I watched a NOVA program last night on the Easter Island statues. You know, those big rock fellows with the stern expressions. The information was new to me, although at the end of the show I saw “2012” in the credits.
Scientists have been trying to figure out for a long time how in the world primitive peoples moved the statues, some 30 feet tall and weighing buko tons, to their ultimate destinations. Twasn’t easy. Seems there are fifty of said statues still laying either on their backs or face-planted along the ancient roads, having keeled over enroute. (No explanation was offered for why the earlier people didn’t try to rastle them back up and keep on going.)
One theory suggested that a system of rolling logs was used to move the big boys horizontally. Some years back scientists attempted to replicate the rolling log method which a few snippets of film footage showed.
A more recent theory said no, the statues were moved standing upright and essentially walked to their resting spots. This is what the NOVA program explored in detail. The scientists who did the work were obsessive. They were going to prove those statues were moved standing up come hell, high water, or, I assume grant-funding expirations.
With the aid of a computer they made absolutely precise 3D measurements of a statue, including such information as its center of gravity. Then they made a doll-sized replica. Next they made a child-sized wooden contraption tied to ropes which they used to “walk” the figure and move it forward. Only then did they proceed to build their own exact replica of an Easter Island statue, scaled down to a third of the original size so that their statue would be 10 feet tall and a bit under 6 tons. This involved making a mold, mixing a specific kind of concrete, and finally, using a crane to get the statue on its “feet” and outside.
Once outside the statue was tied with ropes and teams of people attempted to walk it. A safety harness attached to the crane was initially left in place as I imagine crushing volunteers or low-paid grad students in the course of research probably wouldn’t do much for one’s credibility or future employment prospects.
So. It was all hit and miss for quite awhile – ropes were tied and re-tied repeatedly – and things weren’t looking good. The statue could be rocked but he wasn’t going anywhere. Now, had I been one of the dozens of people on site, I probably would have had enough of this endeavor by lunch time the first day. These folks, driven by the two lead scientists, pressed on. A third team of rope pullers was brought on-board and damned if that didn’t do the trick. At least until they dropped the statue in the dirt. But they weren’t done; with the assist of the crane, the statue was righted and set back to “walking” again with the 3 rope-pulling teams. The only concession was that instead of the earlier goal of hauling this concrete behemoth 50 yards, the plan was now ten yards. Which they did, to much rejoicing. I was awfully tickled myself to see them succeed.
Then one of the jubilant scientists was saying he was certain if they had a to-scale, 30-foot replica, why, it could be walked as far as they wanted! You could just see his wheels turning. Given all the trouble and missteps in just getting this far, his optimism seemed a tad unreasonable. (On the heels of this comment, I would have loved to have seen a shot of the many volunteers, particularly the rope-pullers whose arms probably felt about yanked out of their sockets at this point, scattering like frightened rabbits.)
Watching the show and observing these scientists, I felt, as I often have when faced with such obsessive single-mindedness, mostly perplexed. I know it’s good that there are people who are driven this way, but I don’t understand them. I don’t know what it is to dedicate your life, or your working career to such narrow, specific concerns. It isn’t only guys obsessed with making Easter Island statues walk that I’m referencing, but anybody so single-minded. There are lots of such people spread across many disciplines. Look at the artists who spend their lives painting essentially the same thing over and over. I recently read a quote by one such artist in his eighties, still painting, who felt he hadn’t quite reached his potential or accomplished whatever it was he thought he should. 80?! I hit 80 and I’m done obsessing over things I haven’t accomplished. I should hope.
While I have my interests, things that excite me, areas I feel compelled to learn about, there isn’t one very specific concern which rules my world. In fact, something in me always guarded against becoming too narrow or specific – that inclination goes way back. I didn’t even want my college degree to be too defined. I’m not sure if this makes me a generalist. I don’t think of myself that way. I’m more specific-resistant.
Anyway, this isn’t the first time I’ve thought about this and I’m certain it won’t be the last. Don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think one way (of being) is right and the other wrong. It’s more an area I’m curious about and puzzled by, namely that trait some people have – whether they are born with it or develop it along the way – that makes them so compelled, so dedicated, to one thing.