Researchers have found sharp, spear-like objects all across Easter Island, which led them to believe that the ancient civilisation was wiped out due to massive warfare. However, new evidence suggests that the mata’a (the objects) were not used as weapons.
Easter Island is a Chilean island in the south-eastern Pacific Ocean, located about 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometres) off the coast of Chile. The name ‘Easter Island’ was given by the Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen, the island’s first recorded European visitor, who came across it on Easter Sundayin 1722.
Polynesian people first arrived on the island sometime between 300 and 1200 CE. The Rapa Nui, or native Polynesian inhabitants of Easter Island, are famous for the majestic stone statues, known as moai – which are monolithic human figures. These statues that were carved by the Rapa Nui people were placed on the coastline; more than nine hundred of them have been discovered. A lot of scholars have said that there must have been tens of thousands of residents on the island at some point.
It was previously thought that an internal warfare led to the collapse of the Easter Island society. However, some archaeologists say that slavery and diseases introduced by Europeans have caused the decline of the Polynesian population.
In a new study – published Wednesday (Feb. 13) in the online journal Antiquity – the researchers used a technique called morphometric analysis to examine the shapes of more than four hundred mata’a.
Carl Lipo, lead author of the study and an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York, said that mata’a have various shapes: some are square, some are roundish, and some have a triangular aspect.
According to Lipo, the mata’a would not have been very good weapons. Not all of them are pointed, they are not sharp, are too asymmetrical and thick for piercing lethal wounds. The mata’a were likely used to scrape and cut things, based on their wear patterns, according to the researchers. Moreover, evidence of systemic weapons is also absent from the island. Also, no traces of severed limbs, lethal skull trauma, or mass graves have been found through archaeological digs on Easter Island. There are also no defensive fort-like structures.
Mara Mulrooney, an anthropologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, who also studies the Rapa Nui civilization, said that the small population of 3,000 Rapa Nui individuals probably flourished even after the arrival of the European in 1722. Mulrooney stated that the morphometric analysis of mata’a provided further evidence that the Rapa Nui war not destroyed by internal warfare.
The general purpose of the mata’a was probably for agricultural practices, tattooing, and ritual sacrifice, according to Lipo. Such activities would make a lot more sense, since no archaeological findings suggest that there was a great warfare among locals, he added.
Currently, Easter Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. The nearest town, on the island of Mangareva, is 1,619 miles (2,606 kilometres) away, and the nearest inhabited land, Pitcairn Island, is located 1,289 miles (2,075 kilometres) away.
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