A wooden tablet adorned with the enigmatic “rongorongo” script has emerged from the depths of history on Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island.
This discovery, detailed in a study published in Scientific Reports on February 2nd, presents compelling evidence that the origins of this script predate European contact by over two centuries, challenging prior assumptions about its inception.
The tablet, one of a limited collection of fewer than 30 artifacts bearing the rongorongo script, was among four tablets retrieved by Catholic missionaries in 1869. Recent radiocarbon dating conducted on these tablets at the University of Bologna has shed light on their origins. Remarkably, the wood of one tablet was determined to have been cut down between 1493 and 1509, a significant timeframe preceding the European arrival in the 1720s.
This revelation provides substantial support for the theory that the Rapa Nui people independently devised the rongorongo script, free from external influences.
Lead researcher Silvia Ferrara, a philologist from the University of Bologna, emphasized that the distinctiveness of the rongorongo glyphs, bearing no resemblance to European letters, suggests a unique and indigenous origin.
“This discovery supports the idea that rongorongo was an original invention by the Rapa Nui islanders rather than being influenced by the writing they’d seen used by Europeans,” Ferrara told Live Science.
Ferrara’s team’s analysis revealed that the wood used in the oldest tablet likely originated from a non-native tree species, possibly driftwood, raising intriguing questions about the island’s ecological history.
Despite the significance of this discovery, the rongorongo script remains undeciphered, adding to its mystique and intrigue. Over 400 distinct glyphs have been identified among approximately 15,000 characters found on the surviving rongorongo artifacts.