Reading the rongorongo – a mysterious script from Easter Island – has been unsuccessful for decades. The signs have been preserved on wooden tablets, 23 of which have survived to our times. Scientists do not give up. Thanks to three-dimensional technology, it was possible to create a model of one of the plates. As a result, symbols that were unknown were spotted. Two Poles took part in the research.
In one of the most secluded places in the world – Easter Island – a magazine called rongorongo was created several hundred years ago. Its signs have been preserved on wooden tablets, while the tablets themselves have survived to our times only 23. However, the knowledge of how to read them is lost. The world learned about rongorongo only in 1864, and it quickly aroused great interest.
Rongorongo. A mysterious letter from Easter Island
Attempts to read this magazine have been underway for years. Among the few people who took up the challenge are Dr. Rafał Wieczorek from the University of Warsaw and Kamil E. Frankiewicz from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology of the University of Warsaw. The object of research was a plate resembling a massive boomerang, about a meter long. It comes from the collection of the Berlin Ethnographic Museum.
– Thanks to our project, it is the most comprehensively tested rongorongo tablet in the world – said Dr. Rafał Wieczorek. Scientists performed a comprehensive study of the monument: botanical analysis, radiocarbon dating and created a three-dimensional model of it. Thanks to this, they obtained a lot of new information about him. The study was published in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archeology.
The surface of the monument is badly damaged. Researchers believe that about 90 percent of the symbols that were originally engraved have become blurred. According to Wieczorek, the monument was buried for many years, probably in a cave. Then it was partially rotten. The centipedes that nested in it also caused devastation. The researchers even managed to determine their species – it is a dusted piglet (Porcellionides pruinosus).
Rongorongo script. 3D technology helped
The aforementioned three-dimensional model of the plate was helpful in obtaining new data. It was possible thanks to thousands of photogrammetric photos. Such a time-consuming action has paid off. Until now, it was believed that the plaque in the collection of the Berlin Ethnographic Museum was covered with signs only on one side. It turned out, however, that they were located on the entire surface.
– On the other side of the tablet and on its edges, we managed to see symbols invisible to the naked eye that have so far eluded researchers, as well as grooves – similar are present on some other rongorongo tablets. They served as lines delimiting the text and were to facilitate writing – the scientist explained. On this basis, the researchers were able to estimate the size of the entire text on the plate at around 4,000 symbols.
– If the tablet had been preserved in its entirety, it would have been the longest Rongorongo script in the world. Currently, most signs are on the so-called the staff of Santiago. There are about 2.3 thousand of them – the scientist pointed out. The Berlin plate – according to the Polish researcher – probably contains a list of names and a descriptive part.
Other new information that was obtained concerns the wood from which the sign was made.
– It has long been believed that the inscriptions were made on an object of wood washed ashore. Meanwhile, our analyzes show that the wood was local, it was a poplar thespession (Thespesia populnea) – Wieczorek completed.
Rongorongo script. When was it created
The mystery is not only the content of the tablets, but even the time when the rongorongo script was created on Easter Island, so it is important to define the age of the tablets as accurately as possible. The researchers promised a lot after the radiocarbon analysis performed for the new project. This type of analysis makes it possible to estimate the age of the monument (or actually the date of cutting the wood from which the object was made). The Berlin tablet is the second monument covered with rongorongo to be tested using this technique. According to the radiocarbon analysis, the object was made in the years 1810-1870, but it cannot be completely ruled out that it happened at the beginning of the 18th century. The results of the radiocarbon analysis are given with some probability.
Wieczorek said that there are two concepts regarding the origin of the rongorongo script. According to the first, in this distant corner of the world, it was independently discovered, and according to the second – it was supposed to arise only after the arrival of Europeans on the island in 1722. The results of the latest radiocarbon research did not bring a decision on this matter.
Rongorongo script. Few scientists are concerned with this topic
When the evening was asked why the remaining – after all not many – monuments covered with Easter Island writing were not examined in such a comprehensive way, he pointed out that few scientists deal with this topic. – Besides, it is a group that deals with different topics on a daily basis. I’m an astrobiologist myself, he said.
The research is not facilitated by the fact that all monuments of this type left Easter Island together with missionaries and ethnographers in the second half of the Nineteenth century. Currently, they are scattered in private collections and museums around the world.
Researchers estimated that there are about 600 characters of rongorongo. Among them there are representations resembling human figures, characterized by supernaturally long arms, shown in various arrangements, as well as animals: birds, fish, sharks and rats.
Rongorongo from Easter Island. Scientists are trying to read them
Already in the nineteenth century, the inhabitants of the island themselves were not able to translate the symbols, the knowledge of this writing system was irretrievably lost. Scientists are not giving up on solving the mystery. Despite many question marks, they did establish a few facts. First of all, it is known that this writing was used by the aristocracy living on the island. Sentences were read in the inverted boustrophedon system – the object had to be rotated while reading. Bustropedon is a way of writing that starts the next line of text from the margin at which you finished writing on the previous line.
No other Polynesian peoples invented the script.
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