What happened to the people who carved the giant heads on Easter Island? If you said, “Don’t you mean the giant statues buried up to their heads on Easter Island?” you definitely know your moai. So, what happened to the people who created the giant statues buried up to their necks on Easter Island? If you said, “They destroyed their civilization through infighting and natural resource depletion,” you need to update your Rapa Nui history. A new study used geology to determine that the Rapa Nui society was actually very cooperative and something else other than infighting caused their demise. What? Or whom?
“Ancient Rapa Nui had chiefs, priests, and guilds of workers who fished, farmed, and made the moai. There was a certain level of sociopolitical organization that was needed to carve almost a thousand statues.”
Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History scientist Laure Dussubieux and Dale Simpson, Jr., an archaeologist from the University of Queensland, co-authored the study published this week in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology one of the study’s authors. They were part of a team which excavated four entire giant statues under the direction of Jo Anne Van Tilburg of Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, UCLA and director of the Easter Island Statue Project . During that process, they found about 1,600 stone tools called toki and were able to remove basalt stone fragments from about 20 of them. A chemical and mass spectrometer analysis of the basalt was an eye-opener to Dale Simpson, according to his interview with Phys.org.
“The majority of the toki came from one quarry complex — once the people found the quarry they liked, they stayed with it. For everyone to be using one type of stone, I believe they had to collaborate. That’s why they were so successful — they were working together.”
Living together on a small island, quarrying giant stones, carving them into giant statues and moving them to far locations … cooperation would seem to be a key to this type of society. So, if they all got along, why did they fall apart? This new discovery lends credence to the alternating theory that the arrival of Europeans and their diseases and the institution of slavery destroyed most of the Rapa Nui society. In this case, the fact that all of the tools came from one quarry could indicate that the slaves were forced to mine from one location.
What caused the disappearance of the Rapa Nui? The researchers leave that question unanswered … perhaps they still don’t know … perhaps they want to spend more time on Easter Island. Until their next study, the answer to “What happened to the people who created the giant statues buried up to their necks on Easter Island?” is “all of the above.”