Easter Island More Peaceful: Study

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February 28, 2016

New evidence has caused some archaeologists to challenge the prevailing wisdom that large-scale warfare wiped out the civilization on Easter Island.

The remote island, in the Pacific Ocean about 2,300 miles west of Chile, is also known as Rapa Nui and was settled in the 1200s. The island is famous for the moai, the massive statues in the shape of human heads that dot the landscape. Through the years, scientists have found more than 900 of these, in varying states of disrepair.

Also in large supply have been mata’a (left), which are spearlike objects that have been found throughout the island. Because these objects looked like spears, archaeologists have assumed that they were used as weapons, and this led credence to the theory that the Rapa Nui population declined in large part because of fighting across the island. Recent study has led a group of anthropologists to conclude otherwise, however.

Not all of the mata’a, it turns out, are sharp at all; some are quite blunt. As well, they are too thick, the anthropologists concluded, to use as means of stabbing other people. Rather, the patterns of wear that have been identified as a result of intense investigation suggest that the mata’a were used more to scrape or cut things, not to wound people. One likely use for these objects, the scientists said, was in agriculture.

Also absent from the findings of other archaeologists are mass graves, mutilated skeletons, and the kind of fortifications that would be common in civilizations that experienced sustained warfare.

The results appear in the February 17 issue of the journal Antiquity.

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