Easter Island warfare has long been understood to be the cause of the island’s catastrophe and collapse. However, new studies are showing that the islanders’ ancient civilization did not vanish due to internal bloody battles fought over resources. Until the arrival of Europeans, the Easter Island civilization was thriving.
The Easter Island warfare myth is being addressed by Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton University and lead of the recent study published in the journal Antiquity on February 16. According to Lipo, the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island in the remote location off the coast of Chile were not wiped out because of an internal bloody warfare, but because of external influences on the ancient civilization.
“The traditional story for Rapa Nui holds that the people, before Europeans arrived, ran out of resources and, as a result, engaged in massive in-fighting, which led to their collapse. One of the pieces of evidence used to support this theory is the thousands of obsidian, triangular objects found on the surface, known as mata’a. Because of their large numbers and because they’re made of sharp glass, many believe the mata’a to be the weapons of war that the ancient inhabitants of the island used for interpersonal violence.”
The long-term myth of the self-destruction of the islanders has come into new light after Lipo and his research team analyzed the 400-plus mata’a collected from the island. By using a technique known as morphometrics, the research team was able to determine that the mata’a were not used for weapons but rather for tattooing and farming. The mata’a were well designed for everything – except for causing someone’s death.
“Based on the wide variability in shape of the mata’a and their difference from other traditional weapons, the team determined that the mata’a were not used in warfare after all, as they would have made poor weapons.”
Lipo and his research team compared the mata’a to any other warfare tool found around the world, and the comparison clearly showed that based on its characteristics, the tool might have been good for cutting something, but not killing.
“According to Lipo, this evidence strongly supports the idea that the ancient civilization never experienced this oft-theorized combat and warfare, and that the belief that the mata’a were weapons used in the collapse of the civilization is really a late European interpretation of the record, not an actual archeological event.”
So why did the ancient civilization on Easter Island vanish if not due to internal warfare? Based on the latest research, it appears that the Rapa Nui, the native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean, shared the same tragic fate as other ancient civilizations.
“What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn’t true in a pre-historic sense. Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact,” said Lipo.