Obsidian artifacts challenge notion that warfare led to collapse of Rapa Nui civilization
C. Lipo and Father Sebastian Englert Anthropological Museum, Rapa Nui
Sharpened stones previously viewed as spear points wielded by warring Easter Islanders actually served as general-purpose tools, researchers say.
Early European visitors to Easter Island, also known as Rapa Nui, wrote in the late 1700s that the islanders carried spears topped with sharp, triangular pieces of glassy lava, or obsidian. In the past 20 years, some researchers have suggested that fighting among spear-bearing groups — following the leveling of resource-rich palm forests around 1550 — destroyed Rapa Nui civilization before Europeans arrived.
But the Rapa Nui probably used the alleged spearpoints in a variety of ways that had nothing to do with killing each other, say archaeologist Carl Lipo of Binghamton University in New York and his colleagues. These sharp rocks, known as mata’a, would have been useful for