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       Easter Island - Indus Valley Scripts:

Rongorongo is Oceania's only indigenous script. It is found in one location only - In the centre of the Pacific Ocean, over a thousand miles from any continent. We now know that the first migrations to Easter Island were deliberate, because they involved taking the people, plants and animals needed to establish sustainable colonies (6). The script was first identified in 1864, and any suggestions that it originated after European contact are  rejected on the basis that at least two of the Rongorongo tablets are dated to before their arrival (1). So the big question remains... where did it come from?


(Rongorongo - Corpus of Texts)

(Examples of Indus Valley Script - I.V.S)

(Comparison Chart of  Indus Valley Script and Rongorongo Characters).


   The Debate:

The Origin of Rongorongo:

Tradition says the the first king, Hoatu-matua, brought with him sixty-seven wooden tablets. Later on, the number of tablets is supposed to have been much larger. From one of the last chiefs, Ngaara, it is told that he had several hundreds. Radiocarbon dating has shown that the dates for the decline of tree pollen,  and therefore the first settlement, began around AD 900, or possibly a couple of centuries earlier (4).  The erection of statues was in full swing by AD 1,200 and the collapse came around AD 1,500. Natives tell that the original glyphs brought by the first immigrants, had been written on paper made from the banana plant; but later on, for the better preservation of the documents they were written on wood. According to Eyraud and Geiseler the glyphs were engraved with a piece of obsidian; but Routledge and Metraux mention catfish teeth as instruments for engraving. (2)

The Austronesian Polynesians, who first settled the island, are likely to have arrived from the Marquesas Islands from the west. (3) The island at one time supported a relatively advanced and complex civilization.  We now know that the Between about 3,000 and 1,000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan In the mid-2nd millennium BC the distinctive Lapita culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia. Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed. The pattern of settlement that is believed to have occurred is that the Polynesians spread out from the Samoan Islands into eastern Polynesia - the Marquesas, the Society Islands, the Hawaiian Islands and Easter Island. (5)

Although Easter Island was first officially discovered by Europeans in 1722, it is clear that the Pacific was being successfully navigated for thousands of years before their arrival.

The first record of Rongorongo was by Eugène Eyraud in 1864. He remained on Easter Island for nine months, evangelizing the inhabitants. He wrote an account of his stay in which he reports his discovery of the tablets that year:

'In every hut one finds wooden tablets or sticks covered in several sorts of hieroglyphic characters: They are depictions of animals unknown on the island, which the natives draw with sharp stones. Each figure has its own name; but the scant attention they pay to these tablets leads me to think that these characters, remnants of some primitive writing, are now for them a habitual practice which they keep without seeking its meaning'

Eyraud 1866:71

In 1868 the Bishop of Tahiti received a gift from the recent Catholic converts of Easter Island. It was a long cord of human hair, a fishing line perhaps, wound around a small wooden board covered in hieroglyphic writing. Stunned at the discovery, he wrote to Father Hippolyte Roussel on Easter Island to collect all the tablets and to find natives capable of translating them. But Roussel could only recover a few, and the islanders could not agree on how to read them. What happened to the hundreds of tablets seen only four years before is a matter of conjecture. Steven Chauvet reported the following:

'The Bishop questioned the Rapanui wise man, Ouroupano Hinapote, the son of the wise man Tekaki [who said that] he, himself, had begun the requisite studies and knew how to carve the characters with a small shark's tooth. He said that there was nobody left on the island who knew how to read the characters since the Peruvians had brought about the deaths of all the wise men and, thus, the pieces of wood were no longer of any interest to the natives who burned them as firewood or wound their fishing lines around them'... ...'A. Pinart also saw some in 1877. He was not able to acquire these tablets because the natives were using them as reels for their fishing lines'.

Chauvet 1935:381–382

Today, only 26 examples of Rongorongo text remain (with 3 disputed), each with letter codes inscribed on wooden objects, containing between 2 and 2320 simple and compound glyphs, with over 15,000 in all. Two of the tablets, C and S (above), have a documented pre-missionary provenance, though others may be as old or older. (1)

(View Surviving Rongorongo Corpus Here)


The Loss of Rongorongo:

In December 1862, Peruvian slave raiders struck Easter Island. Violent abductions continued for several months, resulting in the capturing or killing around 1500 men and women, about half of the island's population. The art of writing was effectively extinguished at this time when the Peruvian slave-raiders carried off all professionals of writing in 1862 (3).

The subsequent disappearance of the old wooden tablets is probably due to their sacred character as the natives hid them from the European immigrants, presumably because the missionaries considered the ceremonial documents as idolatrous objects. The natives repeatedly asserted that the missionaries had prohibited them from reading the tablets, and even had induced them to burn these objects as devil's work. The Swede De Greno, who arrived about 1870 at Easter island, said the following:

“...soon after the Catholic Mission was established on the Island, the missionaries persuaded many of the people to consume by fire all the blocks (tablets) in their possession, telling them that they were but heathen records and that the possession of them would have a tendency to attach them to their heathenism and prevent their thorough conversion to the new religion and the consequent saving of their souls..”.

Also Mrs. Routledge, the renowned explorer of Easter island, was told by a native that he possessed a great number of tablets, all of which he had thrown away on the advice of the missionaries, and afterwards another man had built a boat of them. (2)


Indus Valley and Easter Island (Similarities in Script).

In 1932, Wilhelm de Hevesy was the first academic to suggest a link between Rongorongo and the Indus script of the Indus Valley Civilization in India, claiming that as many as forty Rongorongo symbols had a correlating symbol in the script from India. For a while, the idea was entertained and debated until radiocarbon dating of the  Indus Valley culture was placed between c. 3,300 - 1,900 BC (7), a finding which officially separated the two cultures by over 2,000 years. Recent research however, has opened the debate again as the finding of Indus Valley DNA in Australian Aborigines suggest a contact between the two cultures c. 2,000 BC.

'A recent study by Irina Pugach of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, and her colleagues, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has apparently resolved the matter. About 4,000 years before Europeans arrived, it seems that a group of Indian adventurers (from the same time as the great Indus Valley Civilisation) chose to call the place home. Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals, the Dingo'. (8)

Perhaps no coincidence that studies in language evolution have shown that the navigation and settlement of the Pacific began at the same time and in the same region, continuing from west to east finally reaching Easter Island approximately c. 1,000 BC.

'The settlement of the Pacific proceeded in a series of expansion pulses and settlement pauses. The Austronesians arose in Taiwan around 5,200 years ago. Before entering the Philippines, they paused for around a thousand years, and then spread rapidly across the 7,000 km from the Philippines to Polynesia in less than one thousand years. After settling Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, the Austronesians paused again for another thousand years, before finally spreading further into Polynesia eventually reaching as far as New Zealand, Hawaii and Easter Island'. (9)

The continued navigation and colonisation of the Pacific Islands from this time onwards offers the possibility of a continuation of the traditions of a 'sacred' script. Egyptian Hieroglyphs, Chinese logograms and Sumerian cuneiform are all testimony to the longevity of language. In ancient times, many scripts were considered sacred such as the Hebraic Torah still is today. These 'sacred' texts were transferred meticulously without deviation for millennia. This theory is supported by the discovery of repeated script on more than one of the few surviving Rongorongo tablets.

In addition, recent epigraphic research have revealed both further similarities between the two scripts but also, and more significantly, that similarities between groupings of characters can be found in both scripts. A finding which cannot be ignored or considered simply a further coincidence. We are left with a mystery which however unlikely, appears to show a thread of connection between the two cultures.

Two Indus Valley seals with corresponding Rapa Nui symbols to illustrate the similarity between characters.

(Image Credits: Rongorongo and the Indus Script)

(Comparison Chart of Similar Symbols From I.V.S and Rongorongo Script)



   Arguments Against a Connection:

The main objections to any connection between the two scripts remain as follows:


1). Easter Island is as far away from the Indus Valley Culture as it can possibly be.

Response: As noted above, recent research has shown that the indigenous population of Australia contains the Indus Valley genome which is estimated to have arrived c. 3,000 BC. This is proof that the Indus Valley Dravidians were proficient both at navigation and were exploring the edges of the Pacific ocean at the very time that linguistic studies have shown that an Austronesian expansion occurred from the west to the east across the Pacific ocean arriving at Easter Island c. 1,000 BC. (6)

Sea worthy Vessel from Indus Valley Script.

The Indus Valley Civilisation is known to have interacted and traded across vast stretches of the ancient world. Their close connection with the Sumerians, as was proven by the extensive presence of Harappan seals and cubical weight measures in Mesopotamian urban sites (10). It is interesting to note that no Mesopotamian artefacts have yet been found in an Indus Valley setting.

'Dr. E. S. Cragihill Handy describes the story of Polynesian culture as "a mere index to Indian history." Author of the 'Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia' is of opinion that Polynesian ancestors came from the west through the waters between Buru and Yap to eastern New Guinea and the Melanesian island and thence to Polynesia by a slow succession of West-East voyage'. (11)

While no-one is suggesting that the I.V.C explorers managed to get as far as Easter Island themselves, it is clear that they had already begun charting the seas, reaching Australia around 4,000 years ago. The subsequent exploration and  colonisation of the Pacific islands by Austronesian/Polynesian navigators however, offers a reasonable basis for supporting the theory that Indus Valley Script (or a form of it) was transported step by step to Easter Island, being subsequently maintained over time by elders who considered it a 'sacred' script.


2). The two cultures are separated by at least 2,000 years.

Response: There are several examples of cultures with 'sacred' scripts which were continued for well over a thousand years with important texts being transferred meticulously, and without deviation for millennia, mirroring the ancient 'oral tradition' of our pre-historic ancestors. The fact that we still use the Greek alphabet over two thousands years after the collapse of their civilisation is testimony to the endurance of script, and therefore proof of possibility. The Easter Island population when it was discovered had been settled from at least 900 AD, revealing at least a thousand years of continued settlement. The islanders mythology states that the original writing was brought by the first settlers who had it written on 'sticks', not on the planks that were found when Europeans arrived, and the accounts by early Europeans suggest that when they were first discovered, the general population of Easter Islanders had little knowledge of how to 'read' the script, using them more as a ritual mnemonic rather than an alphabetic script.

The recent recognition of Indus Valley script in an artefact from the Sultani Museum in Kabul has demonstrated that the Indus script was still in use (est.), 1,000 years ago. At present the parchment or the box it is in have yet to be  radiocarbon dated, but regardless of the exact date of the object, it is not believed to be a direct product of the Indus Valley culture, but rather a more recent text that made use of the Indus Valley Script, perhaps using a different alphabet. This artefact both proves that I.V.S continued to be used (repeated) long after the official collapse of their civilisation (c. 1,900 BC), and therefore demonstrates the possibility that the basic elements of Indus Script could have been carried to Easter Island by the first immigrants, transforming over time into the more rounded Rongorongo discovered in the 18th century.

The 'Kabul Manuscript' currently residing in the Sultani Museum in Kabul.

(Full Report on the Kabul Manuscript).


3). It is proposed that the script didn't exist before the arrival of the Spanish missionaries.

Response: The suggestion that Rongorongo didn't exist before the arrival of the Spanish is speculative and the evidence doesn't support this theory. Firstly, tradition states that it arrived with the first settlers, and  at least two of the surviving tablets have a verified pre-Spanish origin (1) According to Thomson, Hotu-matua arrived on the island with 67 inscribed tablets or sticks (1889: 514). Though the number may be exaggerated, there is no reason to attribute the origin of the script to another source than that of the first settlers. If the script was only invented after the visit of the Spanish ship in the year 1770, as is maintained by S.R. Fischer (1997: 367), the inventor of the script would certainly be known by his historical name and there would be no need to replace it by a legendary name like Tuu-ko-Iho. Moreover, there are no similarities between the Easter Island script and the European, as is admitted by Fischer (1997: 375). Above all it is not a letter script and the Easter Islanders confessed that they had little understanding of their meaning since the elders were taken by 'Peruvian conquerors', suggesting an origin of great antiquity.



   Arguments For a Connection:

The original findings in 1932 by Wilhelm de Hevesy suggested that as many as forty Rongorongo symbols had a correlating symbol in the script from India. This number has now risen through independent research, including the recognition of similar variations of symbols in both scripts (View Here). The only visual difference between the two scripts is that one is written in 'stick' form, whereas the other is 'rounded' in form, which is not such an unlikely development on an isolated island over a thousand year period. It can be seen from the debate above that the Indus Valley Culture were navigating the Australasian oceans at the same time that the Pacific islands were first colonised, and that scripts, especially those considered 'sacred' have an enduring nature.

A significant recognition in relation to this subject is the observation that within the remaining 26 examples of Rongorongo, similar stretches of text have been found to be repeated on several of the samples is suggestive of a ritual record keeping, in the same way that the oral tradition recorded origin myths, ancestral genealogies, or other important knowledge such as astronomical cycles (Both of the last two are suspected within the surviving Rongorongo samples). This repetition of script leans in favour of the idea that the large number of Rongorongo boards reported 'In every Hut' were likely reproductions (or variations of earlier versions), no longer literally understood, but used symbolically (or mnemonically), perhaps in the same way that Holy books are kept in their home today.

(Extracted from Wikipedia May, 2013)

This set of characters, extracted from the full set of Rongorongo glyphs is said to account for over 90% of all the known texts.

Whilst the traditional focus of attention in this debate is over the implausibility of a connection between the Indus Valley Culture, there have been several reports of ancient scripts that show similarities to both Rongorongo and I.V.S, with suggestions that they are all derived from a common, more ancient script as the following examples demonstrate:


Comparison Between Other Ancient Scripts and I.V.S / Rongorongo.

There are several other samples of ancient script that have been shown to have strong similarities with both I.V.S and Rongorongo as the following examples show:


The 'Inga stone', Brazil.

The Inga Stone in Brazil has several characters on it which have been compared to Rongorongo.

Verill and Verill in 'Old Civilisations of the New World' speak of inscriptions in the 'Indus-Gangetic' script on a rock face 150 miles north of Cuzco, Peru, and another one like it in another location in Peru: similar signs have been found as grafitti on rock faces across Peru and even into Northern Argentina according to the researches of Bernardo da Silva Ramos (done for the Brazillian government but then denounced by the government for what his findings implied: the book was printed at private expense in 1939 as 'Inscripcioes e Traducioes da America Prehistorica') (8)

Comparison chart of Brazilian and Rongorongo.


Chinese Shang Script compared to I.V.S

Comparison between early Chinese Shang script (rotated) and Indus Valley Script.

Photo Credits:  http://frontiers-of-anthropology.blogspot



The Sri-Lanka Stone Bench.

Discovered 3km off the coast of Godawaya, at the site of a 2,000 year old shipwreck.

The Godawaya Inscription with identical Rongorongo characters shown below.

It is noticeable that the characters on the Godawaya Stone show closer similarity to Rongorongo that I.V.S



Gobekli Tepe, Turkey.

This 'tablet' (left) was found at Gobekli Tepe, hinting at an earlier and more common origin to the set of symbols seen in the I.V.S. The statue (right), also from Gobkli Tepe is said perhaps coincidentally, to have strong similarities to the Vedic style.

(More about Gobekli Tepe, Turkey)


And Finally... Palaeolithic Script:

Recent studies have demonstrated that a common set of symbols existed as far back as the Palaeolithic (12),, which can in turn be seen to have developed into proto-alphabets in prehistoric cultures around the world. The meanings of these earlier individual symbols can only be guessed at, but their eventual adaptation into modern alphabets is now a recognised fact. Many of the Palaeolithic characters (top row, below) can be seen to share a similarity with both Indus Valley and Rongorongo script.

In her Plato Prehistorian: 10,000 to 5,000 B.C. Myth, Religion, Archaeology, Mary Settegast reproduces a table (above) which shows four runic character sets; a is Upper Palaeolithic (found among the cave paintings), b is Indus Valley script, c is Greek (western branch), and d is the Scandinavian runic alphabet.

(More about The Origin of Writing and Palaeolithic Script)



Clearly, a similarity between two scripts does not automatically mean that they both originated from the same source. However, as can be seen from the examples above, there is now sufficient evidence in favour of just such a connection, and however frail that connection may seem it continues to be the most likely solution to the remarkable similarities between the Indus Valley and Easter island Scripts. Without another, more plausible suggestion we are left with a limited number of possibilities to explain such a connection. They are as follows:


  • The script developed independently and spontaneously in both locations.

  • The script was originally taken to Easter Island (because it was considered a sacred text).

  • The script was originally taken to Easter Island (because it was considered a sacred place).

  • The Easter Island script arrived from a third, unknown and later source and their mythology is wrong.



(Rongorongo - Corpus of Surviving Texts)

(Comparison Chart - Indus Valley Script and Rongorongo Characters).

(More about Easter Island)

(More about the Indus Valley Civilisation)

(The Origin of Writing)






Further Research:

Comparison between the_Easter_Island_script_and_the_Middle-Indus_seals, (1939)
Rongorongo and the Indus Script.



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