President's Report Masthead
March 1, 2016

Easter Island wasn’t destroyed by war, study shows

A new study led by a Binghamton University archaeologist contradicts the belief that the ancient civilization of Rapa Nui, Chile, was destroyed by warfare.

An analysis of artifacts found on what was previously called Easter Island revealed that these objects were likely general purpose tools and not spear points, said Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton and lead author on the study, published this month in the journal Antiquity.

People have long believed that the island civilization ran out of resources and, as a result, engaged in massive in-fighting, which led to its collapse. Thousands of obsidian, triangular objects found on the surface, known as mata’a, seemed to support this theory. Because of their large numbers and because they’re made of sharp glass, many believed the mata’a were weapons of war.

Lipo and his team analyzed the shape variability of a photo set of 400-plus mata’a collected from the island using a technique known as morphometrics, which allowed them to characterize the shapes in a quantitative manner. Based on the wide variability in shape and their difference from other traditional weapons, the team determined that the mata’a were not used in warfare after all.

“We found that when you look at the shape of these things, they just don’t look like weapons at all,” Lipo said. “When you can compare them to European weapons or weapons found anywhere around the world when there are actually objects used for warfare, they’re very systematic in their shape. They have to do their job really well. Not doing well is risking death.”

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