carved the statues, we know how the ancient Polynesians got to the island, and we know (in general outline) their history.

Flying Moai

Werner Wolff’s book, Island of Death (1973) contains an extensive array of misinformation and some amazing “ideas”. One of these is his theory that the statues of Easter Island were carved around the statue quarry so as to be blown onto their ahu at various locations around the island when the volcano of Rano Raraku erupted. Wolff wonders how the ancient sculptors worked in a “gaseous crater” and suggests that investigators of Easter Island’s mysteries should try to confirm his thesis of “volcanic transportation.”

While surely an innovative idea, Wolff’s theory has holes the size of Wondiana. Geologists have determined that the volcanoes were extinct for thousands of years before the Polynesians arrived on Easter Island. The statue carvers selected the part of the quarry at Rano Raraku with the best quality of volcanic tuff; and, it has been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, no gases emanated from Rano Raraku at the time span of statue carving (probably AD 600-1600). As for the statues being blown from the quarry to their intended site, they would disintegrate upon impact as a result of “volcanic transportation.”

Elephant Power

An article appeared in the Denver Post (Colorado) a few years ago, detailing an amazing theory about Easter Island. Titled “Unraveling one of Archaeology’s Great Riddles” the article describes how one man solved the “puzzling riddle” of the enormous stone statues on Easter Island. Elephants were the “key”. The story included Kublai Khan’s armada sent to invade Japan. The armada’s ships were scattered by typhoons, causing the loss of some 6,000 ships, several of which had war elephants on board. Ships are sometimes pushed across the Pacific to North or South America. Ergo: the elephants were landed in South America and then the ships sailed westward to Easter Island, naturally bringing along the elephants.

A display at the Englert Museum shows an example of a moai's eye socket with inset white coral eye and red scoria pupil. The museum is near Tahai.

The Sunken Continent Bunch

A lot of folks really want to believe in the theory of a sunken continent. Read my lips: the islands of Polynesia are not, nor have they ever been, a part of a sunken continent. They are the tops of volcanic peaks. Before modern exploration and mapping of the sea floor, some thought that the Pacific islands were part of a former continent. However, now we have clear and irrefutable evidence that no such continent ever existed. Nevertheless, the view dies hard. As recently as 1989, a review in The Washington Times described an upcoming book by one Charles Berlitz that “will examine Easter Island as a relic of a lost continent.” Berlitz is quoted as saying that there are:

". . . many prehistoric remnants in the South Pacific . . . . monstrous buildings on small islands. One explanation is that these were shrines atop mountains and the cities are submerged. About 11,000 years ago most of the land mass around these islands was above water."

A quick look at the credentials of Berlitz is revealing: he authored The Bermuda Triangle, Mysteries from Forgotten Worlds, Doomsday 1999 A.D., and Atlantis the VIII Continent. He is quoted as saying that if one pierced the earth with an arrow at the center of the Bermuda Triangle it would emerge in the Pacific (!?).

Lemuria and Mu

The Lemuria and Mu contingent go hand in hand with the sunken continent idea. Those who wish to believe in ancient supernatural powers and a mystical race with special abilities and knowledge, lean to Mu, Lemuria or Atlantis as the places from whence far-wiser beings came. Various writers have ascribed different locations for that region, diverse attributes, and special abilities of the peoples that supposedly inhabited them.

Many proponents for the lost civilization of Lemuria focus on Easter Island, but the details vary from time to time. The lost Lemurians, according to one source, were groups of clairvoyant seers, oracles, and holy people who interacted between other worlds. Today the remains of this “lost paradise” include the Fiji Islands, Hawai‘i, Easter Island, and “. . . some of the Los Angeles area—and that is why many spiritual people who have a high consciousness are drawn there.” [More likely, one might suggest that is why there is a large percentage of nutcases in El Lay].

The Lemurians supposedly got together with the Atlantian refugees and …“after 12,000 years of development, they now possess the power to operate the atom-core alloy hull UFOs which exist and enter undersea “gateways” via anti-gravity fields. Sunken pyramids at the bottom of the seas also contribute to this effect”. The proponents of Lemuria believe that there is “little doubt” that the mysterious culture of Easter Island had an advanced form of air travel at its disposal. [If the Easter Islanders had had air travel available in ancient times, they would have left when things got tough.]

Central Energy Plant?

An author by the name of Tom Gary suggested that Easter Island was some a kind of central energy plant from which energy was transmitted to Mexico and South America. Gary suggests that rongorongo inscriptions were the key to the Easter Island “mysteries”, and that a “diagram” on the backs of some of the giant statues offers the key to unlocking their message. His claim was that the diagrams would lead to a “copying machine” that would copy in three dimensions. Gary’s theory involves some unspecified power that he says emanates from the island, passes up through the statues, and comes out of the statues’ eyes in the form of laser beams. It was those beams that carved the rongorongo script. Gary found it very strange that neither government officials nor scientists would come to look at his “evidence”, and attributed this to ‘academic snootiness.’

[Note: The statues do not have diagrams on their backs. Some have designs, but these reflect the aesthetics of the island’s art and are believed to represent the sacred hami (loincloths) worn by chiefs. And just what one would to copy in 3-D is not clear].

Barry Fell’s Theories

Ultra-diffusionist theories claim that most civilizations can be traced to the genius of a few who spread enlightenment throughout the world. These theories generally develop in total isolation from legitimate scientific studies. Barry Fell and his supporters’ base much of their ‘evidence’ on designs carved on rocks, claiming that these represent various ancient alphabets and languages. A self-taught epigrapher, Fell “translates” markings that geologists identify as natural weathering, or rock carvings left by ancient Native Americans. Serious archaeologists study the rock carvings as evidence of native belief systems, but Fell and his cohorts “read” them, and ascribe them to various wandering peoples from the European sphere: Celts, Basques, Phoenicians, Libyans, Carthaginians, Arabs, Minoans and Egyptians.

Fell derives the Polynesian language [and the language of the Zuni Indians!] from ancient Libyan with some Anatolian and Asian elements thrown in for good measure. He claimed the Polynesians were descended from Libyans who were in the service of Egypt, working in Sumatra’s gold mines and “even Australia”. Fell’s books sell incredibly well to the public in North America that is intent on believing that an ancient “white” culture existed on this continent—a racist theory. The major complaint regarding Fell is that evidence that displeases him is ignored, and his linguistic “evidence” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. However, his books delight large numbers of wishful thinkers.

Baloney and Half-Truths

There is a class of books and articles that uses just enough fact and/or jargon to sound OK to the uninformed reader. These are really spurious, for they entice the non-specialist and general reader with reams of “facts” about various places or theories. Without being aware of counter-arguments, or lacking information about the areas in question, or knowing the authors’ agendas, it is easy to be seduced by them.

Our first example is taken from an editorial by F. Joseph in The Ancient American, 1996. The writer describes what he calls the “Marxist Scenario” for what happened on Easter Island and then:

"As long ago as 1947, Thor Heyerdahl demonstrated an ancient and seminal Peruvian connection to Rapa Nui by sailing his balsa replica of an Andean vessel from South America to Easter Island. His achievement sent off a firestorm of official abuse that continues to this day. Last summer’s discoveries …vindicated Dr Heyerdahl."

[Heyerdahl did not land on Easter Island, but drifted to the Tuamotus Islands, far to the north. Nothing of South American manufacture has ever been found on Easter Island: no pottery, no metal, no weaving, no fine pressure flaking. DNA studies prove Easter Islanders are Polynesian].

F. Joseph goes on to say:

"Easter Island Civilization is far older than they always claimed. And its ancient links to South America, which they dismissed as “unlikely,” are now beyond question. To the up-holders of their out-dated dogma, we can only say, ‘We told you so.’ "

[This is the typical response and put-down to the scientific community: the “gotcha mentality” of “we” vs. “them.” Note: The Ancient American carries such stories as “Decoding the Sphinx,” “Rune Stones in the United States,” “Prehistoric Chicago”, and “Bearded Foreigners in Mesoamerica.”]

Space Travelers

Travelers from space comprise a large segment of “theories” about Easter Island. One correspondent stated that the island was a “rest and recreation station for space travelers, who would have been not less than six years non-stop in space.” And, he added that, “the famous person that they commemorate would have been a space traveler who lost his eyesight when evading a “black hole”. As for how they were carved, “…the basic removal of a block was carried out with a blow torch or thermal lance, producing a total surface of obsidian that all had to be chipped off.”

[Any traveler who tangled with a black hole would have far more problems than losing eyesight. The statues were carved from volcanic tuff with basalt tools, the marks of which are still clearly visible in the quarry. The tools used by the ancient Rapanui can still be found lying around the quarry. Obsidian is not found as a “surface on the statues”. Stone tools were used exclusively by the Easter Islanders, who lacked any kind of metal.]

Eric von Daniken and Extra-Terrestrials

Von Däniken has been the single most vexing source of misinformation about Easter Island. He published a book in 1968 called Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, and followed that blockbuster by several others of the same ilk (“Over 3,000,000 copies in hard cover!!” “The greatest archaeological sensation since the discovery of Troy!” “. . . a provocative theory that will fascinate a vast and eager public.”) What this printing history indicates is that people will believe/buy anything provided it is sufficiently bizarre.

One of von Däniken’s favorite subjects is the Nazca Lines (obviously “landing strips for the space visitors”). But his imagination has spread to virtually every corner of the world. Von Däniken (1968:90) wrote much of his material about Easter Island without ever visiting the island. Thus we are treated to such statements as:

"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."

In his book, The Gold of the Gods, von Däniken wrote that the statues were made from stone not found on the island, thus the stone must have been brought in by those little guys from outer space. These erroneous statements have been quoted and re-quoted endlessly by those who are not familiar with Easter Island.

[The volcanic tuff from which the statues were carved is porous and readily cut with stone tools; it is not “steel-hard.” Trees DID grow on the island and still do today. By historic times the large trees had been cut down, but in prehistoric times the island had a forest. The island has good soil and is not a ‘tiny speck of volcanic stone’. The statues were carved on the island from volcanic tuff, basalt, trachyte, and scoria—all of which is present on the island. The main statue quarry, Rano Raraku, still has several hundred unfinished statues lying in the quarry.]

Catastrophe Theories

This category leans toward things like “Tectonic Cleavage” and the movement of landmasses, tidal waves, etc. Often this group relates also to Biblical scriptures so we are advised of “counter rotation of the sun…to fulfill God’s prophesy…” and one writer suggested that the Hawaiians are Aztecs who were sent into the Pacific in “The Westward Tectonic Tidal Wave”.

Rongorongo Tablets

Rongorongo tablets have been a fertile area for speculation, for one can read nearly anything into the small engraved images on wooden tablets. A goodly amount of literature has described them as being linked to the un-deciphered script of the Indus Valley, Egyptian hieroglyphics, ancient Sumerian, Chinese, and many others, despite the thousands of years difference in time and huge distances apart. One creative writer suggested they are a link to Stonehenge via those busy extra-terrestrials. Gads, those guys really got around.


Creators of nutty theories and bizarre scenarios and their ardent followers are not likely to be converted by reason. Their minds are made up, don’t bother them with the facts and, besides, their books sell very well. The general mind-set for authors of the fantastic genre is against the scholarly and the professional. These writers stress (and quote liberally) from sources dating from the 19th century when the science of archaeology was in its infancy. Before the Pacific sea floor was mapped, many persons thought a continent might have been there. But now we know it was not so. To quote from someone who was writing in that earlier time period and trying to pass it off as ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ is deceptive. Using outdated sources is a typical practice, in a sort of “let the reader beware” attitude, and popular writers consistently over-stress the similarities and assumed similarities between early civilizations of the two hemispheres:

Who are these folks who foist crazy theories upon the public? Wauchope (1962: 125) states that crank pseudo-scientists hold certain traits in common:

". . . the crank works in almost total isolation from his fellows, and. . . has a tendency toward paranoia likely to be exhibited in five ways: he considers himself a genius; he regards his colleagues as ignorant blockheads; he believes himself unjustly persecuted and discriminated against; and he writes in a complex jargon."

The island's Mataveri Airport has a huge carved lizard gracing the departure area.

The consequence is that a huge number of books are of little scientific value, and what sells is far-out fiction or fictionalized accounts of ancient cultures that stress the “mysteries” of the place.

While sensational books remain popular, in recent years the shift has been to television shows or series that stress the ‘mysteries’ of various places around the globe, speculating and insinuating about esoteric and wonderful things that ancient peoples may have done, and how they knew “secrets” that have been “lost” over the centuries.

The seven statues of Ahu Akivi were restored by Mulloy and G. Figueroa. The ahu has been dated to AD 1460. It is situated inland, north of the village.

There is little doubt that the TV media manipulates its viewers, particularly the young who tend to believe what they see (or think they see). These programs are popular, narrated by movie stars with deep melodic voices, and the public responds to them. One can only cite the prevalence of TV science fiction programs that seem to get more fantastic every season, or the members of the recent “Heaven’s Gate” suicide cult in California that thought they were to be carried off by a space ship.

A small park is located at the corner of Atamu Tekena and Te Pito te Henua streets. The statues represent an early king, Atamu Tekena, and the man who was instrumental in the annexation of the island to Chile in 1888, Policarpo Toro.

A lot of people believe that flying saucers have landed, and that there are intelligent beings “out there”. While there may indeed be intelligent life elsewhere in the universe, the real story of what happened here on earth in the past is far more fascinating. Archaeology is an exciting subject. What is more absorbing than discovering and understanding how people lived thousands of years ago, how they faced similar problems of shelter and survival, and struggled to understand their universe? We have a depth of history, and an amazing cultural heritage. Our ancestors built shrines, shelters, made pottery and wove fabrics, created tools, and objects of metal. They built communities and families, created writing systems, carved statuary, and buried their dead with offerings for their gods. Their story is our story, on another level of development. To represent that past falsely—and for money and notoriety—is reprehensible.

And there is another thing. To suggest or intimate that the ancient Easter Islanders did not carve their statues and build their shrines is to deny them their past. Easter Island has a rich history, coming out of the Polynesian tradition, which in turn derives from Southeast Asia. They created a remarkable civilization, out there, isolated in the vast South Pacific Ocean. Let’s give them a little credit!

SEE ALSO: Rapa Nui