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Easter Island: New Study Claims Warfare Was Not Cause Of Downfall

Update Date: Feb 17, 2016 11:33 AM EST

Some artifacts discovered on Easter Island shores were earlier believed to be spear points. But a new analysis shows that they were general purpose tools, not weapons.

The results have been outlined in a study conducted by Binghamton University researchers, showing that the ancient civilization was probably not destroyed by war. This is the most widely held belief regarding Easter Island's downfall, according to HNGN.

With his team, Carl Lipo analyzed the shape variability of a photo set with more than 400 mata'a collected from the site. They used a novel method known as morphometrics, that permitted them to characterize their shapes. The results showed that there was wide variability in the shape of the mata'a, which also showed deviation from other weapons. This led the team to conclude that the design could not have made it likely for use as a war weapon, but were just "cultivation tools in ritual tasks such as tattooing and plant processing".

"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."

Even as anything is known to be used as a spear, those that are used in warfare conditions require high-performance characteristics and should be carefully crafted. This is not borne out by the mata'a studied.

The Europeans believe that the ancient civilization was defeated by warfare, but the findings do not strengthen that belief.

"What people traditionally think of 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 study was published on Feb. 16, 2016, issue of Antiquity.

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