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No. 133: JAN-FEB 2001

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The Roads of Easter Island

When the Fourth Dynasty Egyptians set about building the Great Pyramid, they built a stone-paved road from the Giza Plateau to the dock on the Nile where barges arrived from quarries upriver. The road's hard, smooth surface eased the task of hauling the huge blocks of limestone and granite to the construction site. Three thousand years later, the Easter Islanders faced a similar transportation problem in moving their huge stone heads -- some weighing as much as 90 tons -- from the quarries to stone platforms (ahu) on the coast, where the monstrous heads would stare out across the empty Pacific.

Much has been written about how the more than 800 stone heads were dragged from the quarries by brute force and then erected on the ahu. Thor Heyerdahl and others have even managed to duplicate some phases of the operation. However, the voluminous Easter Island literature is not as forthcoming about the roads the natives built to accelerate this Ethic traffic. The Easter Island roads have turned out to be as curious as the statues themselves.

During the summer of 2000, geologist C.M. Love and a crew of 17 students excavated sections of the three main roads that carried statue traffic. Parts of these roads were actually carved into the island's bedrock-lava flows mainly. Strangely, the roads were not flat but V- and U-shaped in cross section. They averaged 3.5 meters (11.5 feet) wide and were not a trivial undertaking. In some sections, the roads were flanked by lines of rocks. Sometimes these curbstones were accompanied by pits gouged out of the solid rock. Usually, the pits occurred where the roads sloped uphill. Love speculates that the pits were dug to accommodate some "mechanism" invented to help move the multi-ton heads up the inclines -- a primitive cog railway of sorts.

The pits and V-shaped profiles suggest that we still have much to learn about the Easter Island roads and exactly how the ponderous heads were moved.(Love, Charles M.; "The Easter Island Mystery," Discovering Archaeology, 2:12 , December 2000)

From Science Frontiers #133, JAN-FEB 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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