A new analysis of artifacts discovered on the shores of Easter Island, originally thought to be used as spear points, reveals that they were likely general purpose tools. The results, which are outlined in a study conducted by Binghamton University researchers, provides evidence that the ancient civilization may not have been destroyed by warfare, which is the most widely held belief regarding the island civilization's downfall.
Carl Lipo and his team analyzed the shape variability of a photo set of more than 400 mata'a collected from the island using a unique technique called morphometrics, allowing them to quantitatively characterize the shapes of the artifacts. The results revealed a wide variability in the shape of the mata'a as well as a significant deviation from other traditional weapons, leading the team to conclude that its design makes it unlikely candidates for war weapons.
"We found that when you look at the shape of these things, they just don't look like weapons at all," Lipo said in a press release. "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."
Lipo points to the fact that although anything can be used as a spear, those used in warfare conditions need to have high performance characteristics and be very carefully crafted, something not evidence by the mata'a examined in their study. Furthermore, he believes that these findings conflict with the idea that the ancient civilization fell due to warfare, suggesting that this belief is actually just an interpretation offered by late Europeans as opposed to an actual archaeological event.
"What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn't true in a pre-historic sense. Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact," said Lipo.
The team believes that the mata'a were likely used as cultivation tools in ritual tasks such as tattooing and plant processing.
The study was published in the Feb. 16 issue of Antiquity.