Polynesia – Show #10

Archaeologists have discovered that in the northern Moluccas, between Sulawesi and New Guinea, humans were visiting the coastal caves of Golo and Wetef on Gebe Island 33,000 years ago. Caves and open sites on coastal Sulawesi, northern coastal New Guinea, the Bismarck Archipelago, and the northern Solomons (southeast of New Guinea) have also produced similar dates.

Excavations on Easter Island (by Thor Heyerdahl) proved there were three separate epochs in the history of the island, which are simply named Early, Middle and Late Periods. In the Early Period there was no production of giant statues, only altar-like elevations of very large and very precisely cut and joined stones, which were erected with their facades towards the ocean. They were astronomically oriented and obviously constructed by highly specialized stone masons.

As well, Easter Island script was incised on wooden rongo-rongo tablets, and the only other place that this type of script has been found is among the early Indians who lived around Lake Titicaca high in the Andes. There is no evidence the Polynesian people ever had the ability to write a script.


Episode Treatment:

Across its thousands of miles of open sea, the South Pacific – in particular the islands of Polynesia – presents some real quandaries for the average archaeologist today.  Archaeologists will typically point out that prior to the rise of the Pharaohs 5000 years ago, man lived in caves and given his condition could not have possibly sailed the ocean blue before Columbus.  As our team rounds the final corner of our first intended season, and into the home stretch, Polynesia represents the icing on the cake.  Here we will hear the vivid stories of both creation and the deluge, and see the mysteries of history unfold one by one.

The islands of Polynesia are contained in a rough triangle whose points lie in Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island.  Samoa, Tonga, Marquesas and French Polynesia are the other main island groups located within the massive Polynesian triangle.  In addition to examples found from ancient Egypt, India and South America, here we find yet more references to … early flight!  In fact local legends support the Nepalese Yavanas talk of a fair skinned people who arrived from the west aboard “shining boats” that “flew above the sea”.  Other island groups of the Pacific have similar legends of “flying canoes” that bring people from afar.

  • Traditional history: Koreans, Chinese and wind-blown fishers
  • Legendary history: Sunda, Diffusion and The Phoenicians
  • Mythological history: The Old Spider, Snail and Papa
  • Alternative history: Lemuria, Catastrophe and Thor Heyerdahl

Spanning the Pacific, ancient Polynesians believed “genesis” was the work of an omniscient creator who brought matter into existence, gave form to the formless and set all in an established order.  The two elements became an earth mother and a sky father.  Accordingly, they were the progenitors of the gods, the elements, the land and all living things.  Those first born to this primal pair played an active part in creation, by separating their parents, raising the sky and creating lands, plants and man.  The names and attributes of these gods were known throughout all of Polynesia long before Captain Cook arrived in his leaky sailing ships.

Recent digs indicate that Homo Sapiens reached New Guinea as early as 50,000 BC.  After the Ice Age melted, newcomers mixed with black-skinned Papuan-speaking aborigines to give rise to the Melanesian people that later spread eastward toward the modern Fiji Islands.  A particularly advanced group of seafaring Austronesians, recognised by their pottery of “Lapita” style, continued their expansion to further populate Polynesia in the east and Micronesia in the north.

In 1947, Thor Heyerdahl and five companions left Callio, Peru and crossed 8000 km (4300 miles) in 101 days to reach Polynesia (Raroia atoll, Tuamotu Archipelago).  Despite scepticism, the seaworthiness of the aboriginal raft was thus proven and showed ancient Peruvians could have reached Polynesia in this manner.  In the mid-50s, leading an expedition to Easter Island, the team’s excavations indicated that the ancient stone carvings on the Island (not the famed heads) were similar to those in Peru.  The elder Easter Islanders concurred and claimed that according to their legends, their ancestors had originally arrived from the far away lands to the East.

Rongorongo, the hieroglyphic script of Easter Island, has remained a mystery since its discovery.  For over a hundred years, controversy has raged over the meaning and source of these enigmatic characters.  Some researchers are convinced that the tablets represented a vestige of the once magnificent library of the lost continent of Lemuria.  Quite seriously, the investigation continues – notwithstanding the 1994 film Rapa Nui.