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T. A. Hockey (University of Northern Iowa)
Anthropological studies of Rapanui (Easter Island) are valuable insofar as the island’s remoteness allowed its culture to develop independently until western contact. Of special importance to cultural astronomers is the indigenous inhabitants’ expressed interest in the sky, through lore, monumental architecture, and rock art. 1
The Matariki Stone is a unique basaltic boulder found on Rapanui; my analysis of it is the result of in situ investigation (2000). The boulder is 1 m x 1.5 m x 2 m in approximate size and weighs in excess of 10,000 kg. According to local informants, at least six cupules, averaging 6 cm in diameter and 5 cm in depth, were placed in it prior to western contact with the island and prior to transport to the boulder’s present location. Information about the Matariki Stone’s original setting, orientation, and context is lost.
“Matariki” means “Pleiades” (or, more generally, a group of stars). However, the pattern of the Matariki Stone cupules strongly resembles another familiar asterism of third-magnitude stars. 2
These zodiac stars were placed significantly in the Rapanui sky of 1500 CE. Yet no local ethnographic evidence mentions these stars, nor is association with these stars and other regional cultures (e. g., Australian aboriginal and Mayan) compelling. 3 Moreover, there is no Polynesian tradition of constellation depiction in rock art at all, whereas the Pleiades figure prominently in that culture’s oral tradition. 4 Thus, the Matariki Stone remains a conundrum.
1 Liller, William. The Ancient Solar Observatories of Rapanui: The Archaeoastronomy of Easter Island. (1993)
2 Hockey, Thomas and Hoffman, Alice. “An Archaeoastronomical Investigation: Does A Constellation Pattern Appear in Rapanui Rock Art?” Rapa Nui Journal. 14, no. 3. (2000)
3 For example, Kelly, David H. and Milone, Eugene F. Exploring Ancient Skies: An Encyclopedic Survey of Archaeoastronomy. (2005)
4 For example, Makemson, Maude. The Morning Star Rises. (1941)
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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #4
© 2005. The American Astronomical Soceity.