Archaeologists have long believed that the ancient civilization of Easter Island — also known as Rapa Nui — was destroyed by war. However, a reanalysis of triangular spear-like blades found on the island suggests otherwise.
These spears are known as mata’a and were originally thought to be instruments of war. However, the study led by researchers from Binghamton University suggest the items were never intended to be used for violence.
To come to this conclusion, the team used a quantitative image analysis technique known as morphometrics to reveal that the shapes of the mata’a are markedly different from any other recovered weapons, UPI reports.
The researchers think the spears were more likely used as all-purpose tools for performing essential daily tasks, such as tattooing, gardening, and food preparation.
“We found that when you look at the shape of these things, they just don’t look like weapons at all,” says study leader Carl Lipo, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, in a statement. “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.”
While the mata’a would have been able to cut someone, research showed they would not have been sharp enough to be lethal. Other more efficient weapons would have been produced during times of war.
This new information suggests the classic story of the island collapsing under civil war is largely speculative.
“What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn’t true in a pre-historic sense,” added Lipo. “Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact.”
This study is set to be published in the journal Antiquity.