How Did The Rapa Nui Become Extinct? Researchers Weigh In With Various Debates

Posted: Feb 23 2016, 7:42am CST | by , in News | Latest Science News

Rapa Nui statutes
Photo credit: Jim Richardson, National Geograohic Creative

The Rapa Nui were a Polynesian society that became extinct due to unknown factors, and researchers have started to weigh in on evidences that might suggest how the Easter Island inhabitants got wiped out from the face of the Earth - the National Geographic reports.

The Rapa Nui had huge monuments that still stand today, and the most prominent are huge stones carved as human faces or statutes standing sentinel all around the island. These are known as moai, and there are also the discovery of a crude implement that could have been used as killing tools – fueling speculation that the tool could have been employed in civil wars that cleaned out the entire civilization. This tool is known as the mata’a.

A school of thought believes the arrival of the first Europeans to Rapa Nui in 1722 brought diseases that wiped out the entire islanders, and other researchers thought the huge statutes carved out of huge trees led to large-scale deforestation that brought on scarce resources that led to the collapse of the society.

Yet others think the Rapa Nui were capable of organized violence before the coming of Europeans, and that the crude mata’a which could be used as tool and weapon could have been employed in civil wars that decimated the people. Others disagree.

Carl Lipo of Binghamton University analyzed over 400 mata’a used by the Rapa Nui and said there was no consistency in the way the small, three-sided, stemmed obsidian tool was crafted in terms of size and shape to facilitate its use as a weapon. Lipo said the mata’a was possibly used as a multipurpose tool of everyday application for food cultivation and processing among other use on the island – even though it was capable of being applied to violence.

Douglas Owsley, the Division Head of Physical Anthropology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History examined 469 human skulls of ancient people that lived in Rapa Nui and found only two of them to have been consistent with wounds inflicted with mata’a, meaning that the people never used the tool in violent situations; they’d rather throw rocks as documented by early Europeans who witnessed such demonstrations.

But Jared Diamond, a former National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who wrote the 2005 book Collapse and cited archaeologist Paul Bahn, a proponent of the traditional collapse theory, would not agree.

“This is essentially a slashing tool. You could do terrible things to people without leaving a trace on bones," Diamond said.

The back-and-forth continues, and researchers as well as anthologists continue to look into what caused the total annihilation of the Rapa Nui.

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The Author

<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/52" rel="author">Charles I. Omedo</a>
Charles is covering the latest discoveries in science and health as well as new developments in technology. He is the Chief Editor or Intel-News.




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