Volume 97 1988 > Volume 97, No. 3 > Allographic variations of Easter Island glyphs, by S. Rjabchikov, p 313-320
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SHORTER COMMUNICATION
ALLOGRAPHIC VARIATIONS OF EASTER ISLAND GLYPHS

It is now opportune to demonstrate how some of the interpretations of Easter Island glyphs proposed in Rjabchikov 1987b were obtained. Basically, allographic variations were determined by comparing similar-looking strings of glyphs from different tablets.

It has long been known (Métraux 1940:401, Kudrjavtsev 1949) that two long sequences appeared, with some graphic variations, on two and three tablets respectively; one sequence appears on tablets G and K, also known as the Small Santiago Tablet (G) and the London Tablet (K), and the other sequence on tablets P, Q, and H, also known as the Great Leningrad Tablet (P), the Small Leningrad Tablet (Q), and the Great Santiago Tablet (H). Further, shorter sequences of glyphs can be found on tablets A (Tahua, or The Oar), B (ArukuKurenga), C (Mamari), D (Tablette Echancré), R (Atua-Mata-Riri), and S (Great Washington Tablet).

Figure 1 shows eight fragments. Their transcription, referencing glyphs as per Rjabchikov 1987b, is:

  • Fragment 1 (Pr 4): 7b 6 24
  • 2 (Hr4): 7a 6 24
  • 3 (Qr4): 6-7a 6-4
  • 4 (Hr5): 6-7b 6-4
  • 5 (Sb2): 7a-5 44 7b-5 44 . . . 7b-5 8 7b-5 68-3-14b-73 . . .
  • 6 (Aa7): 7a-7a-5 68-2-14b-73-46
  • 7 (Aa4): 68-3-14b-73-46
  • 8 (Ab1): 68-3-14b-73-46

In fragments 1 and 2 variants 7a and 7b of glyph 7 occur in identical environments, that is, preceding glyphs 6 and 24. In fragments 3 and 4 they again occur in identical environments, this time, 6 . . . 6-4. Finally, in fragment 5, they occur four times preceding glyph 5. I think that this sequence, 7-5, represents a

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FIGURE 1. Allographs of eight Easter Island glyphs.
Illustration

predicate, and that glyphs which follow it represent the names of gods; glyph 44 to be read “Taha”, an epithet of Tiki (Rjabchikov 1987b), glyph 8 “Matua”, another epithet of Tiki (Barthel 1957), glyph 3 “Hina”.

Fragment 6 from Tablet Aruku-Kurenga, is quite similar to the second half of fragment 5, from the Great Washington Tablet, the beginning of fragment 6 being a partial reduplication of the sequence 7-5:

Fragment 5 (Sb2): . . . 7b-5 68-3-14b-73 . . .

Fragment 6 (Aa7): 7a-7a-5 68-2-14b -73-46

The second half of fragment 6 occurs twice again on Tablet Aruku-Kurenga, but with glyph 3 in lieu of glyph 2:

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  • Fragment 6 (Aa7): 68-2-14b-73-46
  • Fragment 7 (Aa4): 68-3-14b-73-46
  • Fragment 8 (Ab1): 68-3-14b-73-46

Thus, glyph 2 is a variant of glyph 3. The latter is the picture of a crescent, hence our reading “Hina”, confirmed by its association with glyph 14b “Haua” (Rjabchikov 1987b).

Figure 2 shows four fragments from different tablets in which glyphs 14a and 14b occur in identical environments:

  • Fragment 1 (Gr2): 44-5-44-5 49 12 44 14a 5-15a 76 2 8
  • 2 (Kr3): 44-5-44-5 49 12 44 14a 5-15c 76 2 8
  • 3 (Hv12): 5 49 12 44 14b 6 5-15c 6 76 14a
  • 4 (Bv12): 5 49 12 44 14b 6 5-15c 76 14b

Glyph 14a in fragments 1 and 2 is replaced by glyph 14b in fragments 3 and 4, while glyph 14a in fragment 3 is replaced by glyph 14b in fragment 4. Thus, glyphs 14a and 14b are allographs of the same grapheme.

Figure 3 gives the evidence for considering the difference between two types of hand shapes as nonsignificant. In one type the hand is represented with three fingers and a thumb, as in glyph 15a. In the other type it is represented somewhat as a forked stick, as in glyph 15c:

  • Fragment 1 (Pr2): 69 (with forked-stick hand)
  • 2 (Hr3): 69 (with fingers-and-thumb hand)
  • 3 (Kr3): 5-15c
  • 4 (Gr2): 5-15a
FIGURE 2. Four fragments containing glyphs 14a and 14b.
Illustration
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  • 5 (Pr4): 5-15a-50-5-25c-5-50-5-15c
  • 6 (Hr5): 5-15c-50-5-25a-5-50-5-15c
  • 7 (Pr7): 21-26-15c 8
  • 8 (Qr8): 21-26-15a 8
  • 9 (Cb4): 6e-4 44-16 44-16 44-16 44 6e-4 44-26-15c 44-26-15c 44-26

The comparison of fragments 3 and 4, and fragments 5 and 6 shows that 15a and 15c are equivalent. This conclusion is confirmed in fragments 7 and 8.

Fragments 7 and 8 read “komari matua” (Rapanui “komari”: vulva,

FIGURE 3. Evidence for the nonsignificance of differences in hand shapes.
Illustration
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matua”: mother, parent. Petroglyphs representing a vulva were found as fertility symbols on Easter Island).

The observation that glyphs 15a and 15c are interchangeable allows fragment 9 to be read. The glyph sequence 6e-4, “atua”, precedes the names of gods, and glyph 16 reads “kahi”, an epithet of Tangaroa (Rjabchikov 1987a). Now the sequence which follows the next occurrence of 6e-4, “atua”, is 44-26-15, which reads “tamaroa”, i.e. Tangaroa. Note that “Kahi” and “Tangaroa” are written three times each after the introducing sequence 6e-4.

Figure 4 gives 16 fragments showing the interchangeability of the various glyphs grouped under reference number 6:

  • Fragment 1 (Pr2): 4d-4a 24 28b 43 6 26
  • 2 (Hr3): 4d-4a 24 28a 43 6 26
  • 3 (Pv8): 5-15c 5-15c 4-15a 6e-33 6e-33 6e-33
  • 4 (Hv6): 5-15c 5-15c 4-15a 6a-33 6a-33 6a-33
  • 5 (Pr4): 6-28 2 3a 44-6-28 44-6a-34
  • 6 (Qr4): 6-28 2 3b 44-6a-34
  • 7 (Db5): 44-6e-34 7 3a 7
  • 8 (Pv4): 43-6 11
  • 9 (Nb1): 11 43-6
  • 10 (Br8): 43-6 11
  • 11 (Pv4): 6
  • 12 (Hv2): 6
  • 13 (Pv5): 6d-27
  • 14 (Hv4): 6a-27
  • 15 (Pv6): 6c-7a
  • 16 (Hv4): 6e-7b

The comparison of the above fragments show the various allographic variants of glyph 6. Fragments 3 to 7 show 6a to be equivalent to 6e, fragments 13 and 14 show 6a to be equivalent to 6d, and fragments 15 and 16 show 6c and 6e as equivalent.

Fragments 15 and 16 read “Hatu”, another name for Tiki (Barthel 1957) Fragment 5 reads:

6-28 2 3a 44-6 -28 44-6a-34

(h) - nga Hina HINA (det.) taa (h)a - nga Tua-ha-ra

that is: “Hina (the Moon Goddess) swims, the month of Tuahara swims”. (Maori “anga”: to swim, Rapanui “Tuaharo”, Maori “Haratua”: name of a month. Glyph 3a functions here as a determinative).

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FIGURE 4. Interchangeability of varieties of glyph 6.
Illustration
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FIGURE 5. Allographs of glyph 31.
Illustration

The second occurrence of the predicate 6-28 “(h)anga” is omitted in fragment 6.

Fragment 7 reads “Tuahara tuu, hina tuu”: the month of Tuahara is coming, the moon is coming.

Fragments 8, 9, and 10 are the word “mango”, shark, represented by the glyph sequence 43-6 together with glyph 11, the determinative for “shark”.

The fragments in Figure 5 show allographs of glyph 31, read “Maki” (Makemake, another name for Tiki, cf. Barthel 1957):

  • Fragment 1 (Pv5): 31a-31a
  • 2 (Hv3): 31b-31b
  • 3 (Br5): 31b-31a
  • 4 (Ab7): 31b
  • 5 (Ra2): 31b

Glyph 31 a in fragment 1 appears as glyph 31 b in fragment 2. Both variants are used in Fragment 3, and further variants are shown in Fragments 4 and 5.

In the light of the evidence for identifying the main allographs of the five glyphs discussed hereabove, the readings produced by Metoro must be dismissed as erroneous, for Metoro 1 gave different readings for glyphs which have been shown to be but nonsignificant variants of one another. Therefore, attempts at decipherment based on Metoro's readings are bound to be fruitless or erroneous. On the other hand, the decipherment published so far (Rjabchikov 1987b), and which represents but a small part of the results obtained, is based on the formal analysis of the texts.

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REFERENCES
  • Barthel, T., 1957. Die Hauptgottheit der Osterinsulaner. Jahrbuch des Museum für Völkerkunde du Leipzig, 15:60-82.
  • Heyerdahl, Thor, 1976. The Art of Easter Island. London, George Allen & Unwin.
  • Kudrjavzev, Boris G., 1949. Pis'mennoct' ostrova Paskhi. Sbornik Muzeja antropologii i etnografi 11, 176-221.
  • Métraux, A., 1940. Ethnology of Easter Island. Bishop Museum Bulletin 160. Honolulu, Bernice P. Bishop Museum.
  • Rjabchikov, Sergej V., 1987a. Religious Records in the Easter Island Tablets. Rapa Nui Notes, 1987(5):2-3.
  • —— 1987b. Progress Report on the Decipherment of the Easter Island Writing System. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 96:361-7.
1   Metoro, a 19th century Easter Islander, “read” some tablets for Bishop T. Jaussen (Métraux 1940:394, 396-7). Heyerdahl (1976) has written of Metoro's incorrect readings.