Saturday, 15 July 2017
Trowelblazers - Katherine Routledge and Easter Island
Katherine Routledge was an anthropologist and archaeologist, born in 1866. She was educated at Somerville Hall in Oxford, where she gained a degree in Modern History in 1895.
In 1906, she married William Scoresby Routledge, and went with him to live among the Kikuyu people in South Africa. In 1910 they published a book about their experiences called With A Prehistoric People.
They next decided to mount an expedition to Easter Island. They had a schooner built which they called the Mana and, with the support of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the British Museum and the Royal Geographical Society, they recruited a crew and borrowed an officer from the Royal Navy. They set out for Easter Island in 1913, arriving at the beginning of 1914. Although Katherine had no formal training in either anthropology or archaeology, she was given notes and instructions to follow by the Oxford scholar Dr Marett. They excavated statues, and collected oral history and legends from the Easter Islanders, doing a lot to preserve the traditional culture of the island. For instance, she recorded tattoos on the backs of older inhabitants which corresponded to carvings on the backs of some of the statues - tattooing had been suppressed by European missionaries, so this information was not available to later scholars except through her records.
Then the German East Asia Squadron, including armed cruisers and light cruisers, rendezvoused off the island, and landed captured French and British merchant seamen there. It soon became clear that World War One had started, and Katherine complained to the local schoolmaster, as the representative of the neutral country of Chile (Easter Island was within Chilean waters) while her husband sailed the Mana to Valparaiso to complain to the government officials there. The Germans did leave the area after that.
In 1915, they left the island, and in 1919 she published a book called The Mystery of Easter Island. Objects that she and her husband found are now in the Pitt Rivers Museum and the British Museum, and her notes are held by the Royal Geographical Society.
Sadly, she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, which got worse in 1925 - she was institutionalised in 1929 and died in the mental institution in 1935. Her husband left some of her field notes to the Royal Geographical Society, but other papers continued to turn up later in the family papers.
A book about her life was written by Dr Jo Anne Van Tilburg, a prominent archaeologist on Easter Island, or Rapa Nui. It is called Amongst Stone Giants: the Life of Katherine Routledge and her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island.