Rock Art

The Birdman village was a highly sacred place, and  many of the rocks at the end of the peninsula were carved with very elaborate carving.  Was it perhaps the privilege of the winning tribe every year to carve their own  emblem on the rocks, and did they employ their very best craftsmen to do the carving?


The most elaborate carvings are seen here, right on the tip of the peninsula. In front of the upright rocks there is the way down into the underground house where the priest who supervised the ceremonies lived. In fact Wendy is standing on the roof of the Sacred house.


There is a close-up of the rocks to show some of the carvings.

It would appear that there were two successive styles of carving. The earlier style was a simple incision , where lines were incised in the surface of the rocks. However the later carvings became much more elaborate, and were done in bas relief, where the surroundings were carved away, leaving the body of the carving  standing up on the surface.

Look at the smaller of the three stones at the centre:  at the top there is an earlier incised carving,  and this is cut away by the more elaborate carving below.

Click on the picture to enlarge it, to see the details.


And this is the view in the opposite direction, looking north, where there was if anything an even more elaborate set of carvings.

This is the centre of the carvings showing the most typical feature, a birdman crouching down with the head of a bird. This is a very clear example, but many if not most of the scenes involve a bird man.

This carving must surely have been done by a ‘professional’ carver.


Statue of MakeMake, the god of the Polynesians, discovered by Thor Heyerdahl’s expedition in 1955.

MakeMake was the principal god of the Polynesians, and is known all over the Polynesian area, but he only becomes dominant in Easter Island in the final phase.



And here is another portrait of Makemake,  incorporated into a carved rock


Many of the carvings are fairly simple. Here is a simple incised spiral together with a more complex engraving of the birdman.

At the very end of the peninsula was the subterranean house in which the high priest lived while the great competition was taking  place . This is the entrance to the underground house with an engraving of the MakeMake on the rocks just outside the entrance.

The whole of Orongo seems to have been devoted to the birdman ceremony, which  we only know about thanks to the work of Katherine Routledge.

Mrs Routledge spent nearly a year on the island in 1914 – 15, during which time she gained the confidence of the islanders and recorded  what they remembered on their ceremonies. She  published an account of her work in her book,The Mystery of Easter Island.

If we did not have her work, Orongo would certainly be a puzzle. But her work enables us to realise that Orongo was only occupied for a month during the year when it was devoted to a very particular ceremony.


On to the Moai – the Statues

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