There has long been an air of mystery and intrigue surrounding a set of wooden tablets with writing on them found on the tiny, remote South Pacific island of Rapa Nui (more commonly known as Easter Island). Since these 27 inscribed tablets were recovered by explorers in 1864, the ongoing question has been, did their written script have a truly ancient origin, one that predated the arrival of the first European colonizers in the early 18th century? Or was that script comprised of elements introduced by the Europeans, meaning the written language wouldn’t have been indigenous to the island? If the Rapa Nui written language—dubbed Rongorongo—developed independently of European influence, it would represent a rare example of a pure language being created in historical times.
Hoping to come up with answers, a team of scientists from Italy and Germany performed radiocarbon dating tests on a set of four Easter Island tablets (designated as Tablets A, B, C and D) that are currently in the custody of Catholic nuns stationed in Rome. The data obtained from these tests seems to have confirmed the pre-European origin of the Easter Island script, as one of the tablets was found to have been carved on wood harvested in the late-15th century (specifically between the years 1493 and 1509). This is strong evidence that the island’s inhabitants invented a written language long before they encountered any Europeans.
Rongorongo Tablet B, Aruku Kurenga, dates to the 19th century (Public Domain)
Three of the…