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Aku-Aku
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
Near the end of "Aku-Aku," one of the archeologists working with Thor Heyerdahl admits to being astonished at yet another unexpected turn of events.

"I never knew archeology could produce so many surprises," he says.

Indeed, anyone who thinks that archeology is just about digging in the dirt will be surprised -- pleasantly -- by "Aku-Aku."

In this account of his 1955-56 expedition to Easter Island and other Polynesian islands, Heyerdahl presents a series of mysteries: Where did the great stone statues on Easter Island come from? Who made them? How did they move them? Where are the hidden caves of Easter Island and what secrets do they hold?

Heyerdahl is not a great writer, but he is usually good enough. His weakness lies in portraying people; even the most prominent character of the book -- Easter Island's mayor -- comes off as just a simplistic caricature. An odd quirk of the author is that he refers to some characters almost solely by their titles -- "the photographer," "the skipper," "the doctor." After awhile you begin to wonder if these people have names.

But Heyerdahl is passionate about his work and his enthusiam shows as he presents -- and, mostly, solves -- mystery after mystery. He is relentless, for instance, in trying to get the natives to reveal their secret caves, even when it means he has to eat a chicken tail, strip to his underwear, and climb down a sheer cliff without a rope.

(The caves are a curious form of secure storage on this island that seems to lack locks. Note to self: Open self-storage franchise on Easter Island.)

A couple ethical issues occur to me, although I can't claim to have the whole picture from just one book. Did Heyerdahl adequately reward the islanders for the artifacts they gave him? He mentions some gifts but it's unclear whether all of them received something and how much. Also, he resorts to some trickery to get the natives to give him things -- is this fair? (I'm sure Heyerdahl would argue that he had to immerse himself in the natives' world of superstition and ghosts to communicate with them successfully.)

The bulk of the book is about Easter Island but the last two chapters discuss the expedition's visits to other islands. The story of the dig on Rapa Iti is particularly good, and I would have enjoyed a bit more on these other islands.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on November 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Though criticised as commercial and overexposed, Thor Heyerdahl must be considered as one of the first scientists in wide spreading his archeological knowledge in an amusing and understandable way to common readers. And this book is a clear example of his effort. After his scientific expedition to Easter Island in 1957, Thor Heyerdahl wrote this fascinating book of discoveries, new theories and adventures. It was such a pleasure for me reading it that I can only recommend it.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A good book if your interested in Easter Island. It was not quite as interesting a read as Heyerdahl's "Kon-Tiki" however. It tends to focus on the natives currently living on the island more than those who created the statues the island is famous for. But, criticisms aside, Heyerdahl proved again to be a very adept writer.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 2001
Format: Paperback
When you finish this book you will know how the great statues were made, transported, and erected. You will find that the natives of Easter Island still know how to do these and many other ancient things. But the real mystery of Easter Island is not the long eared statues, but the Aku Aku. The book is a humorous chronicle of the unexpected scientific discoveries made by the team. It reads like an adventure novel complete with the most interesting characters. You will love the Mayor who knows everything, his brothers and his pal Lazurus. You will learn how and why the natives bake chicken. You will cringe as Thor descends hundreds of feet down shear rock faces, in the dark, hovers above the crashing waves just below his feet, enters unlit haunted caves and slithers in to the solution of the mystery of the strange stones of the Aku Aku. None of it is fiction.
I have read this book many times and just introduced my eleven year old son to it. Now I find I must buy all the rest of Heyerdahl's adventures for him. Much more enlightening than Harry Potter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 25, 2002
Format: Paperback
The expedition to Easter Island in 1955-56 on a Greenland trawler was really another opportunity for Heyerdahl to test his theory that the first wave of immigrants to Polynesia came via Peru and Easter Island on balsa rafts. The seaworthiness of the latter had already been proven on the Kon-Tiki expedition in 1952.
On the Easter Island expedition Heyerdahl and his 22 companions discovered that the island had once been wooded before the first inhabitants deforested it. Furthermore, according to carbon dating, these earliest settlers had apparently arrived about 380 A.D. which was much earlier than previously assumed by other archaeologists. Interviews with some Easter Islanders suggested that the island's oral tradition contained stories of migration from places to the East. Of course the biggest mystery of Easter Island was the origin of the huge statues of long-eared men.
AKU-AKU was a great adventure story and to me the most inspiring aspect of it was Heyerdahl himself. He has set the standard for sticking by his convictions against all odds from his original expedition to Polynesia with his young bride in 1937 to his death on April 18, 2002. Heyerdahl at the very least has injected much life into a stodgy academic discipline.
The natives of Easter Island by the way are called Rapanui and today a total of about 2000 Rapanui still live on the island while many others have emigrated to mostly Chile , Tahiti and North America.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Aku-Aku tells of Heyerdahl's expedition to investigate the mysteries of Easter Island. It does give insight into the Island's fascinating history but unfortunately is also used as a base for Heyerdahl to do some of his own horn-blowing. While I'll admit that his dealings with the Easter Island natives does have some importance, it feels as if he's overplaying his part in this. One point that shows up makes me glad he did interact as he did, for he was able to preserve a book of rongo-rongo writing for posterity, inasmuch as the book vanished with its owner. I was also pleased to learn that he granted a favor to the local priest, Father Sebastian, and excavated a site that proved a legend to be actual fact.
Aku-Aku is an interesting read, and I do recommend it. In a way, I suppose Heyerdahl is entitled to do a little horn blowing, because he did, in fact, uncover some very interesting items. As someone later observed, Heyerdahl's theory was inaccurate, but not entirely.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I am fascinated with cultures and how they have changed over the years. This is a fascinating account of how "white people" were first exposed to the ancient rituals and culture of Easter Island. The methods used by the author to get information from the people and the amount of artifacts he removed is amazing...very different from methods used to study cultures today. But without them, much would have been lost. So who's to say Thor Heyerdal's methods were not good ones?
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on January 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book was very interesting to me, an enthusiastic amateur. The color photos and maps were very helpful, and the discoveries were exciting.

The secret cave exploration got a bit long, and I would have liked even more photographs. Still it seems like not much of this information has been incorporated into standard ideas of where Pacific Oceania cultures developed and spread. Anthropologists seem to prefer the "stand alone" concept of the rise of civilizations.

I am ordering Thor Heyerdahl's "American Indians in the Pacific." American Indians in the Pacific: The Theory behind the Kon-Tiki Expedition
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 1998
Format: Hardcover
This book was very informative about the expedition to Easter Island by Thor Heyerdahl. While, at times, the writing was characteristic of a journal...it was nevertheless informative and a good read.
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on May 18, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is the edition of the book I ordered (published by George Allen & Unwin), but not the one they sent (Rand McNally). The seller said that it was not available. The original ad was therefore misleading. I have been trying very hard to find an edition that includes a certain photograph, and have tried several. I hoped that the one I ordered would be such, but received a different one. I therefore returned it, as I already have that edition (through amazon.com).
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