Easter Island Rapa Nui is renowned for its massive stone statues, the moai, constructed on this tiny isolated island lying over 2000 miles from the coast of Chile. The moai constitute part of the short-term but magnificent cultural achievement of Easter Island, which lasted no more than 1400 years before being undermined by environmental degradation and endemic war- fare. Yet the moai were just one element of a remarkable artistic output.
History, as much as art, made this island unique. But attempts to unravel that history have produced many interpretations and arguments. The missionary’s anecdotes, the archaeologist’s shovel, the anthropologist’s oral histories and boxes of bones have all revealed something of the island’s story.
The motifs of Easter Island symbols are very diverse, ranging from simple cup marks to elaborate bas-relief carvings of subjects including anthropomorphs, ships and the birdman- an image which combines the body of a man with the head and beak of a frigate bird. This typology is a considerable achievement, and its presentation includes an analysis of the distribution of motifs across the island to show significant variability and patterning. It combines a very clear and precise descriptive prose with a splendid series of line drawings, although these pale in comparison with the magnificent color plates.
The most important motif is the birdman. This figure pervades the rock art of Easter Island and is the theme for many variations such as a two headed birdman, a birdman with legs splayed and a birdman with human-like feet.