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Mathematical Mysteries of Rapa Nui with Classroom Activities

Author(s): 
Ximena Catepillán (Millersville University), Cynthia Huffman (Pittsburg State University) and Scott Thuong (Pittsburg State University)

One of the most remote inhabited locations in the world, the island Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is shrouded in mysteries. When was it inhabited, by whom, and how did they survive the journey? Why were the large moai statues carved and how were they transported from the Rano Raraku quarry to the ahu platforms erected throughout the island? In this paper, after a brief introduction to Rapa Nui, we take a look at three mysteries: the partially undeciphered script called Rongorongo, the geometrical shape of the stone foundations of ancient houses called hare paenga, and the question of whether mathematics could have been used in laying out the foundations of those houses. We also share four classroom-ready student activities based on the mysteries surrounding the hare paenga.

Foundation of hare paenga, Easter Island.

Figure 1. Archaeological remains of a hare paenga, July 2019.
Except as noted, all photos in the article were taken by the authors.

Ximena Catepillán (Millersville University), Cynthia Huffman (Pittsburg State University) and Scott Thuong (Pittsburg State University), "Mathematical Mysteries of Rapa Nui with Classroom Activities," Convergence (March 2021)