Nov 2004, Jan 2009
9. Sunken lands
10. Megalithic Pacific (11/20)
... Easter Island – the living and solitary witness of a submerged prehistoric continent in the midst of the Pacific Ocean. – H.P. Blavatsky1
Read my lips: the islands of Polynesia are not, nor have they ever been, a part of a sunken continent. – A modern ‘expert’2
Easter Island lies some 500 km east of the crest of a submarine mountain range called the East Pacific Rise; it is also situated on the Easter fracture zone. The island is believed to be the summit of an immense mountain formed by the outpouring of molten volcanic rock from the seafloor. It rests on a submarine platform some 50 or 60 m below the ocean’s surface, but 15 to 30 km off the coast, the platform ends and the ocean floor drops to between 1800 and 3600 m.
Easter Island owes its roughly triangular shape to the three volcanoes located at its corners: Poike, Rano Kau, and Terevaka. In addition to these main volcanic centres there are at least 70 subsidiary eruptive centres. The oldest lava flows have been dated at up to 3 million years old, but more recently lower dates of half to three-quarters of a million years have been published.3 Some scientists think the earliest lavas of Easter Island (now well below sea level) erupted around 4.5 to 5 million years ago.4*
*For conversion between ‘scientific’ and theosophical dates, see ‘Geochronology: theosophy and science’, https://davidpratt.info/geochron.htm.
Legend describes Easter Island as having once been part of a ‘much larger country’. Successive ice ages during the Pleistocene have lowered sea level by at least 100 m and possibly far more at times, and Easter Island would then have been larger than it is today. According to the ruling geological paradigm of plate tectonics, Easter Island has never been part of a sunken continent. However, the plate-tectonic model is challenged by a mountain of evidence. Some of the main problems are outlined below.
Fig. 9.1 Francis Mazière thought that the legendary lost continent of Hiva might
been a long continental ridge (the East Pacific Rise). As explained below, growing
evidence is emerging that far larger areas of the Pacific Ocean were once land.
Although most earth scientists jumped on the plate-tectonic bandwagon in the 1960s and 70s, the theory has always had its critics. Their number is increasing as evidence contradicting the reigning paradigm continues to accumulate.1
According to plate tectonics, the earth’s outermost layer, or lithosphere, is divided into separate ‘plates’ that move with respect to one another on an underlying plastic layer known as the asthenosphere. The lithosphere is said to average 70 km in thickness beneath oceans, and to be 100 to 250 km thick beneath continents. However, seismic tomography (which produces 3D images of the earth’s interior) has shown that the oldest parts of the continents have very deep roots extending to depths of 400 km or more, and that the asthenosphere is absent or very thin beneath them. Even under the oceans there is no continuous asthenosphere, only disconnected asthenospheric lenses. In addition, the boundaries of the main plates are sometimes ill defined or nonexistent. These crucial facts – which go largely unmentioned in modern geological textbooks – render the large-scale lateral movement of individual ‘plates’ impossible.
Plate tectonics claims that new ocean crust is constantly being created by upwelling magma at ‘midocean’ ridges (including the East Pacific Rise) and subducted back into the mantle along ocean trenches, mostly located around the Pacific Rim. This would mean that the entire ocean crust should be no more than about 200 million years old. Yet, although ignored by the textbooks, literally thousands of rocks of Palaeozoic and Precambrian ages have been found in the world’s oceans. For instance, the rocks forming the St. Peter and Paul islands near the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge gave ages of 350, 450, 835 and 2000 million years, whereas according to plate tectonics they should be only 35 million years old. Rocks from central Tahiti in the South Pacific have proven to be over 800 million years old. Contrived and unconvincing attempts are occasionally made to explain such anomalies away – e.g. as crustal blocks that somehow got left behind during ‘seafloor spreading’.
Everyone accepts that enormous areas of the present continents have repeatedly been submerged beneath the sea; about 90% of all the sedimentary rocks composing the continents were laid down under water. But due to their ingrained beliefs, plate tectonicists tend to ignore the growing evidence that there used to be large, now submerged, continental landmasses in the present oceans – landmasses that are completely ignored in imaginative reassemblies of today’s supposedly drifting continents. Several geoscientists have called for a major effort to drill the ocean floor to much greater depths to verify whether, as the data available already suggest, the basalt layer that is currently labelled ‘basement’ conceals more ancient sediments below it.2
The earthquakes taking place at different depths on the landward side of ocean trenches define a Benioff zone, which is interpreted in plate tectonics as a ‘descending plate’. How ocean crust is supposed to descend into the denser mantle has never been satisfactorily explained. Moreover, Benioff zones have a highly variable and complex structure, with transverse as well as vertical discontinuities and segmentation, and bear little resemblance to the highly stylized pictures of continuous downgoing slabs depicted in geological textbooks.
Fig. 9.2 Earthquake distribution perpendicular to the Andes (15-30°S).
The outlined ‘subducting slab’ appears to be a product of wishful thinking.3
The volume of crust generated at ocean ridges is supposed to be equalled by the volume subducted. But whereas 80,000 km of midocean ridges are supposedly producing new crust, there are only 30,500 km of trenches and 9000 km of ‘collision zones’ – i.e. only half the length of the ‘spreading centres’. If subduction was really happening, vast amounts of oceanic sediments should have been scraped off the ocean floor and piled up against the landward margin of the trenches. However, sediments in the trenches are generally not present in the volumes required, and they do not display the expected degree of deformation. Plate tectonicists have had to resort to the far-fetched notion that soft ocean sediment can slide smoothly into a subduction zone without leaving any significant trace.
An alternative view of Benioff zones is that they are very ancient fractures produced by the cooling and contraction of the earth, and currently represent the deformation interface between the uplifting island arc/continental region and the subsiding ocean crust and mantle.
Most plate tectonicists believe that chains of oceanic islands and seamounts in the Pacific are the result of the Pacific plate moving over ‘hotspots’ of upwelling magma. This should give rise to a systematic age progression along hotspot trails, but a large majority show little or no age progression. For instance, the ages of islands and seamounts along the Sala y Gomez ridge (on which Easter Island and Sala y Gomez Island are located) fail to increase systematically to the east.4 Hotspots are commonly attributed to ‘mantle plumes’ rising from the core-mantle boundary. But critics have shown that plume explanations are ad hoc, artificial, and inadequate, and that plumes are not required by any geological evidence.5 An alternative proposal is that ocean island chains are formed by magma that rises from much shallower depths, perhaps from a network of magma ‘surge channels’ in the lithosphere.
The continents and oceans are covered with a network of major structures or lineaments, many dating from the Precambrian. In the Pacific basin there are intersecting megatrends, composed of ridges, fracture zones, and seamount chains, running NNW-SSE and WSW-ENE (fig. 9.3).6 In plate tectonics, seamount chains supposedly indicate the direction of plate movement, but to produce these orthogonal megatrends the plates would have to move in two directions at once! Although plate tectonicists invoke ad-hoc ‘microplates’ and ‘hotspots’ whenever the need arises, they are unable to offer a satisfactory explanation of any of these megatrends, and prefer to ignore them.
Fig. 9.3 The Pacific ‘plate’.
Furthermore, some megatrends continue into the Australian, Asian, and North and South American continents where they link up with major Precambrian lineaments, implying that the ‘oceanic’ crust is at least partly composed of Precambrian rocks – as has been confirmed by deep-sea dredging, drilling, and seismic data. The Easter fracture zone lies on the Central Pacific Megatrend, which spans the entire Pacific and continues across South America into the Atlantic Ocean.7 These interconnecting lineaments demolish the plate-tectonic myth that ‘plates’ and continents have moved thousands of kilometres over the earth’s surface.
It is commonly argued that Easter Island can never have formed part of a continent because no granite or sedimentary rocks such as limestone and sandstone have ever been found there – only igneous rocks. But as H.F. Blandford pointed out back in 1890:
[T]he occurrence of volcanic islands does not prove that the area in which they occur is not a sunken continent. If Africa south of the Atlas subsided two thousand fathoms [3660 m], what would remain above water? So far as our present knowledge goes, the remaining islands would consist of four volcanic peaks – the Cameroons, Mount Kenia, Kilimanjaro, and ... Ruwenzori, together with an island, or more than one, which, like the others, would be entirely composed of volcanic rocks.
He added that there is ‘clear proof that some land-areas lying within continental limits have within a comparatively recent date been submerged over a thousand fathoms, whilst sea-bottoms now over a thousand fathoms deep must have been land in part of the Tertiary’.1
Easter Island’s volcanic rocks consist mainly of basalts and andesites and a small amount of rhyolite. Basalts are considered to be a major component of the ocean crust, but flood basalts are also found in abundance on the continents. Furthermore, as more and more basalts are analyzed, the difference in the composition of oceanic and continental flood basalts is becoming increasingly blurred.2 In the plate-tectonic scheme, andesitic volcanoes are supposed to form along the edge of a continent, above a mythical subduction zone.3 Easter Island of course now lies 3600 km from the nearest continent. The coarse-grained equivalent of rhyolite is granite, which is found in abundance on the continents – and increasingly under the oceans. Some geologists in the past have described Easter Island’s rocks bluntly as ‘continental’.4 Plate-tectonicist P.E. Baker puts it more cautiously: ‘the lavas in general are rather more siliceous than is usual for an oceanic setting’; rocks from other islands on or near the East Pacific Rise, such as Pitcairn and the Galapagos, are similar in this respect.5
Soviet scientist N. Zhirov pointed out that ‘continental’ (sial) rocks such as granite, schist, rhyolite, and/or andesite have been found on many Pacific islands, including the Marquesas Islands, the Galapagos Islands, the Fiji Islands, the Tonga Islands, the Kermadec Islands, Chatham, Bounty and Oakland Islands, and Chuuk, Yap, and Man Islands in the Carolines. Most geologists nowadays prefer to assume that andesite and rhyolite rocks found in oceanic settings formed by high levels of fractional crystallization of oceanic basalts – but this is entirely hypothetical.6
Continental crust is usually said to average 35 km in thickness compared to only 7 km for oceanic crust. The crust is 40 km thick beneath North Australia, 20 km thick in the eastern part of the adjacent Coral Sea, 22-28 km thick in the Fiji-Tonga-Samoa area, and as much as 36 km thick at the Tonga Islands. There are over 100 submarine plateaus and ridges scattered throughout the oceans, dotted with islands, and many may be submerged continental fragments that have not been completely ‘oceanized’, as suggested by ‘anomalously’ thick crust and finds of ‘impossibly’ ancient continental rocks.
Fig. 9.4 Worldwide distribution of oceanic plateaus (black).
In the early 20th century, geologist J.W. Gregory concluded from a detailed survey of geological and palaeontological evidence that landmasses of varying sizes had been uplifted and submerged at various times in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, most of them disappearing by the Miocene. He wrote: ‘The direct geological evidence is overwhelming, that large blocks of the Earth’s crust rise and fall for vertical amounts greater than the greatest depths in the oceans.’7
Russian geoscientist E.M. Ruditch concluded from a detailed study of ocean drilling results that there is no systematic correlation between the age of shallow-water sediments and their distance from the axes of the midoceanic ridges. This disproves the seafloor-spreading model, according to which the age of sediments should become progressively older with increasing distance from the midoceanic ridge. Some areas of the oceans appear to have undergone continuous subsidence, whereas others have experienced alternating episodes of subsidence and elevation. He believed that major areas of the oceans were formerly land. The Pacific Ocean appears to have formed mainly from the late Jurassic to the Miocene, the Atlantic Ocean from the Late Cretaceous to the end of the Eocene, and the Indian Ocean during the Paleocene and Eocene.8 This corresponds closely to the theosophical teachings on the submergence of Lemuria in the Late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic, and the submergence of Atlantis in the first half of the Cenozoic.9
The map of former land areas in the present Pacific and Indian Oceans presented in fig. 9.5 was compiled by geoscientists J.M. Dickins and D.R. Choi on the basis of ocean-floor sampling and drilling, seismic data, and the location of ancient sediment sources.10 Only landmasses for which substantial evidence already exists are shown, but their exact outlines and full extent are as yet unknown. Some geologists have argued that the area in the Southeast Pacific labelled S3 probably extended much further west and encompassed what is now Easter Island.11
Easter Island legends tell of the first settlers arriving after their native land had been submerged, and of a giant named Uoke, in a fit of anger, causing the subsidence of a large continent, of which Easter Island is a remnant. Similar traditions of vanished continents are found throughout Polynesia and Melanesia, and in other areas bordering the Pacific. For instance, the Hawaiians believed there was once a great continent stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand, but it sank, leaving only its mountaintops as islands. Such legends do not specify when the various landmasses are supposed to have existed. Although it is certain that no large continents in the Pacific have been submerged during the past few millennia, several writers believe that islands of reasonable size have done so.
When the Dutchman Roggeveen discovered Easter Island in 1722, he was actually searching for Davis Land. An English buccaneer named John Davis reported sighting this island in 1687 in latitude 27°20'S. He said it was 800 km from the coast of Chile, low, flat, and sandy, but with ‘a long tract of pretty high land’ to the northwest. This description in no way applies to Easter Island. The general belief today is that Davis had misjudged his position, as was by no means unusual in the case of the early mariners, and that Davis Land was Mangareva, the chief island in the Gambier archipelago, far to the west of Easter Island.
However, in the early 20th century Lewis Spence and John Macmillan Brown took the report of Davis Land at face value, and concluded that an archipelago of considerable extent must have foundered in this area between 1687 and 1722. Brown thought that Sala y Gomez, a rocky islet just above water some 415 km northeast of Easter Island, was probably the remains of Davis Land; there are numerous reefs around it and the water in its vicinity is shallow.1 The Easter Islanders called it Motu Matiro Hiva, meaning ‘islet in front of Hiva’, Hiva being the name given to their legendary homeland.
In addition to the Easter Island archipelago, Spence and Brown argued that land had also been submerged in several other parts of the Pacific within the last few thousand years.2 They held, for instance, that the Caroline archipelago could be the remains of a vast island-empire in the eastern Central Pacific. The ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei, with its massive walls, earthworks, and great temples, intersected by miles of artificial waterways, would have required a workforce of tens of thousands (see section 10). Brown pointed out that within a radius of 2400 km there are no more than 50,000 people today, and added: ‘It is one of the miracles of the Pacific unless we assume a subsidence of twenty times as much land as now exists.’3 On the little coral island of Woleai, some 1600 km west of Pohnpei, he found a written script still in use, quite unlike any other in the world (see section 7).
Quite a few islands that mariners have reported on their travels have later gone missing.4 For instance, in 1879 an Italian captain announced his discovery of Podesta Island, just over a kilometre in circumference, 1390 km due west of Valparaiso, Chile. The island has not been found since, and was removed from charts in 1935. An island near Easter Island was sighted in 1912 but was likewise never seen again. Sarah Ann Island northwest of Easter Island was removed from naval charts when a search in 1932 failed to find it. The need for caution in interpreting such accounts is underlined by the following incident: in 1928 the captain and two officers on a British luxury liner announced that Easter Island itself had vanished – but a Chilean gunboat was sent to the island and found it in its usual place!
In 1955 US military pilots sighted an island 615 km west of Honolulu, but it disappeared within a few weeks, leaving only sulphurous streaks on the surface. In February 1946, a British warship witnessed the birth of two volcanic cones 320 km south of Tokyo; they rose to a height of 15 m and spread out over an area of about 2.5 sq km. Two months later they had dissolved into a shoal considerably larger than their initial size. In addition to temporary volcanic islands that suddenly appear in deep ocean basins, there are also islands that rise and fall in more shallow regions. Fonuafo’ou (Falcon Island) in the Tonga group, was born in 1885 when an eruption raised a shoal 88 m above the ocean surface. Over the next 13 years, its 3-km-diameter mass disappeared. It was reborn in 1927, and today is about 30 m high. Metis Island, 120 km from Fonuafo’ou, popped up in 1875 and vanished in 1899.
Hunter Island was discovered in 1823 at 15°31'S and 176°11'W. It was a fertile land, inhabited by cultivated Polynesians who had the curious custom of amputating the little finger of the left hand at the second joint. But the island was never seen again. The three Tuanaki Islands, part of the Cook group in the South Pacific, disappeared around the middle of the 19th century. These islands, too, were inhabited by Polynesians, but in 1844 a missionary ship failed to locate them. Several former inhabitants of the islands, who had left in their youth, died in Rarotonga during the 20th century.
Although a few small islands seem to have sunk in the Pacific in the past few millennia, the evidence that archipelagoes on the scale that Spence and Brown had in mind existed during this period is extremely slim. But, as explained above, landmasses of continental size undoubtedly existed in the Pacific in the much more distant past.
Plate tectonics – a dogma in distress
Lost Pacific islands
Fig. 10.A1 The Pacific Ocean and its islands.
The settlement of the Pacific is currently thought to have begun some 50,000 years ago, when hunter-gatherers first colonized Australia and New Guinea in the western Pacific, at a time when they were joined by land due to the lower sea level resulting from the ice age. Migration proceeded eastwards, and reached the northern Solomon Islands about 28,000 years ago. The Polynesian islands are believed to have been settled for the first time only within the last 2000 years or so, because the Polynesians took a long time to develop the navigational expertise enabling them to sail far offshore. However, dates for the settlement of the various Pacific islands are very tentative since they are based mainly on the oldest radiocarbon dates so far obtained; future excavations and discoveries may indicate that human habitation goes back countless millennia earlier.
The history of even the past few thousand years is as yet poorly known. For instance, despite persistent denials by many orthodox archaeologists, there is growing evidence for transatlantic and transpacific contacts between a variety of ancient cultures, including the Egyptians, Libyans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Hindus, Dravidians, Chinese, Mayans and Incas.1 Some ancient maps provide tantalizing but controversial evidence that the earth had been mapped over 10,000 years ago, during the last ice age.2 There may have been several waves of migration into the Pacific from different directions, and over a timespan far vaster than mainstream archaeologists are willing to contemplate.
The origin of the Polynesians is still controversial. The prevailing theory in the late 1800s and early 1900s was that the Polynesians were an Indo-European group who came to the Pacific via India; this was partly based on linguistic evidence. Nowadays the Polynesians are generally believed to have originated in East Asia or Melanesia. Genetic studies are said to show that about 94% of Polynesian mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) are of East Asian origin and 6% of Melanesian origin; about 34% of Polynesian Y chromosomes are of East Asian origin and 66% are of Melanesian origin; and about 79% of the Polynesian autosomal gene pool is of East Asian origin and 21% is of Melanesian origin. These data suggest a dual origin of Polynesians with a high East Asian but also considerable Melanesian component.3 The dominant theory is that the ancestors of the Polynesians originated in China/Taiwan and migrated south to the Philippines some 6000 years ago. But some researchers argue that genetic data as a whole favour an origin in island Southeast Asia approximately 10,000 years earlier, at a time when lower sea levels meant that Indo-China, Malaysia and Indonesia were joined by land, forming a huge peninsula known as Sundaland.4
More controversially, there are various genetic and cultural similarities between the Polynesians and the Tlingit, Kwakuitl and Haida Indians of Alaska and Canada – something not readily explained by any mainstream theories.5 And in addition to the link between Polynesian and Sanskrit, a strong Libyan influence on the early Polynesians’ alphabet and language has been identified; Libyan sailors were employed on Egyptian ships, which travelled to the Indo-Pacific region for trading and mining purposes.6
Graeme Kearsley says that the Polynesians
are in many respects closely allied to Caucasians and were in many studies considered as such, and this racial heritage is still obvious in many islands in Eastern Polynesia as it was to the first European explorers. These migrations followed the same pattern as land migrations in that the male migrants, or mariners, traded, bought or captured marriage partners from coastal or island peoples thereby producing mixed race descendants. Therefore variable racial inheritance is clearly in evidence throughout the islands of the Pacific ...7
Reports by the earliest European visitors contain many references to the variable skin colour of Polynesians on different islands and also on the same island. Some Polynesians appeared to be Indians of the Americas, while others were of ‘Jewish’ type or wore turbans. There were reports of a high proportion of tall, pale-skinned natives, sometimes with reddish hair, often holding positions of high rank. As time went by, there were fewer such sightings; the whites in Tahiti, for example, succumbed more readily to diseases brought by Europeans than the black-haired Polynesians. For many thousands of years there appear to have been trade links, cultural transfers, and migrations from Asia, India, and the Middle East across the Pacific to the Americas, and also contacts from the Americas across the Pacific back to Asia.
The following brief tour of the Pacific focuses on remains of monumental and megalithic architecture. As on Easter Island, some of the structures may be the work of very ancient and as-yet-unknown cultures.
Fig. 10.B1 Granite base of the main tower of former Edo Castle, Imperial Palace, Tokyo.
Fig. 10.B2 Two views of a basalt wall, Edo Castle, showing different standards of workmanship.
Fig. 10.B3 Basalt structure near the Imperial Palace. (courtesy of Hetu Sheth)
Fig. 10.B4 ‘Masuda-no-iwafune’ (Masuda’s rock ship), a carved granite megalith located on a hill near the village
of Asuka. It measures about 11 m long by 8 m wide and 4.5 m thick, and contains two square holes.
Fig. 10.B5 Above: The octopus stone, Osaka Castle, measuring 11.7 by 5.5 m and weighing over 120 tonnes.
Below: Another view of the same wall. (hiddenandlittleknownplaces)
Fig. 10.B6 Above and below: Other megalithic stone walls, Osaka Castle.
In the mid-1980s a rectangular stone structure, measuring about 250 m long, 100 m wide, and 25 m high, was discovered off the small Japanese island of Yonaguni. It now lies in depths of up to 30 m of water but would have been exposed about 10,000 years, when the sea level was much lower, at which time it would have stood on the tropic of Cancer. The structure includes wide terraces, large steps, ramps and trenches, and two megalithic blocks 6 m high, about 2.5 m wide, and 4.9 m thick. Some of the stones show tool marks, and it seems likely that the structure is a natural geological formation that has been worked and modified by human hands.1
Fig. 10.C1 Submerged structure near Yonaguni.2 (courtesy of Robert Schoch)
Other sunken structures have been found over a distance of 500 km between Yonaguni and Okinawa. They include paved streets and crossroads, huge altar-like formations, grand staircases leading to broad plazas, and processional ways surmounted by pairs of towering features resembling pylons.3
Throughout the Mariana Islands latte stones are found – tall stone columns with a hemispherical capstone, looking like mushrooms. The upright stones usually occur in double rows of 6 to 14 stones. Latte stones range from small crude structures constructed of natural boulders to massive stone columns, square in shape, 4.5 m or more in height, capped with enormous blocks of stone. The island of Tinian has two of the largest standing megaliths. The pillars are 5.5 m in circumference at the base and 4.5 m at the top. They are 3.7 m high and support capitals 1.5 m high and 1.8 m in diameter. Each coral monolith weighs about 30 tons. There were originally 10 pillars arranged in two parallel rows, known as the House of Taga.4
Fig. 10.C2 House of Taga, Tinian.
When the Spaniards first arrived in the early 16th century, the lattes were already partly in ruins. The natives (descendants of the ancient Chamorros) disclaimed all knowledge of the builders, and ascribed the stones to the ‘spirits of the before-time people’. Since the natives called them the ‘houses of the old people’ and still build their houses on supports, it is commonly assumed that the lattes once supported wooden houses, though no one has ever seen them used for that purpose. Another view is that the taller lattes once supported the roof of ancient temples, as in the Temple of Luxor at Karnak, Egypt.
The marked differences in the shape, size, and quality of the lattes suggest that they could have been made by different cultures at widely different times. The earliest radiocarbon date from organic material found in the vicinity of the lattes is 900 AD – but this tells us nothing about when they were made. In 1949 two pieces of iron were discovered under the base of one latte pillar. These pieces of iron were not intrusive, and some archaeologists have concluded that at least one latte stone must have been erected after the arrival of the Spaniards – the possibility that earlier cultures on the island may have used iron is ruled out on ideological grounds.5
Pohnpei (or Ponape, also called Ascension) is a volcanic island in the eastern Caroline Islands, and may have been the centre of a vanished empire. In the lagoon on the southeastern coast of Pohnpei lies Nan Madol, the ‘Venice of the Pacific’. It covers more than 18 square kilometres, but the core of the site is about 1.5 km by 0.5 km and contains 92 artificial islands built in the lagoon and surrounded by man-made canals. The islands were made by stacking large undressed hexagonal basalt prisms, most weighing under 10 tons, on the coral reef and filling in the centre of the islet with coral. The buildings are rather crude, but the scale of the work is very impressive. The largest structure, Nan Douwas, oriented to the cardinal directions, consists of two concentric perimeter walls separated by a seawater moat and enclosing a central pyramidal mound. The walls are made from basalt megaliths over 6 m long and reach 7.6 m in height, but could have been far higher originally. The largest stone, a massive basalt cornerstone on the southeast side of Nan Douwas, weighs around 50 tons.
Fig. 10.C3 Nan Douwas.6
Between 500 and 750 thousand tonnes of building material were transported from varying distances to the site. Although legend speaks of the prisms being magically floated through the air, the official view is that they were carried on coconut palm rafts. Lost prisms can in fact be seen on the bottom of the lagoons along the route from the quarries, indicating that at least some were transported by this means. Ashes at the bottom of a fire pit on one of the artificial islands were dated to 1000 AD, but this only shows that the city was inhabited at that time – not that the entire city was built then. In any event, traces of an earlier layer of construction have also been detected.
According to legend, two wise and holy men, Olosopa and Olosipa, selected the site of Nan Madol after they climbed a high peak and saw an underwater city below; Nan Madol was built as a ‘mirror image’ of its sunken counterpart. Legend speaks of two sunken cities and of underwater tunnels. The existence of extensive undersea ruins has been confirmed. They include a series of tall pillars standing on flat pedestals, reaching heights of up to 8 m.7
The ancient giant stone city of Insaru on Lelu Island, which lies adjacent to Kosrae (the easternmost of the Carolines), was also made of huge basalt walls and pyramids, with the islands and buildings being intersected by a canal network connected with the ocean. The ruins are very similar to those of Nan Madol but not as extensive. Some of the walls are over 6 m high, and the megalithic basalt blocks weigh up to 50 tons. Whereas Nan Madol has sunk somewhat, Lelu appears to have risen slightly since the canals are almost dry. Where the stones came from is a mystery; legend says the city was built in one night by two magicians.
Fig. 10.C4 An 1899 photo of one of the massive walls on Lelu Island.8
On the Palau islands, the westernmost of the Carolines, over 5% of the land surface is terraced, and whole hills have been sculpted to resemble step pyramids. Some of the terraces are 4.5 m or more high and often 9 to 18 m wide. The terraces do not feature at all in local oral traditions, and no one knows who built them. The Bairulchan megalithic site on Babeldaob has two rows of large basalt monoliths, some with facial features carved on them. There are 37 stones in all, some weighing up to 5 tons, and the largest being 3 m tall. Similar monoliths can be found on Vao and Malekula in the Vanuata Islands (New Hebrides).
Fig. 10.C5 Left: Stone monoliths on Palau’s Babeldoab Island. It is thought they may once have supported a massive structure.
Right: Part of a broken monolith on Malekula.9
On the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia there are about 400 large tumuli or mounds, ranging from 9 to 50 m in diameter, and 0.6 to 4.6 m in height. The material composing them seems to come from the immediate surroundings: coral debris, earth, and grains of iron oxide. The larger tumuli enclose cement columns of lime and shell matter, suggesting that the tumuli are the product of human activity. Many archaeologists doubt this as the early settlers did not use cement, and they theorize that the mounds were built by huge, now-extinct, flightless birds for incubating their eggs! However the cylinders inside the tumuli are of a very hard, homogeneous lime-mortar, containing bits of shells which have yielded radiocarbon dates of 5120 to 10,950 BC; even the later date is some 3000 years earlier than humans are believed to have reached the southwest Pacific from the Indonesian area.1
The Polynesian triangle stretches from New Zealand in the southwest to Hawaii in the north to Easter Island in the southeast. Nowhere in the Pacific are there as many impressive megalithic remains concentrated in so small an area as on Easter Island. Nevertheless, there are several notable structures on other islands.
The island of Tongatapu in the Tonga Islands has the only megalithic arch in the South Pacific – the trilithon of Ha’amonga. Each of the upright coral pillars is 4.9 m high and weighs about 50 tons. The lintel, which is set into grooves in the upright stones, is 5.8 m long and weighs about 9 tons. One theory is that the trilithon was erected in the 14th century for a king to sit on as he drank an alcoholic beverage known as kava!
Fig. 10.D1 The trilithon of Ha’amonga.1
The ceremonial centre of Mu’a (formerly Lapaha), a canal city on Tongatapu, has many megalithic platforms (known as langi). The central area of Mu’a was surrounded by a huge canal or moat. Massive rocks at an ancient port on the lagoon side of Mu’a indicate that huge vessels once docked there. The island has risen about a metre over the last few thousand years and such structures as the wharf and canal/moat are now useless. Langi Tauhala, a pyramidal platform at the old fortress of Tongatapu, is made of massive cut stone blocks. It contains probably the largest structural stone ever used by the Polynesians: measuring 7.4 m long, 2.2 m high, 0.4 m thick, and weighing 30 to 40 tonnes, it is notched and fitted into an adjacent block, and forms part of a wall 222 m long.
Fig. 10.D2 The largest stone block in Langi Tauhala, Mu’a. The unusual notching can be seen on the far right.2
Fig. 10.D3 Other stonework at Lapaha.
On the basis of carbon-dating, Samoa is believed to have been settled by the Lapita people around 1200 BC, at about the same time as Tonga. On Savai’i island is an enormous flat-topped, known as the Pulemelei – the largest surviving mound in Polynesia. Made from natural basalt stones, it measures about 60 by 65 m at the base, and rises in two tiers to a height of about 12 m. At either end is a slightly sunken ramp to the top, together with a pavement, and it is surrounded by numerous other platforms, roads, and stone walls, as would befit a major ceremonial centre. On Upolu is another ceremonial centre consisting of immense earthen mounds, seven of which are truncated, rectangular pyramids. The largest of them surpasses the Pulemelei in size: it is 105.5 by 95.8 m at its base, about 12.2 m high, and appears to be made entirely of earth. The mounds are generally thought to have been used for the former royal amusement of pigeon-snaring, but it seems unlikely that this was their original purpose.
Fig. 10.D4 Above: The Pulemelei mound (left and centre) and a star-shaped mound (right) on
Below: The upper platform of the Pulemelei mound.3
Malden Island (one of the Line Islands, Republic of Kiribati [pronounced: Kiribas]), now uninhabited, has some 40 stepped pyramidal platform-temples, 3 to 9 m high, 6 to 18 m wide, and 27 to 60 m long, with traces of paved roads leading down to the sea.4
On Rarotonga, the largest of the Cook Islands, piercing the ears and extending the earlobes were old customs, as was the case on Easter Island, in ancient India, and in Peru. The Rarotonga dialect is close to the Rapanui language. The island has a megalithic road that once encircled the entire island, as well as several pyramidal platforms. Some sections of the road were paved with perfectly fitting slabs, but most of it has now been paved over with asphalt. The kerbing is composed of neatly fitted blocks of prismatic basalt laid closely together. It is better constructed than the roads on Malden Island, and similar to those found in Peru. Rectangular enclosures associated with ceremonial platforms are set off from road.
Fig. 10.D5 Paved road encircling Rarotonga.5
Truncated, pyramidal platforms, or marae, are found throughout the Society Islands, some consisting of megalithic stones, carefully shaped and fitted. The largest of all the Polynesian stone structures was Marae Mahaiatea on Tahiti. In overall appearance it was a stepped pyramid with a broad flat top. It measured 21.6 by 81.4 m at the base, and rose in 11 steps to a height of over 13 m. The courses were made of coral blocks, faced with squared volcanic stones. It is said to have been completed shortly before Captain Cook’s visit in 1769, but was demolished after 1897.
Fig. 10.D6 A 1799 etching of Marae Mahaiatea.6
Fig. 10.D7 The largest tiki found in Polynesia. It stands 2.75 m (9 ft) tall, and consists of 2 tons of basalt. It was carved on Raivavae (one of the Austral Islands), the religious centre of Polynesia, but now stands at Tahiti’s Gauguin Museum. Claims that the moai statues of Easter Island are a development of the Polynesian tiki are unconvincing.
Fig. 10.D8 On the remote island of Rapa – also known as Rapa Iti (Little Rapa) to distinguish it from Rapa Nui (Big Rapa, i.e. Easter Island) – the hills are carved with overgrown terraces and mysterious pyramids; it is not known who made them.7
Marae Taputapuatea on Raiatea (the largest of the Leeward Islands) is 43 m long, 7.3 m wide, and up to 3.7 m high. It is thought to have been erected in the early part of the 2nd millennium AD, but was built over an older platform. It is one of the largest and best preserved platforms in Polynesia, and one of its most sacred sites. Like those of Raiatea, the marae on Huahine and Bora Bora are constructed of large coral slabs, whereas comparable structures on Tahiti and Moorea are made of round basalt stones.
Fig. 10.D9 Coral slabs in Marae Taputapuatea.
Fig. 10.D10 Coral slabs in Marae Tainuu, Raiatea.
Throughout the Marquesas Islands the remains of great stone platforms, walled house sites, and terraces, most of them overgrown with jungle vegetation, provide silent testimony of a vanished culture. The largest archaeological site in Polynesia is found on Hiva Oa, and occupies the whole of the Taaoa Valley. This partially restored site has over 1000 paepae (platforms on which houses were built), a large tohua (public ceremonial centre), and several me’ae (sacred platforms taboo to the public). Some of the platforms are 120 m long and 30 m wide, and contain cyclopean basalt blocks weighing over 10 tons. However, no carefully cut stonework comparable to Ahu Vinapu on Easter Island has been found.
Fig. 10.D11 Platform in the Taaoa Valley.
Fig. 10.D12 On the massive Te I’ipona me’ae at Puama’u on Hiva Oa stand
five huge stone tiki, the largest being 2.43 m tall.
One of the most impressive archaeological sites is the unrestored ancient ceremonial centre in the Taipivai Valley on Nuku Hiva. It includes a massive platform, Vahangeku’a Tohua, built on an artificial terrace on a hillside. Measuring 170 by 25 m, it contains an estimated 6800 cubic metres of earth fill, and was faced by a wall almost 3 m high consisting of enormous basalt blocks, some of them 1.5 m high and just as broad.
Fig. 10.D13 Megalithic 3-m-high wall of Vahangeku’a Tohua, Nuku Hiva.
In 1956 archaeologist Robert Suggs carried out excavations at Hikouku’a in the Hatiheu Valley on Nuku Hiva, a sacred site that had long been concealed from western visitors. His crew dug several trenches in the huge platform in the hope of finding datable artifacts. Their finds included a musket used in the American Civil War, a French brandy bottle, and a glass bowl manufactured in Philadelphia in the late 1700s. Suggs concluded that the platforms had been constructed since the arrival of the Europeans in the Marquesas.
However, novelist Herman Melville had visited Nuku Hiva in 1842, and described the massive platforms as being of such antiquity that his Marquesan guide said they were ‘coeval with the creation of the world’. Melville’s book on the subject appeared in 1846, 15 years before the American Civil War. Yet Suggs believed the platforms were still being constructed in the mid-1800s! He had fallen into the common error of assuming that the dates of artifacts or burials found in association with megalithic structures are reliable indicators of when the original structure was built.8 The structures could of course be thousands of years older, and could have been renovated, rebuilt, or enlarged several times.
Nowadays the Marquesas Islands have about 8000 inhabitants. The population is thought to have peaked at about 100,000 a few centuries ago, but was decimated following the arrival of the Europeans at the end of the 16th century. The Marquesas are frequently assumed to have been settled by people of western Polynesian origin, probably from Tonga or Samoa, around 300 AD, but Suggs argues that they were settled much earlier, around 300-500 BC. The islands are widely believed to have been one of the main points from which Polynesians spread throughout the Pacific; the Marquesan language is closely related to the languages of Hawaii, Mangareva, and Easter Island.
A minority view is that the Marquesas were populated from Mexico or Peru, but opponents point out that no South American pottery or tools have ever been found in Polynesia. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the Marquesas, as one of the most easterly parts of Polynesia, played a key role in two-way contacts between Asia and the Americas. There are many cultural parallels between the Marquesas and the cultures of Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
For instance, ear elongation was practised in the Marquesas, as it was in Peru. The Marquesans also practised skull elongation, a custom found in Peru and also among the Flathead Indians of Montana. Bug-eyed statues similar to those found on the Marquesas are found in Bolivia and Peru, especially at Tiahuanaco and Chavin, and they have also been compared to Chinese Bronze Age statues. The ancient sacred centre of Nuku Hiva was probably the Taipivai Valley, which lies next to the sacred mountain of Taipi. Interestingly, the sacred centre at Tiwanaku bears a similar name: Taypi. Near the temple platforms on Nuku Hiva, and on certain other Polynesian islands, sacred banyans were grown; banyans can also be seen growing from stone platforms in India.9
Many ancient cultures were familiar with the important astronomical cycle known as the precession of the equinoxes.1 Due to a very slow gyration of the earth’s axis, the spring equinox occurs about 20 minutes earlier every year, and the rising sun moves slowly against the backdrop of the zodiacal constellations from one equinox to the next, at an average rate of 1/72 degree per year. It therefore moves 1° in 72 years, 30° (one constellation of the zodiac) in 2160 years, and takes 25,920 years to make a complete circuit of the zodiac.2 Numbers such as 54, 72, 108, 144, and 180 (all multiples of 18) are known as precessional numbers, and were assigned special significance in ancient societies.
As Graham Hancock has pointed out, if we take the meridian of Giza-Heliopolis in Egypt as the zero-meridian for measuring longitude, we find that the great temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia lies 72° east of the Giza meridian, the ruins of Nan Madol on Pohnpei lie 54° east of Angkor, and astronomically aligned megalithic structures on the islands of Kiribati and Tahiti, lie respectively 72° and 108° east of Angkor.
The next significant precessional number is 144. When we look 144° of longitude east of Angkor (which is also 144° west of Giza), we find only one island in the vicinity: Easter Island, which lies just over 3° (barely 320 km) to the east of the exact location. Hancock suggests that Easter Island might originally have been settled ‘to serve as a sort of geodetic beacon, or marker – fulfilling some as yet unguessed at function in an ancient global system of sky-ground coordinates that linked many so-called “world navels” ’.
The next significant precessional number is 180. Hancock writes:
Exactly 180 degrees east of Angkor (and 108 degrees west of Giza), and almost exactly as far south of the equator (13 degrees 48 minutes) as Angkor is north of it (13 degrees 26 minutes), a colossal and unmistakable beacon does exist. It is the outline of a trident, or candelabra, 250 metres high, carved into the red cliffs of the Bay of Paracas on the coast of Peru and it is visible from far out to sea.
It seems to point inland, towards the plains of Nazca to the south and the Andes mountains to the east.3
Fig. 10.E1 Candelabra, Bay of Paracas.4
Easter Island – land of mystery: Contents
Sunken continents versus continental drift