Easter Island and Stonehenge are completely eerie - here's why

Easter Island and Stonehenge are completely eerie - here's why

Our Earth is a scarred and beaten rock, a wounded place embedded with monuments to civilisations past that we can hardly fathom. Imagine if Egyptian civilization had been wiped off the map, and the Pyramids of Giza were left standing, with no records or context as to how they were made. They would baffle us so completely we may believe that they were alien spaceships pressed into the Earth.

The same is true of our modern world. If every person in New York died and aliens descended upon the United States, what would they think of the Statue of Liberty, a giant green woman bearing a torch, a crown and a book? That very same image sits at he end of the first Planet of the Apes film - the eerie recognition that our most cherished monuments, in some distant futures, may simply be alien remnants of a civilization that nobody understands.

mark fisher weird and the eerie Credit: Getty

That sensation of the eerie is what drives our feelings when we see statues as mysterious as the giant stone heads of Eastern Island, off the coast of Chile. The great stone columns and circle of Stonehenge in England are equally mysterious, both locations giving off the bizarre sensation that we're missing something, that we do not understand why these monuments exist in the slightest.

Cultural critic and political theorist Mark Fisher wrote an entire book called The Weird and the Eerie, seeking to explain why exactly it is that we so often find ourselves alienated in our own world. The eerie, Fisher claims, is "the sensation of nothing where there should be something, or the appearance of something where there should be nothing." Let's map these concepts onto Easter Island.

In the case of the giant stone human heads of Easter Island, their mere existence baffles us. Why, in this great great grassy island of little importance, are these great statues here? The inexplicable presence of something unexpected seems rather eerie.

Then, where there should be an explanation, or some kind of context for these heads, there is nothing. No civilization's written records explaining what these are, no ritual, no simple reason for these stone heads to exist. The same reasons apply to Stonehenge. We know something is there, but we just don't know why. But let's go deeper.

mark fisher weird and the eerie Credit: Getty

It's not that we don't understand these statues themselves. As physical objects, they seem rather simple. A collection of stone arches and towers, or a giant sculpture of a human head. It's rather that the people who created them are completely unrelatable. We have no understanding of the type of people who would make such things.

Think back to the Statue of Liberty in Planet of the Apes - who would ever fathom why we, 20th century Americans, imported and raised such a thing? There's no way for alien civilizations to understand it, so they would ultimately feel the same way about the Statue of Liberty that we feel now about Easter Island and Stonehenge.

Humans want to relate to the ideas and intentions of others. If we can't understand those intentions, then the objects created by them just seem impossibly bizarre. They seem both weird and eerie.

mark fisher weird and the eerie Credit: Getty

The theories for the purpose of Stonehenge and Easter Island range, but some loose consensus has formed around the idea that they are both burial grounds. Thousands of people may have once been buried at Stonehenge, and the heads of Easter Island are monuments to dead people, a great raising of the form of the human head, a final send-off to their faces and appearance.

But this is still just speculation. There's no art history textbook about these monuments, no single answer for why they look the way they do, or are in the places they are in.

We just need the humility to understand that one day, our great statutes, from the Eiffel Tower to the Statue of Liberty, will also be seen as alien and unknown. They cannot speak for themselves - only our surrounding written records and recorded rituals can explain them. And that's a very humbling feeling.