New research proves that the inhabitants of the remote Easter Islands (Rapa Nui), 2,300 miles (3,700km) off the coast of Chile, were not annihilated by war as previously thought.

Aerial View of Easter Island (Rapu Nui)

For years, scientists have disagreed on what caused the island society’s demise. Popular belief held that the overuse of limited resources led to internal conflict. New evidence, based on archeological investigations into mata’a, sharpened pieces of obsidian found in the thousands scattered on the island, suggests that these were not weapons of war, but general purpose tools used for peaceful tasks.

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Four Mata'a

Research, led by Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York, examined over 400 mata’a, collected photographs, and analyzed their shape through morphometric analysis. The objects came in various sizes and shapes - round, square and triangular. It was determined that the mata’a would not have made good weapons because they are not sharp, few are pointed, most are too thick and asymmetrical to pierce, and the wear patterns found suggest that they were used to scrape and cut things.

There is also evidence that systematic warfare did not take place. Previous archaeological digs have not uncovered traces of severed limbs or skull trauma. No mass graves were found either. Unlike other Pacific islands, there is no evidence of defensive fort-like structures.

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Easter Island's Famous Giant Statues, Moai

Evidence suggests that the small population of 3,000 flourished until the arrival of Europeans in the 1720’s who brought smallpox and plague that wiped out over half of the population. Rapa Nui descendants make up over half of the Polynesian culture today.

Dr. Lipo wrote,

Easter Island is a great case of this kind of society in which populations seem to have mediated competition over limited resources through the community building of statues. What looks like strange behavior to us is likely central to their success. This is an area we are following up on in our ongoing research. I think we have a lot to learn from Easter Island as to what it takes to survive on an isolated and remote island with limited resources. But rather than being a ‘scary parable’ about the effects of cultural hubris and ultimate collapse, we can learn valuable insights into strategies that lead to cooperation, resistance and sustainability.”

Easter Island is a model for sustainable civilizations. This model seems to be something that modern mankind and societies need to embrace.

Nancy Loyan Schuemann

Nancy Loyan Schuemann is a writer specializing in architecture, safes, profiles, histories and a multi-published fiction and non-fiction author and is Nailah, Middle Eastern dancer.

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