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The Enigmas of Easter Island Hardcover – 27 Mar 2003

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; 2nd edition (27 Mar. 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803405
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.8 x 16.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,023,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


"In dispelling the mythology of Easter Island, they show us a society that is all the more interesting for being recognizably human."--Publishers Weekly

About the Author

Paul Bahn is one of the leading writers and broadcasters on archaeology for a popular audience. He is the author of the standard introduction to cave art, Images of the Ice Age, The Bluffer's Guide to Archaeology, and the popular Archaeology: A Very Short Introduction. John Flenley is currently Professor of Geography at Massey University in New Zealand. A world authority on the ecology of tropical rainforests, he was the first to publish evidence that Easter Island was once forested.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
EASTER ISLAND has been a source of both bafflement and fascination to the outside world ever since the first recorded visits by Europeans. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By G.I.Forbes on 11 Aug. 2014
Format: Hardcover
This excellent book is very badly let down by the appaling poor pictures and illustrations.I would have expected Oxford University Press to have done so much better for such a picturesque subject especially as this a second edition(first 1992)
The book updates all the theories of what,where,when and how of Easter Island.
The main sections are a)European discovery b) the oroginal boat people c)ancestors of stone and d)the aftermath.
All well written and researched with ample descriptions of the various aspects of the island.The maps are good and there is an extensive bibliography.
An excellent opportunity marred by useless pictures.
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By alan mitchell on 24 April 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
very good ,well researched book, a must for anyone wishing to visit and enjoy easter island,i thoroughly recommend it.john flenley has done an excellant job
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book arrived exactly on time, and is a great read, providing alternative (to the islanders did it) theories as to why the ecological catastrophe happened in Easter Island. Everyone should read it and should try to get to see the Island if they can.
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By A. Wilson on 24 July 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Be careful! If you have 'Easter Island, Earth Island' - do not buy this book - it is the same text but with a few more photos. Nice ploy by the publishers - let's change the tittle then the suckers will buy two copies!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 8 reviews
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
A great read of a great place. 19 Jan. 2004
By Roger McEvilly (the guilty bystander) - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent, up-to date (2003), fairly easy read of an astounding place, Rapa Nui, the island in the South Pacific better known as Easter Island. This is in fact an updated edition of an earlier 1992 edition, that has been revised to incorporate new ideas and developments in research into a place which has seen quite a deal of academic interest and debate over the last few decades.
It is, as the title suggests, mostly a discussion of some of the more enigmatic and mysterious aspects of this small island at the 'edge of the world', so to speak. Discussions include how the Polynesians got there in the first place (several thousand kilometres from just about anywhere), what happened to the island's original flora and fauna, why there are now virtually no trees on the island, why and how they built and transported the enormous statues, why their culture seemingly underwent several periods of cultural implosion, and how they came to have their own system of rudimentary symbolic writing-no small thing incidentally- since it is only one of a handful of societies where a form of writing is thought to have arisen independently (although this is debated for Easter Island).
Rest assured, once one delves into the detail and human richness of the history and culture on Easter Island, (past what one hears via the grapevine or via populist travel articles), one begins to find things one did not quite expect. Put simply, it becomes a kind of mirror of the human psyche, of humans in close interaction with their primeval environment, with all its ghastliness and beauty, and their myriad inclinations towards both the tragic and the beautiful.
Take for example, the extreme feeling of isolation that a seafaring culture must have felt, of being stranded, once all the original tree species had been cut down and driven to extinction, and they couldn't make any more sea craft (something a number of environmentalists have pointed out). Imagine the keen loss of traditional values that must have been felt, once the statues were thrown down (in a probable revolution of some sort), or the desperate alternative worship of man-like birds, who could fly away into the sea and escape their lonely, now barren, isle. And what about the island's trees in the first place-there was a highly prized native palm on the island, that could be sourced to transport statues, make ropes, make sea craft, and provide an alcoholic sap amongst other things, which was driven to extinction by the islanders-whether by over-exploitation, neglect, or through an inability to adapt and change, or all of them. And there are even suggestions that is was in the making and transporting of the statues themselves which at least partially caused the islander's ultimate cultural downfall-the transport of the statues required the felling of timber, and if one of these two practices had to cease or change, it probably wasn't the felling of timber.
It is difficult to know for certain what variety of factors were responsible for the extinction of the prized trees, but no doubt isolation, neglect, and an inability to change must have been major factors. In addition, the Polynesian rat evidently had a big appetite for native palm nuts (teeth marks in nuts). Without the timber from the trees, soil erosion and degradation set in, and most importantly they couldn't make wooden boats to fish, and so they began to starve. Archaeological evidence also indicates an outbreak of warfare at about the same time as the trees became extinct. There is indeed a myriad of archaeological evidence here to delight anyone interested in the rise and fall of nations and cultures to be sure, scattered in caves, swamps, dwellings, quarries and various other places on the island.
Another interesting discovery is the preserved fossilised roots of native palm trees, which are almost identical to the modern day, very versatile Chilean species. Also of interest to me was the subtle development from religious ritual and symbolism, to depiction of the same on favourable rock outcrops, ultimately to communication of the same on wooden articles-the Rongorongo script. In short-'religious ritual' to 'writing'. Writing originating as art inspired by cultural isolation? There are suggestions here that it was the Spanish who influenced this trend towards writing, but after reading the debate here, I'm not convinced. The extreme isolation to me suggests a kind of inspired artistic innovation or expression. Readers might also be surprised to learn that the origin of the Polynesians themselves is from Taiwan in about 4000 BC-an island nation, that has frequent political troubles, and I presume also may have had, around 4000 BC??.
There are various other discussions on the geology, geography, climate, the infamous Kon Tiki expedition, genetic research into islander origins, Polynesian dispersal and seafaring, archaeological excavations (of course), agriculture, general ecology, statues and ceremonies, food issues, the western human impact from the 18th century onwards, the introduction of smallpox, western religion, slave trading from Peru in the 19th century, and revised views on issues concerning resource sustainability, and ultimate parallels with the rest of the world. It is worth mentioning here that the first edition received some criticism for failing to note differences in resource availability with continental landmasses (which have a larger degree of alternative resources, and further discoveries of eg minerals), and these issues have been incorporated in this revised edition. Comparisons are also made with two other pacific islands, although in somewhat limited detail, Mangaia and Tikopia, which experienced similar ecological and cultural crises, but apparently managed to 'see them through'. There are also a number of black and white and colour plates, and quite a few diagrams which provide good support to the discussions.
An excellent overview of a thoroughly fascinating, and always surprising place.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
The Final Enigma 9 Mar. 2005
By doomsdayer520 - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is likely the most comprehensive and authoritative work available on the mysteries of Easter Island, concerning its unique culture and its famous statues. The writing here is rather dry, with only occasional glimmers of personality, though the knowledge presented is robust and is usually entirely readable for the interested layperson. The book gets off to a pretty slow start as Flenley and Bahn unnecessarily debunk the discredited theories of Thor Heyerdahl, while they seem to have a colonialist-style disdain for the memories of the present Easter Islanders. The book eventually improves, presenting a general history of the island and an overview of its isolated brand of Polynesian culture. Utilizing archeology, linguistics, botany, anthropology and other disciplines, we learn here that the Easter Island culture evolved out of a likely total isolation from their Polynesian kin (it's one of the most remote inhabited places on Earth), adapted to specific environmental challenges, and developed a highly unique society focused on building giant statues and monuments. But at some point the closed cultural and environmental system collapsed, probably with deforestation and soil erosion as the root causes, and the rich island culture broke down into mayhem and anarchy. This is a chilling lesson for humankind, though Flenley and Bahn wrap up the book with a pretty weak and predictable environmental message for the world. [~doomsdayer520~]
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
The Fascination of the Megaliths 11 July 2005
By Melissa McCauley - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Flenley and Bahn have created an incredibly comprehensive reconstruction of Easter Island's history. They cover the origins, flora, fauna, tides, culture, language, stone carving, etc. In fact, for a layman such as myself, the sheer volume of details is a bit overwhelming, and I frequently found myself skimming. (I really didn't want to know that much about Chilean palm tree nuts or pollen samples.)

The authors make their very plausible (and exhaustive) case that the Easter Islanders doomed themselves by invoking an ecological disaster, possibly compounded by drought, which led to starvation and internecine warfare.

The stone giants are the embodiment of some sort of archetypal figure from the human subconscious and have fascinated generations. I came away from the reading most impressed by the fact that every scientist, archaeologist, doctor, engineer, or assorted wing-nut who had seen the stones was compelled to try and figure out how they were carved or moved. The megaliths seem to cast a spell over the most sane and rational people. (I found myself telling my husband we should go there for our next vacation)
Good book 1 Dec. 2013
By KJ - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Not a bad read for the most part. Got alittle slow here and there, but provided a great range of theories and information. If you're curious about Easter Island, I believe you'll find much of interest in this book.
Far beyond Thor Hyderall 21 Aug. 2013
By Warez - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book is well researched and if one really wants to know the possibilities of how the island came to be inhabited Beyond speculation and Kon Tiki then I would suggest it.
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