Artifacts found on the shores of Easter Island revealed that the ancient civilization of Rapa Nui was not destroyed by warfare. Rather, disease brought by European explorers and slavery caused their demise.

The Rapa Nui people were the ancient inhabitants of Easter Island in Chile. The artifacts found were once thought to be spear points used in warfare.

The long-standing belief is that prior to the arrival of the Europeans, the ancient Rapa Nui people experienced scarcity in resources which led to internal fights and their eventual demise.

However, a new analysis of these spear-like artifacts by Binghamton University's anthropology professor Carl Lipo revealed that the objects known as mata'a would have made poor weapons. Findings suggested that they were cultivation tools used in domestic activities and rituals such as tattooing.

Lipo led a research team to study a photo collection of over 400 pieces of mata'a found in the island. Using a technique called morphometrics, they were able to quantitatively characterize the artifacts' shapes.

The team has found that the mata'a weren't used in fights at all. Based on other traditional weapons, the shape of the mata'a would have made an inferior weapon in a time when survival was crucial.

"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," explained Lipo.

The findings support the theory that the Rapa Nui people didn't experience internal warfare. Moreover, new evidence add weight to the hypothesis that mata'a as weapons were more of a late European explanation rather than a real, archeological event.

The researchers said that the contact with the Europeans resulted in the civilization's collapse. Apart from the diseases the early European explorers carried, the Rapa Nui people were enslaved and decimated.

The mata'a artifacts were found all over the Easter Island landscape. The researchers believe that its presence in numerous locations support the theory that they were used as farming tools. The research was published in the journal Antiquity on Feb. 17.

Photo: Arian Zwegers | Flickr

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