The Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture

Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings

Over 4000 petroglyphs have been documented on Easter Island, with a variety of motifs. There are also several thousand cupules, or small carved hollows usually 3 to 5 cms in diameter, which usually act as decorative elements around the petroglyph panels. Most of the petroglyphs are carved in bas relief, and in some instances were painted, particularly with pigments of red and white.

easter island boulder rock art
Housepost at Mata Ngarau, Orongo
It is possible that some of Easter Island's cupules may relate to fertility in those cases where they are closely associated with komari (vulva) and form an integral part of that design. An example of this is found at Orongo where these two elements are in cominbiation on a carved housepost. It has a group of komari and cupules in association with faces and birdmen. There is no shortage of the vulva motif forms in rock art. Next to the ubiquitous cupules, vulva signs comprise the largest design category on Easter Island.

Aside from the sacred site of Orongo with its plethora of rock carvings, other sites around Easter Island contain some amazing designs-and many are of considerable size. One great panel is ten meters long.

easter island boulder rock art
The 3m Boulder at Hau Koka
At Hau Koka on Easter Island is one of the finest example of rock carving in Oceania. The largest boulder at this site measures 3m across and is covered with designs that swirl around the surface, forming an impressive work of art. There is a unity of design and style, suggesting the carving was done by, or under the direct of, a single individual, The central figure in the panel appears to be a sea creature possible an octopus with a human face, surrounded by by strange elongated fish shapes and what seems to be a fish-bird combination. Other sea forms have been recorded on the north coast of Easter Island, but no two are alike and none match this example.

The Swiss anthropologist Alfred Métraux, remarked that the panel proves the existence of a fully developed tradition of design on Easter Island. There is, in fact, nothing equal to it in all of Polynesia. It can be assumed with confidence that a myth or legend accompanied this remarkable work of art.

Another popular rock art motif on Easter Island is the canoe shape. The best examples of canoe motifs are carved on dense lava, some of which was subsequently cut out for paenga (worked stone for structures). These sites are located at Ahu Ra'ai near La Perouse Bay. Presumably, these petroglyphs mark a place of myth or ritual probably related to kingship legends for it was a ruling chief who had control over such things as great sea-going watercraft. Ahu Ra'ai's canoes are unique in that many of them have a very specifically shaped extension: a vertical line with curved elements at eah end. This distinct form is repeated numerous times at this site, sugeesting that it contained explicit symbolic content for the people of Easter Island. The major panal at Ra'ai is 12m long and contains many sea forms, as well as canoes, cupules and fishhooks.
canoe petroglyph easter island
The major canoe panal at Ra'ai near La Perouse Bay

Easter Island Introduction
Sentinels in Stone - Rise & Fall of Easter Island's Culture | Page | 1 | 2 | 3 |
The Rock Art of Easter Island
The Birdman Cult / Motif of Easter Island
Sea & Marine Creatures in Easter Island Rock Art
Designs & Motifs of Easter Island's Rock Petroglyph Carvings
Dr Georgia Lee - Publications on Easter Island
Moai Location Map & Islanders
Contemporary Easter Island Art
Easter Island Glossary
Easter Island Conclusion

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