The legend of Lalibela
Ever since the first European to describe the rock churches of Lalibela, Francisco Alvarez, came to this holy city between 1521 and 1525, travellers have tried to put into words their experiences. Praising it as a “New Jerusalem”, a “New Golgotha”, the “Christian Citadel in the Mountains of Wondrous Ethiopia”. The inhabitants of the monastic township of Roha-Lalibela in Lasta, province of Wollo, dwelling in two storeyed circular huts with dry stonewalls, are unable to believe that the rock churches are entirely made by man. They ascribe their creation to one of the last kings of the Zagwe dynasty, Lalibela, who reigned about 1200 A.D.

The Zagwe dynasty had come to power in the eleventh century, one hundred years after Queen Judith, a ferocious woman warrior had led her tribes up from the Semyen mountains to destroy Axum, the capital of the ancient Ethiopian empire in the north.

The charming Ethiopian folklore pictures telling the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, which are sold in Addis Ababa, give a popular version of how not only the dynasty of ancient Axum (and present day Ethiopia) descended from King Solomon, but also the medieval Zagwe dynasty. The Queen of Sheba gave birth to Menelik, who became the first King of Ethiopia. But the handmaid of the Queen, too, gave birth to a son whose father was King Solomon, and her son was the ancestor of the Zagwe dynasty.

The Zagwe kings ruled until the thirteenth century, when a famous priest, Tekla Haymanot, persuaded them to abdicate in favour of a descendant of the old Axumite Solomonic dynasty.

However, according to legend before the throne of Ethiopia was restored to its rightful rulers, upon command of God and with the help of angels, Lalibela’s pious zeal converted the royal residence of the Zagwe in the town of Roha in to a prayer of stone.

The Ethiopian Church later canonized him and changed the name of Roha to Lalibela. Roha, the centre of worldly might, became Lalibela the holy city; pilgrims to Lalibela shared the same blessings as pilgrims to Jerusalem, while the focus of political power drifted to the south, to the region of Shoa. Legends flower in Lalibela, and it is also according to legend that Lalibela grew up in Roha, where his brother was king. It is said that bees prophesied his future greatness, social advance and coming riches. The king, made jealous by these prophecies about his brother tried to poison him, but the poison merely cast Lalibela into a death like sleep for three days. During these three days an angel carried his soul to heaven to show him the churches which he was to build. Returned once more to earth he withdrew into the wilderness then took a wife upon God’s command with the name of Maskal Kebra (Exalted Cross) and flew with an angel to Jerusalem. Christ himself ordered the king to abdicate in favour of Lalibela. Anointed king under the throne name Gare Maskal (Servant of the Cross) Lalibela, living himself an even more severe monastic life than before, carried out the construction of the churches. Angels worked side by side with the stone masons, and within twenty four years the entire work was completed.

Rock hewn churches
Walking through the village you will see the mountainous landscape of the region of Lasta, where the peasants labour to cultivate their patches of stony fields with the traditional hook-plough. Strolling across a gently undulating meadow, you will suddenly discover in a pit below you a mighty rock – carefully chiselled and shaped -the first rock church. None of these monuments of Christian faith presents itself to the visitor on top of a mountain as a glorious symbol of Christ’s victory, to be seen from far away by the masses of pilgrims on their road to the ‘Holy City’, they rather hide themselves in the rock, surrounded by their deep trenches, only to be discovered by the visitor when standing very close on top of the rock and looking downwards.

In Lalibela itself you will find two main groups of churches, one on each side of the river Jordan and one other church set apart from the rest. The town of Roha-Lalibela lies between the first and the second group of churches. It is situated on the higher part of a mountain-terrace on a vast plateau of rock. At Timkat (Ethiopian Epiphany. ca. January 19) a vivid ritual unfolds before the spectator: here the dances of the priests take place after the annual repetition of mass baptism in the river Jordan.

There are twelve churches and chapels, including various shrines. Four churches are monolithic in the strict sense; the remainder are excavated churches in different degrees of separation from the rock. The walls of the trenches and courtyards contain cavities and chambers sometimes filled with the mummies of pious monks and pilgrims.

Types of Churches
There are three basic types of rock churches in Ethiopia:
1. Built-up cave churches, which are ordinary structures inside a natural cave (Makina Medhane Alem and Yemrehanna Krestos near Lalibela are examples of this style).
2. Rock-hewn cave churches, which are cut inwards from a more or less vertical cliff face sometimes using and widening an existing natural cave (Abba Libanos in Lalibela).
3. Rock-hewn monolithic churches, which imitate a built- up structure but are cut in one piece from the rock and separated from it all round by a trench. Most churches of this type are found in or near Lalibela (Bet Medhane Alem. Bet Maryam. Bet Giorgis, and others). Nowhere else in the world are constructions of this particular kind found.

There are some fairly obvious technical details to prove the high standard of technical knowledge the architects of Lalibela must have had: the churches in a group are set on several levels, in order to carry off the heavy summer rains. The trenches serve also as a drainage system to the river Jordan. With churches whose placing conforms to the slope of the terrain, the ridge of the roof, gutter edges, the base of the plinth, are slanted in line with it.

Whoever has experienced the “rainy season” in Ethiopia will appreciate the great skill shown by these early builders. The rains are so heavy that Lalibela is inaccessible in the rainy season; landing at the airport as well as an approach by Land-Rover from the main road are impossible.
Authorities claim that the rock churches in Ethiopia have two roots:

(1) the Axumite architecture with its palaces of wood and stone construction and with its monolithic stelae, and
(2) the early Christian basilica.

The rock churches reflect the blending of Axumite tradition and early eastern Mediterranean Christianity: Yet they are an entirely new creation of early Christian art on Ethiopian soil.

The First Group of Churches
The churches of the first main group lie in their rock cradles one behind the other north of the river Jordan. The original approach might well have been from the river Jordan up to the churches Golgota-Debre Sina (Mika’el) in the west. The whole complex, seen in an east-westerly direction, may be divided into three smaller groups:
Bet Medhane Alem in the east, the Bet Maryam group in the centre, and the twin church Golgota- Debre Sina (Mika’el) with the Selassie Chapel in the west.
While each sub-group has a courtyard of its own, the whole complex is surrounded by a deep outer trench.

Bet Medhane Alem
Approaching the most eastern church of this group, Bet Medhane Alem (House of the Redeemer of the World) , you first catch a glimpse of the roof, decorated with relief crosses connected by blind arcades, and the upper part of the solemn colonnade surrounding the church: The roof still shows traces of the plaster remains of the restoration efforts of the early 1930’s. The tuff, from which the church is carved, glows a typical deep pink colour in striking contrast to the brownish-yellow earth and green-leaved trees of the landscape. Standing in the courtyard you face the largest of the rock-hewn churches.
It has been cut free from a block of stone 33.7 m. in length, 23.7 m. in width and 11.5 m. in height. It is a noble structure, standing on its plinth with its pitched roof and surrounding external columns, somewhat reminiscent of ancient Greek temple architecture.

The low-pitched saddle-backed roof lies directly on the order of columns, so that there is no entablature as there would be in a Greek temple. A frieze of round arches in relief decorates the vertical edges of the roof. The gallery running round the four sides of the church between the colonnade and the outer wall of the church itself is only 70 cm wide. While most of the slender pillars, which are square in cross-section, are still the original ones some of them had collapsed and have had to be replaced by new built-up structures. Note the fine sarcelly cross relief on the slabs of stone which connect the four corner pillars with adjacent pillars about two thirds of the way up. Traditional sarcelly crosses like the ones seen here have been copied in modern buildings in Addis Ababa, e.g., the entrance pillar stumps of the Municipality.

Around the high walls of the nave runs a frieze of blind windows framed by protruding beams at each corner. Along the sides, the windows are either blind windows with decorations or actual openings between the “galleries” and the nave. The “galleries” can be reached from a cell to the left of the narthex. The doorways inside again exhibit Axumite framework style.

One particular pillar in the centre is covered with a cloth. This is the “amd” – the symbol of the unity of faith. The priests explain that Christ touched the pillar when appearing to King Lalibela in one of his visions. Since that time the past and the future of the world are written on it. Since man is too weak to bear the truth revealed by God the pillar is covered.

In the nave the shafts, capitals and corbels of the columns and pilasters as well as the arches are carved in bas-relief some of them painted. There is a great variety of crosses.
Paintings proper can be found on the spandrels, the string-courses above the arches, the area of friezes of the blind windows and the barrel vault.

Bet Maskal
The chapel of Bet Maskal(The House Of The Cross) has been excavated in a bulge in the northern wall of the Bet Maryam courtyard. It is a broad gallery of 11 m. length and 3.4 m. width. A row of four pillars divides the space into two aisles spanned by arcades. The doorways show imitation of monkey-head framework. Beams of light deflect downwards into the chapel from two windows, one of them having a swastika design through which is pierced a Greek cross, while the sanctuary window opening has a Maltese cross motif. A frieze of arches between two projecting horizontal courses finishes the facade on top.

Bet Danaghel
Bet Danaghel (The House Of The Virgins Or Martyrs). Jutting out at the south of the Bet Maryam courtyard is the little chapel of Bet Danaghel (8.6 m. length and 3.6 m. height). This tiny chapel is connected with one of the most fascinating legends of Lalibela. Priests will tell you that the chapel was constructed in honour of maidens martyred under Julian. The memorial day of the maidens is the 10th of Hedar (November) in the Ethiopian calendar.

Located just outside the southern wall of the courtyard proper is the twentieth century memorial to Ras Kassa Darge. Ras Kassa was the governor of central and northwestern Ethiopia, prior to the Italian occupation. He died in 1956.

Bet Debre Sina and Bet Golgota with the Selassie Chapel and the Tomb of Adam
This is the most mysterious complex in Lalibela, housing its holiest shrine, the Selassie Chapel, and according to the whispers of the priests – perhaps even the tomb of King Lalibela himself. While the ancient entrance to this group was probably from the west, passing the hollowed block of the Tomb of Adam, the courtyard is now entered from the south, being connected by the trench leading to the Bet Maryam churches. A side door leads to the first church, Bet Debre Sina or Bet Mika’el.

Bet Debre Sina
Bet Debre Sina(House Of Mt. Sinai) displays a proper east-west orientation and has a raised chancel. The holy of holies is in the east. Thus, we may assume that it has always been an independent and separate church. It is a semi-monolithic creation measuring 9.5 X 8.5 m. and resting on a steep plinth 3 m in height. On three sides it is exposed by excavation to a trench, the northern side leading to Bet Golgota.

The exterior walls are smooth, with two rows of windows. In the bottom row of the south facade there are window openings in the shape of key-holes.

The interior is simple and solemn in atmosphere. It is divided by pillars into a nave and two aisles with five bays each. Round arches connect the pillars and pilasters in the walls. Cruciform in section, the pillars support round arches; their pseudo-capitals are decorated with Greek crosses in relief, which are also found on the blind arches and on the ceiling.

Bet Golgota
Leaving Bet Debre Sina you enter its northern twin church, Bet Golgota (The House Of Golgotha). Bet Golgota represents the type of excavated church with one worked facade (the west face).

The facade is smooth and scantily decorated. Piercings are functional, providing the church with light and air. A few protruding beams frame the uppermost windows, while the lower ones, semicircular and cruciform in shape display a few mouldings only
Yet there are two harmoniously designed window openings in the southern wall which give light to two shrines, the one on the left to the “lyasus-Cell” (Cell of Jesus) of Bet GoIgota; the right-hand one to the Selassie Chapel.

Entering the church proper you will find that it is divided into two “naves” by three cruciform pillars that display no decoration apart from the usual corbels. Flattened arches connect the pillars with the corresponding pilasters at the wall.
The “Iyasus-Cell” at the east end of the right-hand nave and the “tomb of Christ”, an arched recess in the northeast corner of the church, add an air of sanctity. The church with the name of Golgota is dedicated to the passion and Death of the Saviour.

The church, simple in its architecture, houses, however, some of the most remarkable pieces of early Christian Ethiopian art: figurative relieves, rare elsewhere in Ethiopia. The “tomb of Christ” displays behind a wrought-iron grille a recumbent figure in high-relief with an angel in low-relief above its head. The figures of seven saints, mostly larger than life, decorate arched niches in the walls.

The Selassie Chapel
From Bet Golgota a doorway at the east end of the right-hand nave next of the one leading to the “Iyasus-Cell” opens on to the Selassie Chapel – the place of greatest sanctity in Lalibela.
A curtain covering two thirds of the wall will offer you only a glimpse inside the shrine. The ribs decorating the ceiling in the shape of a cross might also be discernible. This holy place is rarely open even to the priests themselves, and very few visitors have been permitted to enter it.
The shrine is completely imprisoned in the rock. A single pillar supports the roof with its barrel-vault in the rear section and flat-arch above the platform with the three monolithic altars. This pillar, which has no base, rises up more than five metres to the apex of the vault.

The Tomb of Adam
Impressive in its simplicity, a huge square block of stone stands in a deep trench in front of the western face of Bet Golgota. This is the Tomb of Adam. The block has been hollowed out, the ground floor serving as the western entrance to the first group of churches. The upper floor houses a hermit’s cell. Again it is a cross that is the only decoration of this “tomb “. The large opening in the eastern wall provides light for the cell and has the shape of a harmonious croix pattee with flat-pitched finials.

The Second Group of Churches
This second group comprises from east to west, the churches and sanctuaries of Bet Emanuel, Bet Mercurios, Bet Abba Libanos, the Chapel of Bet Lehem and Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el.
Approaching the town of Roha-Lalibela from the south, you will see, south of the river Jordan, a bastion of red tuff severed from the rock plateau in the north, east and south by a broad artificial outer trench, eleven metres deep. Another deep central trench cuts this area into two parts, leaving at its end a cone-shaped hill. An old entrance led from this central trench to the sanctuaries mainly by way of narrow subterranean passages. The ‘Original function of this complex of churches has not yet been clarified. Two of them were certainly planned as such, Bet Emanuel and Bet Abba Libanos. They have a proper church plan and are oriented to the east.

Bet Emanuel
Art historians consider Bet Emanuel to be the finest and most impressive church in Lalibela. Looked at from above, its mighty, flat- pitched roof can be seen glistening from the rock cradle that houses the church. It is the only true monolithic structure of this group, carefully sculptured from a block 18 X 12 X 12 m. The church offers an almost classic example of Axumite style despite the fact that the floor and side plans follow the true basilica pattern with a proper east-west orientation.

Entering the courtyard you will see this fascinating church on its stepped platform shining in the bright red colour of the Lalibela tuff. The imitation of Axumite wood and stone construction is striking, its walls built in horizontal and vertical bands, alternately recessed and projecting. At the three entrances, in front of which the stepped platform widens into landings, the church has a framework of protruding beams; genuine monkey-heads are missing. There are three rows of windows, the bottom and top ones having frames with corner posts. The bottom windows are pierced in that shape of straight Greek crosses; those in the top row have no fillings.

Inside you will find the true basilica plan: aisles and a mighty vaulted nave. Yet Axumite style is here again: the in- dentations in the outside walls, in which all the doors and windows are placed, reflect the internal division, as do the mouldings, the number of aisles and bays, the position of the galleries and the height of the vault. In the hall there are four complete and four three-sided pillars. A rock staircase leads from a side room by the main entrance to a second storey, here little rock chambers surround the hall. The striking interior feature is the double frieze of blind windows in the vaulted nave, the lower frieze being purely ornamental, the upper one consisting of windows alternating with decorated areas. In the rock floor of the southern aisle a hole opens into a long, subterranean tunnel leading to neighbouring Bet Mercurios.
Chambers and cavities for sacred bees in the outer wall of the courtyard are reminder of the bees that prophesied kingship to Lalibela. Some of the chambers, however, are the graves of monks and pilgrims who wanted to be buried in the “holy city. In this outer wall two further underground passages have been discovered leading to Bet Mercurios.

Bet Mercurios
The church is neither orientated nor conventionally planned. The part serving today as a church occupies the eastern end of a subterranean hall which opens to a courtyard. The interior appears to be void of decoration although there is a fine mural on the lower pan of a pillar, depicting six kings or saints in royal apparel, holding in their hands beautifully shaped hand- crosses, reminiscent of late Gondarene processional crosses.

Rich paintings once adorned the church but for preservation they have been removed and are now to be seen in the National Museum in Addis Ababa.

Bet Abba Libanos
Lalibela’s wife, Maskal Kebra, with the help of angels, is said to have created this church in one night. It is dedicated to one of the most famous monastic saints of the Ethiopian Church, Abba Libanos.

Bet Abba Libanos (The House Of Abba Ubanos)
The facade is reminiscent of Axumite architecture, although here – unlike Bet Emanuel – the horizontal bands are missing. It is a good example of a cave church. The roof is not separated from the rock, but the other three sides are detached by a tunnel.

The aisles and the nave of the church run exactly from east to west. The priests will tell you that there is a “little light’; in the middle of the altar-wall shining day and night “by its own power: Conjectures by visitors run from “a piece of phosphorescent stone” to “a hole in the wall” trying to give a more “natural” explanation and at the same time robbing the phenomenon” of the charm of its mystery.

Bet Lehem (The Chapel Of Bethlehem)
You may reach Bet Lehem by a passageway 50 m. long that starts at the right-hand aisle of Bet Emanuel, and passes Bet Mercurios and the courtyard of Abba Libanos. The shrine has been shaped into a cone by the central trench: the tunnel still winds up in spiral form within the hill and ends in a low, round room. A tree-trunk in the room serves as a central pillar.
The original function of this shrine is not known. Visitors may not be allowed to enter the interior of Bet Lehem.

Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el (The House of Gabriel And Raphael Or The House of the Archangels)
Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el (The House Of Gabriel And Raphael Or The House Of The Archangels). This church is more difficult to describe in character and situation than the others. Its disorientation and unusual plan suggest that it was originally not intended to serve as a church. Instead, the floor plan is labyrinthine: three angular halls with pillars and pilasters are squeezed between two courtyards. The most impressive part of the church is the monumental facade.
The church is usually entered from the top of the rock near Bet Emanuel in the east, by a small bridge of logs leading over the central trench.
You may also approach from the east by a series of small tunnels, a gallery like passage and another log bridge 10 m, above the courtyard.
The triangular floor of the northern courtyard is enclosed by walls whence, high up, the facade of the church and the gallery opposite can be seen. Down in the courtyard there is a well and an underground cistern. Steps lead down to a subterranean hall of pillars, where the water sinks or rises, according to the dry and rainy seasons.

The monumental front of the church can only be properly examined from the opposite gallery in the north. This truly royal façade is another example of a survival of the Axumite style; pilasters and niches give the impression of breaking the line of the wall into projections and the niches themselves.

The interior of the church, which is far smaller than the exterior suggests, is carefully hollowed out forming a hall divided by pillars. Three straight Latin crosses are incised into the wall, the only decoration discernible.
The floor in the church has a number of partly covered holes of various sizes which are said to go down to great depth. Drains run across the floor and little grooves surround the holes.

Bet Giorgis

The monolithic Bet Giorgis – dedicated to the national saint of Ethiopia is isolated from the other two groups of churches. It is located in the southwest of the village on a sloping rock terrace. In its deep pit with perpendicular walls it can only be reached through a tunnel which is entered from some distance away through a trench. Small round caves and chambers have been found in the walls of the courtyard graves for pious pilgrims and monks.

The church is described as Lalibela’s “most elegant” and “refined” in its architecture and stonemasonry. Although its floor plan is of a cross with nearly equal arms the church is properly orientated, the main entrance being in the west, the holy of holies in the east.

Like a tower the cruciform church cut out of the pink tuff rises from its triple-stepped platform, the regularity of which is broken only by the landings in front of the three doorways in the west, north and south. The roof decoration, often represented as the symbol of the Lalibela monuments on photographs and postcards, is a relief of three equilateral Greek crosses inside each other. On the north, south and west sides, gutters and spouts drain the water from the roof.

One of the more sophisticated details of Bet Giorgis is that the wall thickness increases step by step downwards but that the increase is cleverly hidden by the horizontal bands of mouldings on the exterior walls.

Despite the orientation you will find that the interior of the church follows the cruciform floor plan of the church. There are no genuine pillars; instead four three-sided pilasters with. corbels support the arches. The dome above the sanctuary in the eastern arm of the church is decorated with a croix pattee in relief, while the flat ceiling of the other arms display a straight relief cross: The ceiling of the intersection is left without decoration.

Other Churches Near Lalibela
There are several other churches in the vicinity :
the churches of the Bilbala district, including the beautiful built up cave church of Yemrehanna Krestos, the tiny rock church Arbatu Entzessa, Bilbala Gioris and Bilbala Cherqos. Also the church of Sarsana Mika’el.

Yemrehanna Krestos
This remarkable church is located six hours by foot and mule to the northeast of Lalibela, on the mountain ridge the peak of which is Abuna Yosef. It is a built-up cave church in Axumite wood and stone construction. The church has become famous for the decoration of its interior. The flat-span roof displays paneling richly adorned with .geometrical designs. The ceiling over the sanctuary is domed and displays carvings and paintings. The founder of the church is said to have been King Yemrehanna Krestos, a predecessor of King Lalibela.

Arbatu Entzessa
can be reached from Yemrehanna Krestos proceeding to the southwest. This tiny monolithic sanctuary is detached from the surrounding rock on two sides. It shows remains of old ornaments; pillars, capitals and doors are chiselled in Axumite style. The name suggests that the church is dedicated to the “four beasts”, symbols of the Four Evangelists following the vision of St. John. The Ethiopian synaxarium dedicates the 8th of Hedar (November) to these four beasts.

Bilbala. Giorgis
Proceeding from Arbatu Entzessa to the west you find Bilbala Giorgis, of which only the facade is visible. The other sides are surrounded by a tunnel: the roof is not separated from the rock. A frieze with emblems of the vault of heaven decorates the facade. Legend says that holy bees live under the roof rock in niches.

Bilbala Cherqos
Bilbala Cherqos. West of Bilbala Giorgis is this semi-monolithic church, one day’s travel by mule to the northwest of Lalibela. The church is properly orientated and has been worked from a piece tuff from east to west. The careful stone masonry on the facade is reminiscent of the facade of Bet Gabriel-Rufa’el.

Sarsana Mikaél
The tiny monolithic church lies in a grove of euphorbia trees in the Sarsana plains and is scarcely visible in its bed of rock. Through a passage you reach a deep trench running round the church. Three sides are exposed revealing influences of the Axumite style.

Crosses In Lalibela
The two basic types are the Greek cross, which has equal straight arms, and the Latin cross, which has straight arms with the inferior one longer than the other three. These have been developed into a great number of very elaborate and artistic designs.
The favourite form in Ethiopia is the croix pattee -a Greek cross with flaring arms – and its rich variations.
In the Zagwe sphere a special kind of elongated processional cross has been developed.
Lalibela crosses very often have bird heads at the sides and have a crown of stylized human figures as symbols of the twelve apostles; the finial cross then represents Christ. Birds (doves) are often depicted together with the cross.
The swastika shapes found in Lalibela should not be confused with the old sun symbol found for example in Europe and in India. The Lalibela swastikas were developed from the Greek cross with bent arms and were often combined to form interwoven patterns as was the case in Christian art and in the Middle Ages.
The priests have developed a rich symbolism, every pattern having a different meaning. Three- tipped crosses refer to the Trinity; five incised circles or indentations represent the wounds of Christ. However, these decorative patterns often are interpreted differently according to the schooling of the individual priest.

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Easter Island

It is one of the most isolated islands in the world but 1200 years ago a double-hulled canoe filled with seafarers from a distant culture landed upon its shores. Over the centuries that followed a remarkable society developed in isolation on the island.

For reasons still unknown they began carving giant statues out of volcanic rock. These monuments, known, as “moai” are some of the most incredible ancient relics ever discovered. The people of Easter Island called themselves the Rapa Nui. Where did they come from and why did they disappear? Science has learned much about the enigma of Easter Island and has put to rest some of the more bizarre theories, but questions and controversies remain.

Easter Island Story

1. Arrival

Easter Island–Rapa Nui is a tiny speck of land in the South Pacific. Formed by a series of massive volcanic eruptions, the island was only easter island from spaceinhabited by sea birds and dragonflies for millions of years. Its steep slopes, however, stood out like a beacon to a weary group of Polynesian seafarers. How long their voyage took or their reasons for leaving their home country are questions that we’ll never have the answer to, but we can imagine their joy at seeing this sight after what must have been months at sea 

Lava tubes and pounding waves have created hundreds of sea caves and a treacherous coastline. There are only a few small areas that are safe for anchorages. Located in the South Pacific between Chile and Tahiti, Easter Island is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world. Roughly triangular and covering only 64 square miles, it formed when a plume of hot material rose from deep within Earth’s interior, burned through the crust and erupted onto the surface as lava.

Today, volcanic cones are found at each point of the island. The largest, Rano Kau is easily visible from space. The highest is Terevaka, which rises to 11674 feet above sea level. There are over 70 eruptive centers on the island but none has known activity since the island was colonized 1300 years ago.

easter island beachOvahe Beach, North Shore This sheltered sand beach is close to Anakena, where the legends say King Hoto Matua landed his double hulled canoe, thus beginning the occupation of Easter Island.

Anakena, a beautiful white sand beach stands out from the rest of the coastline, which is either sharp black lava rock or vertical cliff faces hundreds of feet tall.
It is at Anakena that the legends say Hotu Matua landed and began the colonization of the island. Excavations of this area have discovered that it was an important site and it boasts one of the best collections of erected moai on the island, Ahu Naunau.

The voyagers started constructing villages and houses made in an unusual elliptical shape. It has been speculated that this style of construction started when the new arrivals turned their boats upside down for quick housing. There were literally hundreds of remains of these foundations on the island in the 1800’s, but most were destroyed by the missionaries to make fences.

Easter Island foundationIndeed, the missionaries did more damage to the island’s history than even the Peruvian slave traders, which carted off most of the island’s population. Those who escaped by hiding in the island’s many caves were “saved” by these missionaries, who proceeded to destroy all the islanders’ wooden sculptures, religious artifacts and most importantly, the Rongo-Rongo tablets, which contained a record of the lost language of the Rapa Nui. So few of these tablets remain that no one has been able to decipher them.

The first islanders found a lush island, filled with giant palms which they used to build boats and housing. The plants they brought with them did well in the rich volcanic soil and by AD 1550 population on the island hit a high of between 7000 and 9000.

Distinct clans formed as the population increased and various population centers grew up in different areas of the island. One thing tied them all together however — the statue construction and the cult that formed around it.

2. Statue Construction

It is unclear why the Easter Islanders turned to statue construction on such a massive scale. Their obsession with it ultimately brought about their downfall as they depleted more and more of the forests for use in the process of moving the giant moai. While the why is a mystery, where it happened and to a large degree how it happened is fairly clear. Each moai was born from the massive caldera of Rano Raraku. (right)

The soft volcanic tuff was perfect material for statue carving. Using harder volcanic rock implements they were able to first sketch out the moai’s outline in the rock wall and then systematically chip away at it until the moai was held in place by a thin “keel.”

The moai carvers were master craftsmen that had rose through the ranks of a “carver’s guild.” The production of the statues was most likely through conscripted labor with many rituals and ceremonies performed throughout the process. The stone carvers were ingenious in making the most out of sections of rock. moai can be seen carved in all directions in the cliff face. If a defect would appear in the rock the statue would be abandoned and they moved on to another area. They took advantage of fissures in the volcanic walls and also variations in colors. In short they were true artists.

Finally when a statue was finished, it was broken off its keel and slid carefully down the slope using ropes tied to giant palm trunks which were sunk in specially prepared holes in rim of the crater. At the base of the crater they were raised up and final decorations were carved into its torso and back. Coral and obsidian eyes were placed in as a final touch, although some suggest these were only placed in the statues on special occasions. Preparation was then made for transport across the island to various ahu.

The ahu were the ceremonial platforms built to support collections of moai. As evidence of the difficulty moving the moai, many can be seen along the paths of ancient roadways where they broke along the way and were abandoned.

It is believed that the statues were commissioned commemorative images of lineage heads. However, the moai are not portraits of specific individuals although some may have inscriptions or other markings that linked them with specific chiefs. Why they chose the stylized design of the angular face and long phallus shaped bodies is unclear and is one of the greatest mysteries of the Rapa Nui.

While there are some other stone sculptures made by Polynesians, none is similar to the moai. In parts of South America, some statues have been found which resemble the “kneeling” statue on Rano Raraku, but nothing anywhere else resembles the standardized moai design that the Rapa Nui carved over a thousand times.

3. Erecting the Moai

Once the statues were reasonably complete, they then had to be transported across the island to the platforms prepared for them. This involved a trek of 14 miles in some cases. How were these massive Moai moved to the sites? Barring any extraterrestrial influence it seems likely that they were rolled along the ancient roads that crisscrossed the island on logs lubricated with the oils from palm trees. Some suggest that they were moved in an upright position and kept stable by crews manning ropes. This mode would verify the island legends of the statues “walking” to their sites. From a distance seeing one of these great Moai moving along the road bobbing up and down as the logs moved underneath would surely have looked like a statue moving under its own power with a procession alongside it. What a sight that would have been!

However, recent computer simulations by Jo Anne von Tilburg at UCLA have shown that it would have been much simpler to position the Moai in a horizontal position on two large logs and then roll the whole unit along on other logs placed perpendicular to it. Using this method Van Tilburg calculated that an average moai could have been moved from the quarry to Ahu Akivi in less than 5 days, using approximately 70 men. Her theories were recently put to the test in a successful experiment to move a moai replica on Easter Island sponsored and filmed by Nova (see Resources section)

Once the journey was complete the Moai were positioned atop great platforms called ahu. Built at the edge of the ocean, the ahu required just as much engineering know-how and raw labor as the statue construction itself. It is here that the Easter Islanders’ stonework skills can fully be appreciated. As seen in the images to the right of Ahu Naunau and Ahu Tahai, massive blocks and tons of fill were required to build the supports for the moai. Although they were an incredible engineering feat, most of the ahu built were less than elegant constructions. At one mysterious site, however, it was much different.

The stonework of Ahu Vai Uri (right) is compared to that of Ahu Vinapu (below) on the southern shore near Rano Kau. The detail shot shows the incredible precision in the stone fittings. It was this precision, so similar to the stonework done by the Incas, that gave Thor Heyerdahl the idea that the Easter Islanders had come from South America in reed boats on the prevailing currents. Stonework of this complexity had not been seen in Polynesia, but it was common in Peru. It’s impossible to look at that site and not think of the exact type of stone fitting which is so common in sites like Machu Picchu. Most archaeologists consider the similarities a coincidence. If so, it is a remarkable one.

Soon ahu with erected moai were installed on all corners of the island, until over one thousand had been carved, and the population of the island also continued to grow. For decades the competition to build the biggest and best moai went on, and different ahu – each belonging to a different clan – formed an almost unbroken line along the coast of Easter Island. The culture had reached its zenith. And then something went terribly wrong . . .

4. Conflict: The Fall of the Moai

fallen statuesA chilling story of resource exploitation and destruction on Easter Island is beginning to come to light. The first westerners to discover the island wondered how any one could have survived on such a desolate, treeless place. Indeed, this was a mystery until recent core samples taken from the crater lakes showed that the island was heavily forested with a giant now-extinct palm while the Easter Island culture was active.

Apparently the islanders were greeted with a lush tropical paradise when they first discovered it. It must have seemed inexhaustible. The trees were cut for lumber for housing, wood for fires, and eventually for the rollers and lever-like devices used to move and erect the moai.

cave where men are eatenAs the deforestation continued the moai building competition turned into an obsession. The quarry was producing moai at sizes that probably could never have been moved very far (one unfinished moai in the quarry is 70 feet tall!) And still the trees came down. With the loss of the forests, the land began to erode. The small amount of topsoil quickly washed into the sea. The crops began to fail and the clans turned on one another in a battle for the scarce resources. The symbols of the islanders’ power and success, the moai, were toppled. Eyes were smashed out of the moai and often rocks were placed where the statues neck would fall so it would decapitate the moai. The violence grew worse and worse. It was said that the victors would eat their dead enemies to gain strength, bones found on the island show evidence of this cannibalism. With the scarce food supplies it may have been a question of hunger as well as being ceremonial. A spooky cave (right) at the southwest corner of the island, Ana Kai Tangata, is translated to “cave where men are eaten.” Inside are pictographs painted in ochre and white of ghost like birds flying upwards. With no wood left to build boats, all the Rapa Nui people could do was look enviously at the birds that sail effortless through the sky. The Rapa Nui culture and community, which had developed over the past 300 years, collapsed.

Their island was in shambles, and their villages and crops destroyed. There was no wood left on the island to build escape boats. The few survivors of the conflict, perhaps numbering as low as 750, began to pick up the pieces of their culture. One thing they left behind, however, were the moai….

5. A New Cult Rises

volcanic caldera on easter islandThe Easter Islanders were more cut off from the world then ever before. Any dreams of escaping the destroyed island were dashed by the lack of wood. The only boats they could build were small rafts and canoes made of tortoro reeds. Even fishing must have become extremely difficult at this point. The island was a wasteland, the eroded soil just barely producing enough food for the meager population to survive. It was under these conditions that the Birdman Cult arose.

Above: The rim of Rano Kau became the center of the Easter Island Birdman Cult

It’s possible that the Birdman practices had been going on during the reign of the statue cult; however, it eventually took over as the predominate religion on the island and was still in practice up untill 1866-67. High on the rim of the crater known as Rano Kau was the ceremonial village of Orongo. Built to worship the god of fertility, Makemake, it became the site of a grueling competition.

Each year leadership of the island was determined by the individual who could scale down the vertical slopes, swim out to one of three small islets in shark-infested waters, and bring back the egg of the nesting sooty tern unbroken. The one who did this successfully was considered the Birdman of the year and was bestowed with special honors and privileges.

One of the most fascinating sights at Orongo are the hundreds of petroglyphs carved with birdman and Makemake images. Carved into solid basalt, they have resisted ages of harsh weather. It has been suggested that the images represent birdman competition winners. Over 480 Birdman petroglyphs have been found on the island, mostly around Orongo.

As Birdman images transformed the rocks, so too were the islanders transformed. It seemed that the culture was beginning to rebuild itself. We will never know whether the Rapa Nui would have survived and prospered, because in 1862 wave after wave of slave traders landed on Easter Island and took away all healthy individuals. In the space of one year, a level of injury, death and disease was inflicted on the population leaving a broken people, bereft of leadership. As their culture lay in disarray a new force entered the scene whose actions would forever deny the world of a true understanding of the Rapa Nui culture.

The missionaries arrived on Easter when the people were at their most vulnerable. With their society in ruins it did not take long to convert the population to Christianity. First to go was the islanders style of dress, or lack thereof. Tattooing and use of body paint were banned. Destruction of Rapa Nui artworks, buildings, and sacred objects, including most of the Rongo-rongo tablets – the key to understanding their history – was swift and complete. Islanders were forced off their ancestral lands and required to live in one small section of the island while the rest of the land was used for ranching.

Eventually all pure Rapa Nui blood died out. Annexation with Chile brought new influences, and today there are only a few individuals left with ties to the original population.

6. A Lesson from the Past 

Easter Island with Nuclear explosionA jewel of an island floating in an endless sea. A seemingly never-ending supply of raw materials. Technological advances. Population growth. Depletion of resources. War. Collapse. Sound familiar? The Easter Island story is a story for our times. We too are on an island floating on an endless sea. There are differences, of course. It could be said that Easter Island is tiny and that it was only a matter of time before the resources in such a closed system were used up. But there are parallels between the islanders’ attitude towards their environment and our own, and this is the most frightening part of the story.

On an island as small as Easter, it was easy to see the effects of the deforestation as it was taking place. But the inhabitants continued their destructive actions. They probably prayed to their gods to replenish the land so they could continue to rape it, but the gods didn’t answer. And still the trees came down. Whatever one did to alter that ecosystem, the results were reasonably predictable. One could stand on the summit and see almost every point on the island. The person who felled the last tree could see that it was the last tree. Nonetheless, he (or she) still felled it.* This is the really scary part. As our own forests fall to the bulldozers, there are many who are valiantly trying to save them. It is obvious, now that we have satellites showing us the massive deforestation, that there is a serious problem. And yet our leaders — and even the majority of individuals — look on, unconcerned. They appear willing to bulldoze the last trees to build the moai of our time — technology & development. Will we have the sense to reconcile our lifestyles with the well-being of our environment, or is the human personality always the same — as that of the person who felled the last tree?*

The End

The Rise and Fall of the Maya Empire

The Maya Empire, centered in the tropical lowlands of what is now Guatemala, reached the peak of its power and influence around the sixth century A.D. The Maya excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind an astonishing amount of impressive architecture and symbolic artwork. Most of the great stone cities of the Maya were abandoned by A.D. 900, however, and since the 19th century scholars have debated what might have caused this dramatic decline.

Locating the Maya

The Maya civilization was one of the most dominant indigenous societies of Mesoamerica (a term used to describe Mexico and Central America before the 16th century Spanish conquest). Unlike other scattered indigenous populations of Mesoamerica, the Maya were centered in one geographical block covering all of the Yucatan Peninsula and modern-day Guatemala; Belize and parts of the Mexican states of Tabasco and Chiapas; and the western part of Honduras and El Salvador. This concentration showed that the Maya remained relatively secure from invasion by other Mesoamerican peoples.

Within that expanse, the Maya lived in three separate sub-areas with distinct environmental and cultural differences: the northern Maya lowlands on the Yucatan Peninsula; the southern lowlands in the Peten district of northern Guatemala and adjacent portions of Mexico, Belize and western Honduras; and the southern Maya highlands, in the mountainous region of southern Guatemala. Most famously, the Maya of the southern lowland region reached their peak during the Classic Period of Maya civilization (A.D. 250 to 900), and built the great stone cities and monuments that have fascinated explorers and scholars of the region.

Early Maya, 1800 B.C. to A.D. 250

The earliest Maya settlements date to around 1800 B.C., or the beginning of what is called the Preclassic or Formative Period. The earliest Maya were agricultural, growing crops such as corn (maize), beans, squash and cassava (manioc). During the Middle Preclassic Period, which lasted until about 300 B.C., Maya farmers began to expand their presence both in the highland and lowland regions. The Middle Preclassic Period also saw the rise of the first major Mesoamerican civilization, the Olmecs. Like other Mesamerican peoples, such as the Zapotec, Totonac, Teotihuacán and Aztec, the Maya derived a number of religious and cultural traits–as well as their number system and their famous calendar–from the Olmec.

In addition to agriculture, the Preclassic Maya also displayed more advanced cultural traits like pyramid-building, city construction and the inscribing of stone monuments.

The Late Preclassic city of Mirador, in the northern Peten, was one of the greatest cities ever built in the pre-Columbian Americas. Its size dwarfed the Classic Maya capital of Tikal, and its existence proves that the Maya flourished centuries before the Classic Period.

Cities of Stone: The Classic Maya, A.D. 250-900

The Classic Period, which began around A.D. 250, was the golden age of the Maya Empire. Classic Maya civilization grew to some 40 cities, including Tikal, Uaxactún, Copán, Bonampak, Dos Pilas, Calakmul, Palenque and Río Bec; each city held a population of between 5,000 and 50,000 people. At its peak, the Maya population may have reached 2,000,000.

Excavations of Maya sites have unearthed plazas, palaces, temples and pyramids, as well as courts for playing the ball games that were ritually and politically significant to Maya culture. Maya cities were surrounded and supported by a large population of farmers. Though the Maya practiced a primitive type of “slash-and-burn” agriculture, they also displayed evidence of more advanced farming methods, such as irrigation and terracing.

The Maya were deeply religious, and worshiped various gods related to nature, including the gods of the sun, the moon, rain and corn. At the top of Maya society were the kings, or “kuhul ajaw” (holy lords), who claimed to be related to gods and followed a hereditary succession. They were thought to serve as mediators between the gods and people on earth, and performed the elaborate religious ceremonies and rituals so important to the Maya culture.

The Classic Maya built many of their temples and palaces in a stepped pyramid shape, decorating them with elaborate reliefs and inscriptions. These structures have earned the Maya their reputation as the great artists of Mesoamerica. Guided by their religious ritual, the Maya also made significant advances in mathematics and astronomy, including the use of the zero and the development of a complex calendar system based on 365 days. Though early researchers concluded that the Maya were a peaceful society of priests and scribes, later evidence–including a thorough examination of the artwork and inscriptions on their temple walls–showed the less peaceful side of Maya culture, including the war between rival Mayan city-states and the importance of torture and human sacrifice to their religious ritual.

Serious exploration of Classic Maya sites began in the 1830s. By the early to mid-20th century, a small portion of their system of hieroglyph writing had been deciphered, and more about their history and culture became known. Most of what historians know about the Maya comes from what remains of their architecture and art, including stone carvings and inscriptions on their buildings and monuments. The Maya also made paper from tree bark and wrote in books made from this paper, known as codices; four of these codices are known to have survived.

Life in the Rainforest

One of the many intriguing things about the Maya was their ability to build a great civilization in a tropical rainforest climate. Traditionally, ancient peoples had flourished in drier climates, where the centralized management of water resources (through irrigation and other techniques) formed the basis of society. (This was the case for the Teotihuacan of highland Mexico, contemporaries of the Classic Maya.) In the southern Maya lowlands, however, there were few navigable rivers for trade and transport, as well as no obvious need for an irrigation system.

By the late 20th century, researchers had concluded that the climate of the lowlands was in fact quite environmentally diverse. Though foreign invaders were disappointed by the region’s relative lack of silver and gold, the Maya took advantage of the area’s many natural resources, including limestone (for construction), the volcanic rock obsidian (for tools and weapons) and salt. The environment also held other treasures for the Maya, including jade, quetzal feathers (used to decorate the elaborate costumes of Maya nobility) and marine shells, which were used as trumpets in ceremonies and warfare.

Mysterious Decline of the Maya

From the late eighth through the end of the ninth century, something unknown happened to shake the Maya civilization to its foundations. One by one, the Classic cities in the southern lowlands were abandoned, and by A.D. 900, Maya civilization in that region had collapsed. The reason for this mysterious decline is unknown, though scholars have developed several competing theories.

Some believe that by the ninth century the Maya had exhausted the environment around them to the point that it could no longer sustain a very large population. Other Maya scholars argue that constant warfare among competing city-states led the complicated military, family (by marriage) and trade alliances between them to break down, along with the traditional system of dynastic power. As the stature of the holy lords diminished, their complex traditions of rituals and ceremonies dissolved into chaos. Finally, some catastrophic environmental change–like an extremely long, intense period of drought–may have wiped out the Classic Maya civilization. Drought would have hit cities like Tikal–where rainwater was necessary for drinking as well as for crop irrigation–especially hard.

All three of these factors–overpopulation and overuse of the land, endemic warfare and drought–may have played a part in the downfall of the Maya in the southern lowlands. In the highlands of the Yucatan, a few Maya cities–such as Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Mayapán–continued to flourish in the Post-Classic Period (A.D. 900-1500). By the time the Spanish invaders arrived, however, most Maya were living in agricultural villages, their great cities buried under a layer of rainforest green.

Ancient Egypt

For almost 30 centuries—from its unification around 3100 B.C. to its conquest by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C.—ancient Egypt was the preeminent civilization in the Mediterranean world. From the great pyramids of the Old Kingdom through the military conquests of the New Kingdom, Egypt’s majesty has long entranced archaeologists and historians and created a vibrant field of study all its own: Egyptology. The main sources of information about ancient Egypt are the many monuments, objects and artifacts that have been recovered from archaeological sites, covered with hieroglyphs that have only recently been deciphered. The picture that emerges is of a culture with few equals in the beauty of its art, the accomplishment of its architecture or the richness of its religious traditions.

Predynastic Period (c. 5000-3100 B.C.)

Few written records or artifacts have been found from the Predynastic Period, which encompassed at least 2,000 years of gradual development of the Egyptian civilization.

Neolithic (late Stone Age) communities in northeastern Africa exchanged hunting for agriculture and made early advances that paved the way for the later development of Egyptian arts and crafts, technology, politics and religion (including a great reverence for the dead and possibly a belief in life after death).

Around 3400 B.C., two separate kingdoms were established: the Red Land to the north, based in the Nile River Delta and extending along the Nile perhaps to Atfih; and the White Land in the south, stretching from Atfih to Gebel es-Silsila. A southern king, Scorpion, made the first attempts to conquer the northern kingdom around 3200 B.C. A century later, King Menes would subdue the north and unify the country, becoming the first king of the first dynasty.

Archaic (Early Dynastic) Period (c. 3100-2686 B.C.)

King Menes founded the capital of ancient Egypt at White Walls (later known as Memphis), in the north, near the apex of the Nile River delta. The capital would grow into a great metropolis that dominated Egyptian society during the Old Kingdom period. The Archaic Period saw the development of the foundations of Egyptian society, including the all-important ideology of kingship. To the ancient Egyptians, the king was a godlike being, closely identified with the all-powerful god Horus. The earliest known hieroglyphic writing also dates to this period.

In the Archaic Period, as in all other periods, most ancient Egyptians were farmers living in small villages, and agriculture (largely wheat and barley) formed the economic base of the Egyptian state. The annual flooding of the great Nile River provided the necessary irrigation and fertilization each year; farmers sowed the wheat after the flooding receded and harvested it before the season of high temperatures and drought returned.

Old Kingdom: Age of the Pyramid Builders (c. 2686-2181 B.C.)

The Old Kingdom began with the third dynasty of pharaohs. Around 2630 B.C., the third dynasty’s King Djoser asked Imhotep, an architect, priest and healer, to design a funerary monument for him; the result was the world’s first major stone building, the Step-Pyramid at Saqqara, near Memphis. Pyramid-building reached its zenith with the construction of the Great Pyramid at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo. Built for Khufu (or Cheops, in Greek), who ruled from 2589 to 2566 B.C., the pyramid was later named by classical historians as one of the ancient world’s Seven Wonders. Two other pyramids were built at Giza for Khufu’s successors Khafra (2558-2532 B.C) and Menkaura (2532-2503 B.C.).

During the third and fourth dynasties, Egypt enjoyed a golden age of peace and prosperity. The pharaohs held absolute power and provided a stable central government; the kingdom faced no serious threats from abroad; and successful military campaigns in foreign countries like Nubia and Libya added to its considerable economic prosperity. Over the course of the fifth and sixth dynasties, the king’s wealth was steadily depleted, partially due to the huge expense of pyramid-building, and his absolute power faltered in the face of the growing influence of the nobility and the priesthood that grew up around the sun god Ra (Re). After the death of the sixth dynasty’s King Pepy II, who ruled for some 94 years, the Old Kingdom period ended in chaos.

First Intermediate Period (c. 2181-2055 B.C.)

On the heels of the Old Kingdom’s collapse, the seventh and eighth dynasties consisted of a rapid succession of Memphis-based rulers until about 2160 B.C., when the central authority completely dissolved, leading to civil war between provincial governors. This chaotic situation was intensified by Bedouin invasions and accompanied by famine and disease.

From this era of conflict emerged two different kingdoms: A line of 17 rulers (dynasties nine and 10) based in Heracleopolis ruled Middle Egypt between Memphis and Thebes, while another family of rulers arose in Thebes to challenge Heracleopolitan power. Around 2055 B.C., the Theban prince Mentuhotep managed to topple Heracleopolis and reunited Egypt, beginning the 11th dynasty and ending the First Intermediate Period.

Middle Kingdom: 12th Dynasty (c. 2055-1786 B.C.)

After the last ruler of the 11th dynasty, Mentuhotep IV, was assassinated, the throne passed to his vizier, or chief minister, who became King Amenemhet I, founder of dynasty 12. A new capital was established at It-towy, south of Memphis, while Thebes remained a great religious center. During the Middle Kingdom, Egypt once again flourished, as it had during the Old Kingdom. The 12th dynasty kings ensured the smooth succession of their line by making each successor co-regent, a custom that began with Amenemhet I.
Middle-Kingdom Egypt pursued an aggressive foreign policy, colonizing Nubia (with its rich supply of gold, ebony, ivory and other resources) and repelling the Bedouins who had infiltrated Egypt during the First Intermediate Period. The kingdom also built diplomatic and trade relations with Syria, Palestine and other countries; undertook building projects including military fortresses and mining quarries; and returned to pyramid-building in the tradition of the Old Kingdom. The Middle Kingdom reached its peak under Amenemhet III (1842-1797 B.C.); its decline began under Amenenhet IV (1798-1790 B.C.) and continued under his sister and regent, Queen Sobekneferu (1789-1786 B.C.), who was the first confirmed female ruler of Egypt and the last ruler of the 12th dynasty.

Evidence of Ancient Aliens?

Ancient alien theorists like Erich von Däniken believe that, thousands of years ago, extraterrestrials landed on Earth, where they were hailed as gods and helped shape human civilization. But what proof could possibly exist for such an encounter? Proponents of the theory point to two types of evidence: ancient religious texts and physical specimens such as cave drawings, stone sculptures and pyramids. Is your curiosity piqued? Here’s a quick introduction to some of the most famous examples.

The Nazca Lines

Etched into a high plateau in Peru’s Nazca Desert, a series of ancient designs stretching more than 50 miles has baffled archaeologists for decades. Along with simple lines and geometric shapes, they include drawings of animals, birds and humans, some measuring more than 600 feet across. Because of their colossal size, the figures can only be appreciated from way up in the air—and there is no evidence that the Nazca people, who inhabited the area between 300 B.C. and 800 A.D., invented flying machines. According to ancient alien theorists, the figures were used to guide spaceships as they came in for a landing, and the lines served as runways.


Many Sanskrit epics, which were written in India more than two millennia ago, contain references to mythical flying machines called vimanas. Pointing to similarities between descriptions of vimanas and reports by people who claim to have seen UFOs, ancient alien theorists have suggested that astronauts from other planets visited India during ancient times.

The Moai of Easter Island

The Polynesian island of Easter Island is famous for its “maoi”: the 887 giant human figures with enormous heads that guard its coastline. Roughly 500 years old, these monolithic statues stand 13 feet high and weigh 14 tons, but some are twice as tall and much heavier. How could human beings without sophisticated tools or knowledge of engineering craft and transport such incredible structures? Some ancient alien theorists believe it is the work of visiting extraterrestrials who left their mark on the island.

Puma Punku

Located in the Bolivian highlands, Puma Punku is a field of stone ruins scattered with giant, finely carved blocks. Such precise workmanship on a massive scale would have been nearly impossible without modern tools and machines, yet the ruins are more than 1,000 years old. Ancient alien theorists have hypothesized that extraterrestrials with advanced engineering techniques created the site or advised the people who built it.


The Book of Ezekiel

In the Book of Ezekiel, part of the Hebrew bible, a prophet has a vision of a flying vessel accompanied by fire, smoke and a loud noise. Some ancient alien theorists have argued that the vehicle’s design closely mirrors that of a modern spaceship. Rather than a divine intervention, then, perhaps the text describes an early encounter between humans and alien astronauts.



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