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Maori and Polynesian: their origin, history and culture

Chapter II — The Meaning of the Colossal-Stone — Record

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Chapter II
The Meaning of the Colossal-Stone

There are Explanations of the Origin of Megalithic
Monuments that differ in every Locality

(1) At most points along the megalithic tracks there is a local explanation of the singular monuments. Now it is the gods or the fairies who have erected them; again it is the giants. Here they are the work of a long-vanished people, like the Tchudes along the Northern Asiatic track; there they are the work of a people still existent, like the Kelts in Britain and Brittany, or the Polynesians in Tonga. Sometimes they are recognised as tombs; again they are taken as altars and temples; in one place they are for marking the seasons, in another they commemorate some event in history; at Ateamuri, in New Zealand, one tribe take them as memorials of a cannibal feast in which fifty chiefs of a hostile tribe were eaten; the other tribe tell the same story, but interchange the banqueters and the banquet. There is no limit to what imagination can do with such a mystery to explain. The mythmaking faculty could not rest in presence of such striking memorials of the past.

The Genesis of a Special House set apart for the
Dead is the belief in the After Existence of the

(2) We may reject as fiction most of these local legends unless they assign these great stone remains to the neolithic page 10people, who early developed the desire and art of preserving their dead. They are in their origin mortuary monuments; not memorials, but houses of the dead, whatever other purpose they may afterwards have served. Even the cave-dwellers of the European Palaeolithic or chipped-stone age must have, like most primitive peoples, believed in the existence after death, and in some vague connection between the departed spirit and the body that remained. They must have feared the power of the dead to retaliate for neglect, and ultimately come to worship their kin who had passed away. Hence the ancestor-worship which is at the root of all primitive religions, if not of all religions. As soon as this reverence and fear of the dead became rooted, the place where the death occurred came to have attached to it a certain awe, and ultimately sacredness. It was set apart as the peculiar possession of the departed spirit where he could visit his body when he chose. In the West, and especially around the Mediterranean, caves are known to have been the primitive dwelling-places of palaeolithic man, if not of neolithic. And, as the sacredness of the dead and of the place of death grew, the practice would arise of abandoning the cave to those who died in it. And in order to secure the remains from the attacks of wild beasts, the mouth would be built up, only to be opened when some other of the kin had to be deposited therein. Hence it is that in the Western world at least caves have been the open book of the palaeolithic anthropologist. In them he finds the skulls and bones, the weapons and implements of early stone man.

Caves were the First Dwelling-places of Man, and
the First Artificial Houses of the Dead are
Imitations of Caves; hence the Mounds
and Megalithic Structures

(3) But in some countries the supply of natural caves is limited, as is also the opportunity of making artificial caves, page 11though in a less degree. Yet to preserve the bodies of the dead kin would be the primary duty of primitive man. If he did not make provision for their preservation for all time, how could he avoid the revengeful visits of their spirits? He set himself, therefore, to manufacture caves, even where there were no steep hillsides to build against. He chiselled out by long and patient toil, with his imperfect flint tools, aided by fire and water, great blocks of undressed stone, blocks such as he had been accustomed to close the mouths of caves with, or build up artificial caves with against precipitous faces. And he dragged these out far into the open heaths and plateaus on which he lived. He made inclined planes of earth, and drawing the huge monoliths up the slope tilted them over the steep sides into the holes in the earth which were prepared for them. Having made his giant circle or ellipse, his rectangle or square of these titanic blocks, he dragged over them other broad slabs to form a roof. Then he covered the chamber completely with earth. And here he could lay his dead and feel that they were safe for all time. The mouth of his chamber he narrowed to a low gallery or aperture which could be easily closed, and, when this was covered with earth on which the grass grew, no beast could approach the sacred remains to mutilate them, no enemy could find the secret of the entrance. He could leave his revered dead within their artificial hill and wander away over the face of the earth feeling that they were secure. But, lest he himself should forget the secret approach, he erected a stone column in front of it or placed at a certain angle two or three columns, or made an avenue of colossal stones leading to it, or surrounded the mound with a circle of stones, leaving a gap opposite the entrance. In some cases the mound disappeared under "Time's effacing fingers," and the great chamber or the colossal stones alone remained. And at last progressive man learned to build the stone sepulchre without the enveloping earth, or page 12to make his stone chamber beneath the surface of the earth and raise only a monolith or circle or avenue of stone columns above it. And here again the anthropologist has found his undecaying library of the old Stone Ages.

As Houses of the Dead they became Houses of
Worship or Altars

(4) Another development of this sacred monument was to use it as an altar or temple. The offerings to the dead had usually been placed within the chamber beside the remains. But it was natural that offerings should be placed upon the tomb as well. Hence what are called dolmens or table-like megalithic erections. But the most elaborate combination of altar and tomb is the truncated pyramid, which appears in places so far apart on the route as Manchuria, Java, the valley of the Yalu, Tonga, Tahiti, Peru, and Central America. Wherever the colossal monolith was likely to be unstable, either from the tropical rains and the friable nature of the soil or from the frequency of earthquakes, it was natural for the megalithic people to get height by raising pyramids with sides terraced into steps. And when the ancestor-worship developed the idea of sacrifices it was natural to leave the pyramid unpointed so that on the flat or truncated top the offerings and sacrifices might be laid. Those of Egypt belong to historical times, although some thousands of years before our era; but they were meant to be memorials of individual monarchs; they were therefore pointed, and were not intended as altars or temples. It is different with those in the East, in Polynesia, and on the Pacific coast of America. They are all truncated, and those of Polynesia and America, even down to historical or quasi-historical times, were used as altars. In Mauritania the step-pyramid is found, as all the page 13other types of colossal stone structures are found: the dolmen, the avenue, and the circle, the underground chamber barrow with horizontal or vertical monolith, and the gateway like the trilithon of Tonga and the carved stone door near Lake Titicaca on the Andes.

The Use of Iron Tools and Mortar closed the
Megalithic Era in a Locality

(5) Here and there the art of hewing and erecting these enormous stones has been preserved to our own time, or close to our own time. But it is always in isolation, whither the echo of the march of civilisation cannot reach, far amongst the mountains, as in the Khasi Hills in Assam, or in solitary islands of the Pacific like Easter Island, where it is conjectured by some that the making of the colossal busts was continued up till about the eighteenth century. At most points on the route the art has been lost in prehistoric times, probably in neolithic times before either bronze or iron tools were thought of. It is not unlikely that the discovery of the metals and of mortar led to its abandonment. With the fine edge that the new implements would take, men could afford to cut smaller and more manageable blocks, and graves as well as houses could be more easily built without the aid of multitudes of workmen. When there were no wheeled vehicles or draught animals, these megalithic structures meant vast masses of labour disciplined like slaves to drag the great stones long distances and to set them erect in the earth. For some of them weigh between three and four hundred tons, and stand fifty or sixty feet above the ground. And most of them are at least several tons in weight and a dozen feet in height.

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The Inscriptions and Carvings on some of these
Monuments often belong to a Later Age

(6) The iron age takes us back only about three thousand years in the Old World; there was no iron age in the New till the Spaniards came. But the bronze and copper ages must reach at least four or five thousand years into the past. In some of the barrows of Europe and the kurgans of Russia and Siberia both of these metals are to be found. But the habit of burying in these graves must have continued down to the beginning of the iron age. And, again, on some of the monoliths in Western and Northern Europe, in North Africa, in Northern India, and amongst the Khasi and the Naga Hills there are hieroglyphic and mysterious markings which may be taken as inscriptions. But, though the use of the alphabet cannot go farther back than ten thousand years, and that only in the valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris, there were the beginnings of writing long before in totem and tribal marks, such as we find, for example, in our own day in the Maori signatures of the treaty of Waitangi, amongst a people that never had any writing. And many of these monoliths must have been used by later peoples to commemorate events of their own history or customs or rites of their own religion. Upon giant stones erected on the Siberian kurgans there are sometimes inscriptions that are manifestly Buddhist, and these could not have been engraved long before our era. Carvings are also not infrequent on these colossal stones in North Africa, Brittany, and on the Pacific coast of America. And these might well have been the work of the people who erected the stones. For carving on bone and ivory and wood was by no means inartistic even with the rough chipped-stone implements of the old stone age. And the wonderful Maya carvings of Central America and those on page 15the titanic stones near Lake Titicaca we know were all produced without the use of metals.

There are two Megalithic Routes from the Mediterranean
to the Pacific, neither of them Mongoloid
or Negroid

(7) It is no rash conclusion, then, to infer vast migrations of men from the Mediterranean region along the Atlantic coast and across the north of Europe and Asia, and again across the south of Asia, to the Pacific Ocean, ages before the Egyptian or Babylonian civilisation appeared, ages before the metals were dug or hammered or moulded into weapons, ages that may be measured by many thousands of years. Nor is it rash to infer that these migrations were in such dense masses as to be able to drag vast distances and erect these colossal monuments, or at least to be able to subdue slave labour enough to accomplish this. That they were of the Caucasian division of humanity may be taken for granted. Neither the Negroid nor Mongoloid has ever been a sea migrant, whilst their land migrations have never covered great distances, except in the case of the pre-historic Mongoloid entrance into America by Behring Straits and the historic armed Mongoloid invasions of Europe. And then they brought no megalithic habit with them. There are no colossal stone erections either through the centre of Europe, a route the Huns and Magyars took, or north to Behring Straits or southwards thence to Central America. The megalithic peoples clung to the coasts in Europe, and after they had crossed broad continents, when they struck the ocean again, they took to maritime pursuits not only on the northern but on the southern route. From Korea they voyaged all over the Pacific; and from the southern terminus in Indonesia they sailed as far as Madagascar, for in that island we have huge stone monuments to tell of their arrival.

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It is the Medium Head of the Caucasian that follows
these Routes

(8) We need have no hesitation in saying that Caucasian migrations from Europe many thousands of years ago found their way into Micronesia and Polynesia, and thence to the Pacific coast of South and Central America, before the Mongol division of mankind had begun to feel the pressure of population from the gradual rise of the Central Asiatic plateau, or to move outwards west, north, and east. We may also say without hesitation that they were neither black nor yellow. Doubtless they were of the olive complexion that prevails about the Mediterranean, though it is not unlikely that the fair-haired and blue-eyed type was already evolved in Northern Europe and around the Baltic Sea and the German Ocean, and that some of them may have been of this type. That these neolithic migrants were moderately long-headed like the Mediterranean peoples and the North-European of to-day has been ascertained from the skulls found in the chambers of many of these colossal monuments. It is the same medium head we find all over Polynesia, though the colour has deepened.

The Head-form marks off Races best. In the Caucasian
it is Medium, in the Negroid Long, in the Mongoloid
Short. But the Caucasian is also generally Much-haired, Wavy-haired, Light-complexioned, and

(9) The most constant mark of a race is the shape of the head. On that chiefly do anthropologists rely for the differentiation of sections of mankind. It is this that has enabled them to overturn the old idea that the Jew is the purest type of man in the world. Though his face-form does not vary much, his head-form varies almost with every nation in which page 17he is found. There is no distinctive Jewish head, although the features are ever recognisable. It is the feminine imagination of the race that keeps the ideal face true through hundreds of generations; as a rule, if left to itself, it will accept in marriage only the humanity that comes nearest to that. But the head-form is not the subject of amorous choice, concealed as it is beneath hair, and in most circumstances hat. It is one of the last results of anthropology, therefore, to prove that the Jew has always mingled with the people amongst whom he is settled.

(10) Now, though through the mountainous centre of Europe there is a wedge of broad-headed people, the general mark of the Caucasian and European is the moderately long head. That mountaineering race doubtless came in from the East, and, like the Finns and Magyars and even the Turks, have taken on European features and fair skin, whilst they have retained the head-form they brought with them. The negro, it is true, has also a long head. But his cast of features marks him off from the Caucasian not only in the living face, but in the skull when he is dead; the latter has in the average plenty of hair both on face and head, and that generally wavy, light-complexion, small cheekbones that never project laterally, narrow straight nose, and lips full and well-shaped. Wherever we find the long head with most of these characteristics, we may be sure that we have come across a people that has Caucasian elements in it. If they are also maritime and long-voyaging, there is little doubt that we have a true mark of Mediterranean origin. Some peoples have become continental and unmaritime, even though they are largely Caucasianised. This is due sometimes to their absorption by a continental people, sometimes to their being driven far inland, sometimes, if they live on the coast, to the lack of timber for building sea-going boats, sometimes to the complete lack of sheltered havens on the coast which they inhabit.