Friday, August 23, 2013

Fun Friday Facts #83: Mysterious Monuments

One day, in 10,000 years, the cyborg archeologists of the future will scratch their abnormally large heads and wonder how we built Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge or the Eiffel Tower with our primitive technology. Some of them will decide that it was aliens.

It's always aliens.
Image credit: Jin Zan

Moai (that’s pronounced mow-eye – I had to look it up) are the human figures carved by the Rapa Nui people of Easter Island. There are 887 of them, about half of which remain at the quarry.

They were carved to embody ancestors or powerful leaders, and they may have served as status symbols. Dr. Anneliese Pontius advanced a theory that the monoliths were carved as a form of ritualistic treatment for leprosy, since the residents of Easter Island couldn’t simply send their lepers to another island or call Jesus or anything. A popular 19th-century theory, now debunked, held that Easter Island was a remnant of a lost continent and that many more moai were submerged under the sea.

Although many people think of the moai as just being giant stone heads, that’s a misconception that arose because most of the photos we see of them show them mostly buried:

In fact, these are whole statues which depict, in most cases, an overly large head set atop a torso. Most of them do not have legs.

Construction of the moai began around 1200 AD, when the island was heavily forested, and continued until around 1500-1600 AD, when the last of the trees were cut, presumably to facilitate the construction and erection of the moai. Scholars aren’t sure if the moai were moved on sledges or “walked” by tilting them side to side. The era of their construction seems to have ended abruptly, and the native islanders are believed to have pushed at least some of the moai down afterward, although an earthquake might have been responsible for toppling some of them.

Image credit: Rivi

The Grave Creek Mound is one of the largest burial mounds in the U.S. It’s found in Moundsville, West Virginia, across the street from the old penitentiary. I’ve been to both and I have to say, the penitentiary is a lot more exciting. If you’re in Moundsville and you only have time to do one thing, I recommend the penitentiary. But I digress.

The Grave Creek Mound was built by the Adena people, who lived in the area around 2,000 years ago. It took about 100 years to build, as they constructed it in stages, beginning in about 250 BC and ending around 150 BC. There are multiple graves within the mound, with a different one on each level. The mound originally came with a moat, about 40 feet (12 meters) wide and five feet (1.5 meters) deep.

The moat has been replaced with a picnic area.

No one knows why the mound was built or who the people inside of it are, or why they were so important, but there’s a statue of an elk in front of it for some reason.

I don't think the elk is original.

The Carnac stones, located near the French village of Carnac in Brittany, make up the largest collection of prehistoric standing stones in the world. They were erected between 4500 and 3300 BC. Over the centuries, the stones have been used as livestock shelters and ovens. Many of them have been used for building materials and others have been moved to make way for roads. Most of the stones are lined up in rows, and there are three main groups Рthe M̩nec, the Kermario, and the Kerlescan Рwhich may have once been unified, before all the house-building, road-making and baking aforementioned. There are also grave mounds, stone tombs, single standing stones and other formations.

Some believe the stones had some sort of astronomical purpose, pointing to supposed connections between the alignments of the stones and the position of the sun at solstice. Others think the stones had a funerary purpose. French engineer Pierre Mereaux believed the stones were used to detect and measure seismic activity. Legend holds that the stones were members of Roman legion cursed by the wizard Merlin.