Architecture and Monumental Sculpture

Topic 2: Architecture and Monumental Sculpture

  • Monumental stone structures produced by Pacific cultures include Nan Madol, a former royal capital built on a series of artificial islets just off the island of Pohnpei in Micoronesia. It was constructed between 700 and 1600 BCE by members of the Saudeleur dynasty, whose origins are unclear. The city was built from pieces columnar basalt found in nearby quarries.

  • The complex consists of approximately 100 small artificial islands divided by canals, with no natural sources of food or fresh water, making the residents dependent on the mainland for survival. The city was abandoned when the dynasty collapsed. The city's residents apparently included priests serving ritual functions, as well as royalty and nobles. The concentration of nobles in such close proximity to the royal court may have served as a way to concentrate power in the hands of the ruling family.

  • The most famous monumental structures in the Pacific are certainly the moai of Rapa Nui, better known as Easter Island (and now part of the nation of Chile). These giant stone figures with their distinctive stylized profiles were created by the islanders between approximately 1100 and 1600 CE; they are most often interpreted as ancestor figures.

  • Production of moai seemingly peaked around 1500 CE, then declined as the island society suffered an ecological collapse. The figures seem to have been deliberately toppled then, perhaps indicating a loss of faith in what they represented. Most faced inland, rather than out to sea. Many of the figures are over ten feet tall, and weigh many tons, indicating that islanders were willing to put vast amounts of time and energy into their production. Many more figures remained unfinished, perhaps deliberately so.

Related Links:
The Pacific Quiz
The Pacific, 700-1980 CE General Concepts
AP Art History Quizzes
AP Art History Notes