For Rongorongo, an ancestress of some New Zealand Māori tribes, see Rongorongo (wife of Turi)
''For Rongorongo the settlement, see Beru Island
LanguagesRapa Nui Austro-tai language
Created byPolynesian people
Time periodTime of creation unknown, a lot of tablets disappeared (tribal wars 1850 and slavery by 1862)
Parent systemsartificial script
Sister systemsModern Ta'u script
written stones
ISO 15924Rongorongo

Rongorongo or ko hau rongo rongo (Rapa Nui kohau rongorongo "wooden messenger, talking wood") is one of three undeciphered scripts of the Rapanui people of Easter Island, the others being the ta'u and mama scripts. All were carved onto wooden tablets. 26 Rongorongo tablets remain in museums around the world, along with 6 ta'u and 2 mama tablets, though none remain on Rapa Nui.

Method of inscription

Rongorongo tablets were carved, possibly using shark's teeth or obsidian, onto wooden tablets[1]. Wood was rare on Easter island at the time and available irregular pieces of wood were used in their entirety rather than squaring them off. The wood of some tablets has been determined to be from trees such as Thespesia populnea, Sophora toromiro, and Fraxinus excelsior.

Rongorongo was written in reverse boustrophedon fashion, bottom to top. That is, the reader begins at the bottom left hand corner, reads a line from left to right, and then rotates the tablet 180 degrees before moving on to the next line [1].

Appearance of the script

Rongorongo glyphs are all carved as outlines of human, animal, and geometric shapes. There is a palm, presumably the Chilean wine palm which disappeared from Easter Island's pollen record in 1650. Other signs include turtles, fish, and signs which appear among the island's many Petroglyphs.

Arrival and disappearance of the script

Hotu Matu'a, the legendary first settler of Rapa Nui, is said to have brought 67 tablets from his homeland. It may be that rongorongo continues a tradition of carving figures on boats; the name kohau is also a piece of a canoe. Alternatively the Rapanui may have developed the script after their leaders "signed" a treaty with visiting Spaniards in 1770. The treaty was not signed in Rongorongo, though at least two of the signs appear among the Island's petroglyph tradition, Rongorongo may have been invented on the island as a response to the treaty signing.[2]

In the tribal wars in the 18th century and 19th century, followed by raids by Peruvian slavers and also epidemics of European diseases reduced the population by 98% or 99% from 17th century levels of up to 15,000 Rapa Nui to 111 in the late 19th century. During this period much Rapanui culture was lost or after the 1860s suppressed by missionaries (whilst it is known that the missionaries forbade tattooing it is unclear whether they were the suppressors of Rongorongo or the preservers of its last vestiges). The NgaAra Miru clan was destroyed and a lot of the tablets were burned; NgaAra is said to have been the final king to understand the rongorongo script. Anakena annual linguistic ceremonies stopped immediately and a majority of the tablets were burned when NgaAra died.

Only 26 tablets remain. One can be dated to the eighteenth or nineteenth century by virtue of being carved on a fragment of a European oar, while the wood used for the St Petersburg tablet has been dated to 1680-1740. Four of the Jaussen tablets belonged to the Hotu Iti clan, but they may have belonged to the Miru clan before that.

Attempts at decipherment

As with most undeciphered scripts, there are many fanciful interpretations and claimed translations of the Rongorongo texts. However, apart from a portion of one tablet which has been shown to be a lunar calendar, none of the texts are understood. It has also been suggested that Rongorongo is not a writing system proper but a mnemonic device for genealogy, choreography, navigation, or the like.

Jausen's "dictionary"

From 1869 to 1874 a Catholic bishop in Tahiti, Fr. Florentin Jaussen, worked with Metoro Taua-a-Ure to create a list of Rongorongo signs and translations. This list were published in 1893, after Bishop died. The Jaussen list contains mistakes in each page. In 1936, a rapanui lepers group created and worked in an iniciatic school and correct this It is Lorena Bettocchi discovery in 2006 Valparaiso

Kudrjavtsev and repeated sequences of glyphs

In 1949, Boris Kudrjavtsev noticed a repeated sequence in two tablets, which has since been found in other tablets.

Barthel and the Mamari lunar calendar

Thomas Barthel published line drawings of the entire corpus in 1958, as 24 Items of the Corpus Inscriptonium Paschalis Insulae. Barthel showed that a portion of one of the tablets, the Mamari Item C, is akin to a lunar calendar, used to calculate intercalary days. By 1971 he claimed to have reduced the inventory to 120 glyphs but never published his evidence. Later glyphs for 'moon', 'lizard', and the god Tane were identified, and fused glyphs recognized. About Mamari tablet, Jacques Guy published an interesting work confirming Barthel studies. And Lorena Bettocchi in web pages all the polinesian datas about this this Corpus (Metoro Taua a Ure with Jaussen Bishop and Ure Vae Iko with Thomson 1886). Ancient rongorongo language were lost but Rapanui people tried maintains semantic about rongorongo glyphs.

Fischer and the idea of contact diffusion

Steven Fischer published the corpus again in 1993. He suggests that the islanders developed the script after encountering writing when Spanish ships captained by D. Felipe González y Haedo called at Easter Island in 1770.

There are a number of Rapa Nui "signatures" on Spanish treaties, not all of which are recognizable Rongorongo glyphs. At least signs appear in the petroglyphic inventory of the island. This may bolster the argument that the petroglyphs are related to Rongorongo, but in any case it proves that the inhabitants of Rapa Nui were exposed to the idea of writing, and may have had it explained to them. The exposure was brief, but Fischer believes it may have inspired the idea of a Rapa Nui writing system; that is, writing was transmitted through contact diffusion.

In 1995 Fischer proposed that many of the Rongorongo texts are Creation chants, with the symbols providing mnemonic prompts along the lines of "X copulated with Y and begat Z".[3]

All the Fisher hipotesis about 1770 signatures and copulations were contraried by Lorena Bettocchi studies and verifications on the 6th Reñaca Conference 2004 Chile and 4a Jornada Historica Museos Mititimos Valparaiso 2006 on contrary tesis about signatures and origins of ancient easter-island writing near Zhou and ancient chinese writings.

Rjabchikov and Rongorongo as a hieroglyphic script

Sergei V. Rjabchikov in a number of works (see Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1987, etc.) concluded from structural linguistics that the Rongorongo script is logographic, supplemented by determinatives and syllabic complements.

Maori and Rongorongo as a syllabic script

Martha Macri of the University of California, Davis proposes that the majority of the glyphs are in fact fused compounds of a limited set of basic signs. She has parsed the texts into fewer than 70 glyph elements, suggesting that Rongorongo may be a syllabary augmented by perhaps a dozen logograms, as 55 glyphs would be required for a pure syllabary of the ten consonants and five vowels found in the Rapa Nui language (that is, 10×5 consonant-vowel syllables plus 5 vowel-only syllables). None of the syllables have been identified.

The suspected logograms, such as the lunar crescent and the lizard identified by Barthel, don't form compounds. Many of Macri's proposed combining glyph elements appear to be cognate with petroglyphs found around the island. The number of elements that are fused together (typically 1 to 4 or 5, averaging about 2) suggests that each of the larger units might represent a word, as the Rapa Nui language is primarily disyllabic, with longer words due to affixing or compounding and with the shorter words being grammatical words. Macri states that this "is consistent with the assertion of islanders that each graphic unit represents a single word". Both the division into words and the syllabic nature of the script itself, if born out, would support Fischer's suggestion of cultural diffusion from the Spanish, as syllabaries are often created in such situations (for example Cherokee, Vai, Afaka), whereas those created without the example of a phonetic script (Sumerian, Egyptian, Chinese, Mayan) have all been logographies.

Ta'u script

The word ta'u has been used by some to mean a variety of the Rongorongo script of Easter Island. There is a first evidence of such a script having existed, because in NgaAra at each years ceremonies, Maori rongo rongo introduced students and their signs and they explain the significance. Ta'u manuscripts were first collected by Katherine Routledge in 1914, with the initiated man, a leper named Tomenika a TeaTea. This document is a first a genealogy with the song of nature in the ancestral names


The 1955 Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island directed by Thor Heyerdahl, discovered manuscript copybooks, which are clearly inspired from the Jaussen List and more... writing creations. Thomas Barthel discovered others a few years after. And Lorena Bettocchi discovered two manuscripts in 2006, they were created at the lepers hospital after the Alfred Metraux, Thomas Lavachery expedition A group of iniciated men : Arturo te Ao Tori, Gabriel Veri-veri and Juan Araki corrected Jaussen list.

Since ta'u means "year" in the Rapanui language, (cf. the entry for ta'u in Sebastian Englert's dictionary) it is probable that ta'u meant "years," genealogies ceremonies. This fact seems to have been also noticed by the German ethnographer and epigrapher Thomas S. Barthel (1958b:66) in his article ‘The “Talking Boards” of Easter Island’ while he points out that ‘The Islanders had another writing (the so-called “ta’u script”) which recorded their annals and other secular matters, but this has disappeared.’

In that case the might be a unique example of ta'u, first because it is a great priest object, used for the annual ceremonial meeting at Anakena, and given its distinctive text which seems to be composed mostly of persons' names each with a patronymic, marking it as an isolate . Nonetheless, the accuracy of this proposed model — plausible as it seems — will remain an informed guess, since it needs to be independently tested in another Rongorongo text with the same features as the 'Santiago staff', the spread of glyph 076, accounting most likely for a particular genre, and the vertical separators that irregularly occur on it. In the absence of such document, the proposal remains non-falsifiable. In this connection, Mair (1992:99) notes, ‘The smaller the corpus and the greater its bias in terms of textual composition, the less likely it is that observations can be generalized.’


1. ^ Alfred Métraux(1940:404)
2. ^ Steven R Fischer The island at the end of the world. Reaktion Books 2005 ISBN 1-86189-282-9 page 63
3. ^ Flenley and Bahn The enigmas of Easter Island ISBN 0-19-280340-9 page 188

External links

See also

Selected bibliography

  • BARTHEL, Thomas S. 1958a. Grundlagen zur Entzifferung der Osterinselschrift. Hamburg: Cram, de Gruyter.
  • BARTHEL, Thomas S. 1958b, The ‘Talking Boards’ of Easter Island. Scientific American, 198:61-68
  • BETTOCCHI, Lorena 1998 La parole perdue Rongo O'ono. Tahiti ISBN 2-9512940-0-X
  • BETTOCCHI, Lorena 2006 Les derniers Maoris rongorongo du 20e siècle corrigent le répertoire de Monseigneur Tepano Jaussen Tahiti Pacifique Magazine n° 185
  • BETTOCCHI, Lorena 2007. Los origenes de la Antigua escritura de la Isla de Pascua Archivum revista historica Vina del Mar Chile.
  • BETTOCCHI, Lorena 2007. Datos historicos sobre la Antigua escritura de la Isla de Pascua Actas 4°Jornada historica Museo Mairitimo de Valaparaiso.
  • BETTOCCHI, Lorena 2007 About Easter Island stones with rongorongo, modern writing. Archivos y Museos Biblioteca Nacional de Santiago
  • BUTINOV, Nikolai A., & Yuri V. KNOROZOV. 1957. Preliminary Report on the Study of the Written Language of Easter Island. Journal of the Polynesian Society 66. 1.
  • ENGLERT, Sebastian F. 1970. Island at the Center of the World. Translated and Edited by William Mulloy. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
  • FEDOROVA, Irina K. 1965. Versions of Myths and Legends in Manuscripts from Easter Island. In: Heyerdahl et al (eds.), Miscellaneous Papers: Reports of the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition to Easter Island and East Pacific 2. 395-401. Stockholm: Forum.
  • FISCHER, Steven Roger. 1995. Preliminary Evidence for Cosmogonic Texts in Rapanui’s Rongorongo Inscriptions. Journal of the Polynesian Society 104. 303-21.
  • FISCHER, Steven Roger. 1997. Glyph-breaker: A Decipherer's Story. N.Y.: Copernicus/Springer-Verlag.
  • FISCHER, Steven Roger. 1997. RongoRongo, the Easter Island Script: History, Traditions, Texts. Oxford and N.Y.: Oxford University Press.
  • HEYERDAHL, Thor. 1965. The Concept of Rongorongo Among the Historic Population of Easter Island. In: Thor Heyerdahl & Edwin N. Ferdon Jr. (eds. and others.), 1961-65. Stockholm: Forum.
  • HEYERDAHL, Thor. 1968. Sea Routes to Polynesia. American Indians and Early Asiatics in the Pacific. Chicago - New York - San Francisco: Rand McNally & Company.
  • HEYERDAHL, Thor. 1976. The Art of Easter Island. London: George Allen & Unwin.
  • IMBELLONI, José. 1951. Las Tabletas Parlantes de Pascua, Monumentos de un Sistema Gráfico Indo-oceánico. Runa 4. 89-177.
  • LECLEA'H, Hervé, Mgr Eveque des Marquises Pona te kao Lexique marquisien-français. Tahiti 1998.
  • LEE, Georgia. 1992. The Rock Art of Easter Island. Symbols of Power, Prayers to the Gods. Los Angeles: The Institute of Archaeology Publications (UCLA).
  • MAIR, Christian. 1992. Comments. In: Jan Svartvik (ed). Directions in Corpus Linguistics. Proceedings of Nobel Symposium 82. Stockholm, 4-8 August 1991. Berlin - New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • MÉTRAUX, Alfred. 1940. Ethnology of Easter Island. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 160. Honolulu: Bernice P. Bishop Museum Press.
  • POZDNIAKOV, Konstantin. 1996. Les Bases du Déchiffrement de l'Écriture de l'Ile de Pâques. Journal de la Societé des Océanistes 103:2.289-303.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1987. Progress Report on the Decipherment of the Easter Island Writing System. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 96: 361-736.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1988. Allographic Variations of Easter Island Glyphs. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 97: 313-320.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1989. Novye dannye po starorapanuyskomu yazyku. Sovetskaya etnografiya, 6: 122-125.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1993. Rapanuyskie texty (k probleme rasshifrovki). Etnograficheskoe obozrenie, 4: 124-141.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1997. Easter Island Writing: Speculation and Sense. Journal of the Polynesian Society, 106: 203-205.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1997. A Key to the Easter Island (Rapa Nui) Petroglyphs. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 104(1): 111.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1998. Polynesian Petroglyphs: Reports about Solar Eclipses. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 107(2): 231-232.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1999. [A Review:]Fischer, Steven Roger, 1997. Glyphbreaker, New York, Copernicus. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 108(1): 168-169.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1999. [A Review:]Fischer, Steven Roger, 1997. Glyphbreaker, New York, Copernicus. Word, 50(3): 440-441.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 1999. Guy's Reviews Examined. RONGORONGO, Easter Island Writing.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 2000. La trompette du dieu Hiro. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 110(1): 115-116.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 2001. Fijian and Polynesian String Figures Help Decipher Fijian Petroglyphs. Bulletin of the International String Figure Association, 8: 39-45.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 2001. Rongorongo Glyphs Clarify Easter Island Rock Drawings. Journal de la Société des Océanistes, 113(2): 215-220.
  • RJABCHIKOV, Sergei V. 2005. Rezidentsiya koroley ostrova Paskhi: simvoly i texty. Visnik Mizhnarodnogo doslidnogo tsentru "Lyudina: mova, kul'tura, piznannya", 6(2): 33-36.
  • ROBINSON, Andrew, Edited by Brian M. Fagan. 2001. The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World: Unlocking the Secrets of Past Civilizations. Thames & Hudson. 266-268
  • ROUTLEDGE, Katherine. 1919. The Mystery of Easter Island. The story of an expedition. London and Aylesbury: Hazell, Watson and Viney, LD.
  • THOMSON, William J. 1891. Te Pito te Henua, or Easter Island. Report of the United States National Museum for the Year Ending June 30, 1889. Annual Reports of the Smithsonian Institution for 1889. 447-552. Washington: Smithsonian Institution.
  • VAN TILBURG, Jo Anne. 1994. Easter Island: Archaeology, Ecology and Culture. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • A. Robinson (ed. B.M. Fagan), The Seventy Great Mysteries of the Ancient World: Unlocking the Secrets of Past Civilizations, London: Thames & Hudson, 2001:266-268.
"God Defend New Zealand"
"God Save the Queen" 1

Capital Wellington

Largest city Auckland
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In Māori tradition, Rongorongo is the wife of Turi (mythology), the chief of the Aotea canoe. She is an ancestress of the Whanganui and Ngati Ruanui iwi. The Aotea canoe was given to Rongorongo as a present by her father Toto (Tregear 1891:426).


  • E.R.

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Beru Island is an island located in Tungaru, or South Gilbert Islands of the Pacific Ocean. Beru (previously known as Eliza, Francis Island, Maria, Peroat, Peru Island or Sunday) is a reef, some 15 kilometers long (NW-SE) and 4.75 km wide at the widest point (NE-SW).
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The Rapa Nui language (also Rapanui) is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Rapanui, the inhabitants of Easter Island.

Old Rapa Nui language


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A constructed script (also artificial script, neography, and conscript for short) is a new writing system specifically created by an individual or group, rather than having evolved as part of a language or culture like a natural script.
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ISO 15924, Codes for the representation of names of scripts, defines two sets of codes for a number of writing systems (scripts). Each script is given both a four-letter code and a numeric one.
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International Phonetic Alphabet

Note: This page may contain IPA phonetic symbols in Unicode.

The International
Phonetic Alphabet
Nonstandard symbols
Extended IPA
Naming conventions
IPA for English The
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Unicode is an industry standard allowing computers to consistently represent and manipulate text expressed in any of the world's writing systems. Developed in tandem with the Universal Character Set standard and published in book form as The Unicode Standard
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The Rapa Nui language (also Rapanui) is an Eastern Polynesian language spoken by the Rapanui, the inhabitants of Easter Island.

Old Rapa Nui language


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Many undeciphered writing systems are prehistoric in nature, dating from several thousand years BC, though some more modern examples do exist. The difficulty in deciphering these systems can arise from a lack of known descendents or from the languages being entirely isolated, from
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Rapanui or Rapa Nui ("Big Rapa") are the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean (the island itself is also called Rapa Nui). Today, Rapanui people make up 60% of Easter Island's population. They speak the Rapa Nui language.
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Capital Hanga Roa

Official languages Spanish, Rapa Nui
Ethnic groups (2002) Rapanui 60%, Chilean 39%, Amerindian 1%
Demonym Rapanui or Pascuense
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Capital Hanga Roa

Official languages Spanish, Rapa Nui
Ethnic groups (2002) Rapanui 60%, Chilean 39%, Amerindian 1%
Demonym Rapanui or Pascuense
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Obsidian is a type of naturally-occurring glass formed as an extrusive igneous rock. It is produced when felsic lava erupted from a volcano cools rapidly through the glass transition temperature and freezes without sufficient time for crystal growth.
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T. populnea

Binomial name
Thespesia populnea
(L.) Sol ex Correa

The Portia tree (Thespesia populnea
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S. toromiro

Binomial name
Sophora toromiro

Toromiro (Sophora toromiro) is a species of tree formerly common in the forests of Easter Island.
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F. excelsior

Binomial name
Fraxinus excelsior

The European Ash (Fraxinus excelsior
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Boustrophedon or boustrephedon (Greek: βουστροφηδόν: "turning like oxen in ploughing"), is an ancient way of writing manuscripts and other inscriptions in which, rather than going from left to right as in
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Hotu Matu'a or Hotu Matua was the legendary first settler and ariki mau ("supreme chief" or "king") of Easter Island.[1] Hotu Matua and his two canoe (or one double hulled canoe) colonising party were Polynesians from the now unknown land of Hiva
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Rapanui or Rapa Nui ("Big Rapa") are the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean (the island itself is also called Rapa Nui). Today, Rapanui people make up 60% of Easter Island's population. They speak the Rapa Nui language.
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Rapanui or Rapa Nui ("Big Rapa") are the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean (the island itself is also called Rapa Nui). Today, Rapanui people make up 60% of Easter Island's population. They speak the Rapa Nui language.
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Main article: Rapa Nui National Park
"Anakena" is a white coral sand beach in Rapa Nui National Park on Rapa Nui (Easter Island) a Chilean island in the Pacific Ocean.
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lunar calendar is a calendar in many cultures that is oriented at the moon phase.

This is normally done by having a month which corresponds to a lunation so that the day of month indicates the moon phase. If a calendar tracks the seasons, it is also a lunisolar calendar.
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A mnemonic (pronounced IPA: /niːˈmɒnɪk/ in RP, /nɨˈmɑnɨk/
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Tahiti<nowiki />

Tahiti is famous for its black beaches

Location Pacific Ocean <nowiki />
Archipelago Society Islands<nowiki /> <nowiki /> <nowiki />

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Intercalation is the insertion of a leap day, week or month into some calendar years to make the calendar follow the seasons or moon phases. Lunisolar calendars may require a combination of both adjustments.
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"Plus Ultra"   (Latin)
"Further Beyond"
"Marcha Real" 1
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Petroglyphs are images created by removing part of a rock surfaces by incising, pecking, carving, and abrading. Outside North America, scholars often use terms such as "carving", "engraving", or other descriptions of technique to refer to such images.
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The term 'diffusion' or diffusionism is used in cultural anthropology to describe the spread of cultural items — such as ideas, styles, religions, technologies, etc. — between individuals, whether within a single culture or from one culture to another.
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The Raven and The First Men, showing part of a Haida creation story. The Raven represents the Trickster figure common to many mythologies. The work is in the University of British Columbia Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver.
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