BINGHAMTON, N.Y., Feb. 16 (UPI) -- Many researchers believe the ancient civilization of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, was decimated by war. Their evidence includes a number of triangular spear-like blades made of obsidian, known as mata'a.
But a reanalysis of mata'a suggests the tools weren't intended for violence. Using a quantative image analysis technique known as morphometrics, researchers from Binghamton University determined that the mata'a shapes are inconsistent and markedly different than other recovered weapons. Researchers believe the mata'a were more likely examples of all-purpose tools.
"We found that when you look at the shape of these things, they just don't look like weapons at all," Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton, 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."
Though mata'a blades would be able to cut someone, scientists say they wouldn't have been lethal. Lipo and his colleagues argue that under warfare conditions, weapons would have been produced more systematically.
Researchers believe the multipurpose tools were used for everything but violence -- including tattooing, gardening and food preparation.
Lipo says their analysis -- detailed in the journal Antiquity -- indicates the story of civilization collapse and civil war is more hypothetical history than a strict interpretation of the archaeological evidence.
"What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn't true in a pre-historic sense," said Lipo. "Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact."