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Here's a beautiful photo of the Southern Hemisphere sky over a moai statue on Rapa Nui. The Pacific island is also known as "Easter Island" by Westerners and "Mata-Ki-Te-Rani" ("Eyes Looking at Heaven") by ancient Polynesians. In this photo, the Large Magellanic Cloud and two bright stars (Canopus and Sirius) rise behind the maoi named "Piro Piro."

Click the image to see the story. Photo by Stéphane Guisard.

At least 288 stone moai statues once stood upon massive ahu or stone platforms, spaced approximately one-half mile apart in around the perimeter of the island. These Stone-Heads average 14 feet tall and 14 tons heavy, carved from Rano Raraku volcanic stone. It would have taken dozens or hundreds of people to drag the maois across the island; considering that the population probably stood around 3000, that's a pretty massive undertaking.

Anthropologists theorize that the inhabitants arrived on this once-forested island about 300AD, built the first maois about 500AD and the last ones about 1650AD. The culture that built the maoi began to self-destruct sometime after Dutch explorer Jakob Roggeveen found the island in 1722 and Cook's visit in 1774, when many of the maois had been toppled. The history of Rapa Nui that we know about is tragic and - like so many such stories - reflects poorly on human nature. Check out this wiki article to get an overview. It includes slavery and plague.

Here's a map of Rapa Nui, showing its location in the Pacific:

Click the image to see the Wikipedia article and a larger version of the map.

Anthropologists believe the statues personified the religious and political power of their ancestors. Ancient Polynesian religions often believed that such carved objects were repositories of sacred spirit, imbued with a magical spiritual essence called "mana" (recognize that, gamers?), and the design of these statues is similar to styles found elsewhere in Polynesia.

Enough history: Check out the beauty of this shot. The silent and still personification of all this painful history standing beneath the distant and timeless stars makes for a pretty picture, eh?

Chris

Comments

( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
holyoutlaw
Oct. 15th, 2009 07:27 am (UTC)
That is a really beautiful picture. At first I thought it was an alteration of the Coal Sack nebula.

David Attenborough did a really fascinating show, The Lost Gods of Easter Island, where he traced a piece of wood he bought at auction back to Easter Island, covering, in the meanwhile, a good bit of European exploration and exploitation of the Pacific. Well worth watching (but I think all shows he produces are worth watching).
mckitterick
Oct. 15th, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
Interesting, I should check it out. Heck, some day I hope to visit the island.
minnehaha
Oct. 15th, 2009 01:20 pm (UTC)
Easter Island
It's a really cool place to visit.

B
minnehaha
Oct. 15th, 2009 01:23 pm (UTC)
Re: Easter Island
Really, really, really a cool place to visit.

K.
edichka2
Oct. 15th, 2009 07:32 am (UTC)
Rapa Nui looks like a liver.
- E
mckitterick
Oct. 15th, 2009 08:18 am (UTC)
Only you would see that, E!
minnehaha
Oct. 15th, 2009 01:11 pm (UTC)
Big stone head!

B

Edited at 2009-10-15 01:20 pm (UTC)
scottedelman
Oct. 15th, 2009 01:43 pm (UTC)
Irene and I are dying to get there, but it will have to wait until we survive Melbourne.
mckitterick
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
A pair of great trips!
normalcyispasse
Oct. 15th, 2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's stunning.

mckitterick
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:12 pm (UTC)
Isn't it, though?
siro_gravity
Oct. 15th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
good lord. what a sad history. i don't know what is sadder: the collapse of the ecosystem, with the extinction of all the plants/trees, or the devastation of the population by kidnapping and disease.

jeez, those carved figures look like they should be protecting things a little more rigorously.

that is some super beautiful astro-porn there.
mckitterick
Oct. 15th, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
I hear you in all those cases. There's just something about apocalyptic tragedy combined with astronomical beauty that creates a stunning scene.
bobhowe
Oct. 16th, 2009 06:26 pm (UTC)
Love this.
mckitterick
Oct. 16th, 2009 07:13 pm (UTC)
I especially thought of you when I found this.
frugurl27
Oct. 20th, 2009 04:24 am (UTC)
One of these images is now my desktop background. Thanks for sharing!
mckitterick
Oct. 20th, 2009 04:44 pm (UTC)
Cool!
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )

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