This week: Rapa Nui

Rapa Nui National Park. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Yayamane.

For centuries, the painstaking and occasionally groundbreaking work of archaeologists has allowed us to piece together a picture of the past, and to understand our ancestors’ place in the universe. Without it, we would not know what life was like in Pompeii, or how the Ancient Egyptians buried their dead, or what role the sun and stars played in the building of Machu Picchu.

Many mysteries remain to be solved, however. Where, for instance, are the tombs of Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great? What purpose is served by the Nazca Lines, the enormous and elaborate geoglyphs that decorate the Peruvian landscape? How can we finally decipher the ancient Minoan writing system known as Linear A?

As we discover this week on The Past, the isolated Pacific island of Rapa Nui (Easter Island) offers a unique concentration of such puzzles for archaeologists to solve – from how settlers first arrived on these remote shores, to how and why they erected the enormous stone heads, known as maoi, for which the island is famous.

In the latest edition of our sister magazine Current World Archaeology, Colin Richards brings us up to speed on the latest research into the early history of Rapa Nui and explains how the island’s distinctive canoe-shaped houses, known as hare paenga, are providing tantalising new clues in the quest to understand its fascinating culture.

Elsewhere on The Past, you’ll also find us delving into the CWA archives in search of deeper insight into some other archaeological mysteries: we journeyed to Java to look at how the discovery of green masks led to claims of a lost civilisation; we travelled to the Peruvian city of Palpa to work out what an earlier group of figures can tell us about the celebrated Nazca Lines; and we examined the spectacular pyramids of Giza to understand their role in dispatching the deceased on the voyage to the afterlife.

And finally, if all that simply leaves you wanting more puzzles to solve, don’t forget to have a go at our latest quiz, which this week continues the theme of archaeological mysteries. Good luck, and we hope you enjoy The Past!

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