The Art of Easter Island


Thor Heyerdahl.



Thor Heyerdahl, The Art of Easter Island (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1976), 16 pp. colour Plates plus 349 pp. text plus 320 pp. of b/w Plates (total 685 pages), thick quarto, 28.8 x 22.7 x 7 cm. Foreword, The Discovery of an Ethnographic Enigma; Part 1: Steal-Trading, Portable Sculptures, and Storage Caves on Easter Island; Part 2: Art Objects from Easter Island; Appendix; Catalogue; Literature cited; Index. Hard cover, pictorial cloth, colour illustrated dust jacket, double spread colour map of Easter Island on front pastedown and f.f.e., detailed map of Pacific Ocean with island groups on back pastedown and endpaper. Times Literary Supplement review, 2 July 1976, inserted at rear in plain white sheet.

Condition: Near fine, hardcover book internally clean and bright, in as new condition except for a closed tear on dust jacket at base of spine.

The name of Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) was for much of the second half of the 20th century synonymous with adventure and the romance of dangerous explorations across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans to exotic places—such as Easter Island, one of the loneliest and most remote places on earth. The Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen named Easter Island on Easter Sunday, 1722, and the island’s 887 monumental statues have long puzzled and fascinated many around the world. But it was not until the 1955-56 archaeological expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl that the first stratigraphic archaeological excavations were undertaken. Heyerdahl and the professional archaeologists who travelled with him to Easter Island spent several months investigating sites and conducting experiments in the carving, transporting and erection relating to significant moai (monumental statues). This book is the first fully documented review of that team’s discoveries. In the course of his research, Heyerdahl visited every world museum housing Easter Island art.

Heyerdahl graduated in biology from Oslo University, where he was later awarded a PhD honoris causa in anthropology. Turning permanently from biology to anthropology upon his first expedition to the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia in 1937-38, he organised and led the Kon-Tiki Expedition by balsa raft from Peru to Polynesia in 1947; the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to the Galapagos Islands in 1952; the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island in 1955-56; and the Ra voyages by papyrus bundle-boats from North Africa to tropical America in 1969-70. The Easter Island Expedition resulted in two scientific reports, Heyerdahl’s book The Art of Easter Island and popular works. Heyerdahl, variously described as an adventurer and ethnographer with a background in zoology, botany and geography, was a Fellow of the Norwegian Academy of Sciences and the New York Academy of Sciences, and awarded the Vega Medal of the Royal Swedish Society of Anthropology and the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in London.

In her Times Literary Supplement review of 2 July 1976, Adrienne Kaeppler, the US anthropologist and curator of Oceanic Ethnology at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, nominated the sections of The Art of Easter Island which she considered were of greatest benefit to posterity. These include descriptions of small stone sculptures, “the long Chapter on cave disclosures”, the extensive use of photographs and accompanying catalogue and, despite her criticisms of the book’s lack of analysis of art, she judges it “a valuable source for further study of that art”. Some of Ms Kaeppler’s criticisms have been overturned by more recent scholarship.