Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island, by William J. Thompson, , at sacred-texts.com
December 20.--Leaving Vaihu at early daylight we arrived at Hanga Roa in time to meet the detachment of eight selected men sent on shore from the ship with proper tools and implements for making a thorough exploration of Orongo and vicinity. (Plate XIX). The blue-jackets scampered up the slope of Rana Kao with the buoyant spirits of schoolboys out for a holiday, and arriving at the spot were anxious to lend the assistance of willing hands and plenty of brawn to the prosecution of the work.
Every house was entered and inspected, though occasionally a miscalculation was made in the dimensions of a narrow passage-way and it became necessary to rescue a prisoner by dragging him back by the heels. Once inside the building, the interior could be easily inspected and sketches made of frescoes and sculptured figures. (Plate XX).
These remarkable habitations were built against a terrace of earth or rock, which in some cases formed the back wall of the dwelling (Fig. 5). From this starting point a wall was constructed of small slabs of stratified basaltic rock, piled together without cement and of a thickness varying from about 3 feet to a massive rampart of 7 feet in width.
VIEW OF STONE HUT IN ORONGO
The outer entrance is formed by short stone posts planted in the ground and crossed by a basaltic slab. The passage-way was in all cases unpaved and usually lined on the top and both sides with flat stones. This important feature added materially to our comfort while forcing an entrance through some of the narrow openings, and saved the necessity for adding to our already bountiful supply of bruises and abrasions. No regularity of plan is shown in the construction of the majority of the houses; some are parallelogram in shape, others elliptical, and many are immethodical, showing a total absence of design, the builder being guided by the conformation of the ground, the amount of material available, and other chance circumstances. These houses
are roofed with slabs of rock of sufficient length to span the side walls, showing that no particular care had been exercised to form close joints. Over this stone ceiling the earth was piled in mound-shape, reaching a depth in the center of from 4 to 6 feet, and covered by a sod that afforded ample protection from rain. The floors were the bare earth, and the interiors were damp and moldy from insufficient ventilation afforded by the single contracted opening.
An accurate measurement of these remarkable structures gave the average height from floor to ceiling 4 feet 6 inches; thickness of walls, 4 feet to 10 inches; width of rooms, 4 feet 6 inches; length of rooms, 12 feet 9 inches; average size of door-ways, height 20 inches, width 19 inches. In making the survey of Orongo the houses were
numbered from 1 to 49, inclusive, commencing at the inshore extremity (Fig 6). While in the majority of instances the interior dimensions were considerably below the average given above, several of the houses exceeded those limits, particularly in the length of the rooms. The
largest house contained a single chamber nearly 40 feet long; three were over 30 feet, and eight measured over 20 feet in length, with other dimensions approximately the same as the general average. These rude dwellings were not in all cases confined to a single apartment; some have one and a few have two or three recess chambers opening out of the main room; but they were dark little dens, having no separate light or ventilation.
Near the center of this assemblage of houses there is a sort of square court with eight door-ways opening upon it. These might be considered separate and distinct though the apartments are connected by interior ways, making it possible to pass from one to the other. At the extreme end of the point a similar collection of houses opens upon a circular court, and the interiors are also connected.
In front of each house and about 10 feet from the door-way, small excavations lined with slabs of stone, making holes about afoot wide and 2 feet long and about 20 inches deep, indicated the culinary arrangements of the former inhabitants. The modus operandi of preparing the food was primitive in the extreme; a fire was built in the rude oven and removed when the stones were sufficiently heated, a covering of damp earth being placed over the oven to retard the radiation of heat.
Thorough examination demonstrated the fact that these peculiar houses were not precisely alike in all respects, though the same general characteristics prevailed. Those at the extreme point of the ridge (Plate XXI) bear evidence of great antiquity, and much excavation was necessary before a satisfactory examination could be made of the door-posts or stone supports to the entrances, which were covered with hieroglyphics and rudely carved figures. From houses numbered 2, 3, and 4 (Fig 6) on Lieutenant Symond's chart of Orongo, were taken samples of these sculptures for the National Museum. The large beach pebbles were obtained by digging to a depth of 2 feet below the door-posts, and are of considerable interest both from the dense nature of the material and the fact that these carvings were found frequently repeated throughout the island.
The majority of the houses at Orongo are in a fair state of preservation and bear evidence of having been occupied at no very remote period. The result of the investigation here showed very little of carving on stone, but the smooth slabs lining the walls and ceilings were ornamented with mythological figures and rude designs painted in white, red, and black pigments. Houses marked 1, 5 and 6 on Lieutenant Symond's chart were demolished at the expense of great labor and the frescoed slabs obtained. Digging beneath the door-posts and under the floors produced nothing beyond a few stone implements.
The houses in this vicinity occupy such a prominent position that they were naturally robbed of everything in the way of relies by the natives, who were beginning to appreciate the value of such things through the importance placed upon them by the foreign vessels that
have called at the island. A niche in the wall of each of these dwellings was evidently designed to receive the household god and the various valuables which were possessed by the inhabitants. Whatever treasures they may have held in former years, we found them empty, and our search revealed nothing of importance.
Attention was directed to one of the buildings in this assemblage that apparently had no entrance, way. One wall was demolished, disclosing a rude coffin containing the remains of a native recently deceased. The unoccupied house had been utilized as a tomb, and sealed up with the material of which the walls were built.