In Part One of this series, we learned how the mysterious Rongorongo script appeared on Easter Island at a date of unknown origin; in Part Two, we learned about the glyphs and how they’re read.
While Rongorongo remains undeciphered, there are plenty of scholars with their own theories on what the texts say.
There are about 120 symbols in Rongorongo, and numerous attempts to decipher the texts. One text that we do understand, a little bit, is just a portion from a tablet that contains a lunar calendar. And no one can actually read the calendar. But it’s a start!
While it seems like, with today’s modern technology, we should be able to crack just about any code—and isn’t that what a language is? Logical, ordered code!—there are a few obstacles to decipherment of the Rongorongo tabets. One is that there are very few texts remaining to read from, leaving only around 15,000 legible glyphs to work with.
There’s also the problem of context! Historians and linguists don’t have accurate contextual information about where the tablets came from specifically, or any illustrations or parallels to texts that they can understand. And as if that wasn’t enough, the modern language of Easter Island descendants—Rapa Nui—has been heavily influenced by Tahitian and no longer resembles its previous form (again eliminating any chance of parallels!).
What, then, do we know about the tablets’ content?
Very, very little. And we may never know!
Here are what a few attempts at decipherment came up with:
- Monsignor Jaussen (1868): Chants about the king & others doing specific tasks.
- William J. Thomson (1886): Nonsense creation chants, with beings begetting other beings.
- Dr. Alan Carroll (1982): A priestess flees an erupting volcano and other catastrophes, ending up on Easter Island.
- Dr. Steven Fisher (1995): Creation chants with hundreds of repetitions of something he interpreted as a formula reading “X copulated with Y, there issued forth Z.”
However, all of these interpretations have been dismissed in one way other another (particularly the more fanciful interpretations such as Dr. Carroll’s)… and of the many, many attempts at decipherment, none have been accepted as close or even somewhat close to an accurate decipherment.
It seems that the Easter Island Rongorongo script may remain one of the world’s unsolved mysteries after all!