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Katherine Routledge and Her Exploits on Easter Island

During her time in Oxford, it was beginning to show that her mental health was not overly strong. She never outwardly complained, but it was found that she was plagued with voices. Not to let that dissuade her, Routledge was able to finish her degree.

Shortly after the Second Boer War, Routledge traveled to South Africa to help found resettlement areas for single working women coming from England. After returning to England, Katherine Pease married William Scoresby Routledge in 1906. From there, they went on to East Africa to live with the Kikuyu people in 1910.

That same year, they published a book by the title With A Prehistoric People. Four years later, the Routledge’s made their voyage to Easter Island to figure out the mystery of the tufa rock heads.

Life on Easter Island

Routledge, with her husband beside her in the beginning of the journey, became the first female historian/archaeologist to study and survey Polynesia. It took one year for the Mana, which was the name of their schooner, to reach the island.

Due to WWI, work on Easter Island was strained due to a brigade of German military men on the other side of the island. From where the Routledge’s were studying it was considered neutral ground, but they were beginning to feel uneasy, and the Routledge‘s tried to get the Chilean government to protect them during this time. So, to stave off invasion onto their part of the island, William sailed off in the Mana for Chile; and left Katherine on the island for a little over three months where she continued to make connections between the people and the land.

Although Routledge was not able to finish her work on Easter Island, also called Rapa Nui, it was the first in-depth study of the islands of both artifacts and inhabitants. With assistance from islander Juan Tepano, Routledge found connections between elders’ tattoos and the moai, or stone statues of heads, she wrote on the cult of the Birdman, visited the leper colony on the island, and detailed the clan system and family kinships.

It was a study that wasn’t without issues, and many of her fellow archaeologists criticized her work. One year later, the Routledge’s left Easter Island and returned home. By 1919, Routledge wrote and published The Mystery of Easter Island, and the artifacts the couple retrieved from their studies may be found in the Pitt Rivers Museum, which is owned by Oxford. Due to her detailed note taking, many of her findings are still in use today, and what could be found of her papers are located in the Royal Geographical Society in London.

Life after Easter Island was disheartening for Routledge. Her mental health was waning quickly by 1925, where she locked herself in her home and didn’t let anyone in. In 1929, her husband and remaining family members had her forcibly institutionalized in a psychiatric ward under constant watch after it was determined that she was no longer able to care for herself.

Sadly, Routledge lost her battle against schizophrenia. This was an illness that Routledge had watched her mother suffer through until her mother’s death, which was in 1915. The schizophrenia that Routledge dealt with started to overwhelm her shortly after her return from Easter Island.

In 1935, a shadow of her former self, she died in the ward never being able to revisit Easter Island or its disappearing population of caretakers

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