A new study led by a Binghamton University archaeologist contradicts the belief that the ancient civilization of Rapa Nui, Chile, was destroyed by warfare. An analysis of artifacts found on what was previously called Easter Island revealed that these objects were likely general purpose tools and not spear points, says Carl Lipo, professor of anthropology at Binghamton and lead author on the study, published this month in the journal Antiquity.
Lipo’s study suggests that the ancient civilization never experienced the oft-theorized warfare. Instead, the belief that the mata’a were weapons used in the collapse of the civilization is likely a late-European interpretation of the record. “What people traditionally think about the island is being this island of catastrophe and collapse just isn’t true in a pre-historic sense,” Lipo says. “Populations were successful and lived sustainably on the island up until European contact.”—John Brhel, Binghamton University, 17 February 2016
The ‘decline and fall’ of Easter Island and its alleged self-destruction has become the poster child of a new environmentalist historiography, a school of thought that goes hand-in-hand with predictions of environmental disaster. According to Jared Diamond, the people of Easter Island destroyed their forest, degraded the island’s topsoil, wiped out their plants and drove their animals to extinction. As a result of this self-inflicted environmental devastation, its complex society collapsed, descending into civil war, cannibalism and self-destruction. While his theory of ecocide has become almost paradigmatic in environmental circles, a dark and gory secret hangs over the premise of Easter Island’s self-destruction: An actual genocide terminated Rapa Nui’s indigenous populace and its culture.—Benny Peiser, From Genocide to Ecocide: The Rape of Rapa Nui Energy & Environment, July 2005
Easter Island was deforested in ancient times, scientists say, but not to provide wood for moving giant statues. It is a cautionary tale for our time: a thriving civilisation that obliterated itself in war after ?exhausting the natural resources and trashing the environment. But researchers have ?debunked the theory that Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, self-destructed? In a study published yesterday in the journal ?Antiquity, they claim the island’s supposed war weapons were used for cultivating plants and making tattoos. Carl Lipo, an anthropologist at Binghamton University in New York, said Rapa Nui’s image as an “island of catastrophe” did not match the historical record. “What is considered evidence of ‘collapse’ is simply confusion with the events of post-contact with Europeans,” he told The Australian. “The collapse was entirely triggered by Europeans.” —John Ross, The Australian[Pay Wall], 18 February 2016
In the past two decades, this continuously growing body of work [on Easter Island] has arrived at almost unanimous consensus. It is a warning to contemporary human civilization: the story of an intelligent and sophisticated society capable of carving, transporting and erecting multitonne stone statues by exploiting the natural resources of their island habitat, but eventually collapsing because of the environmental degradation and resource exhaustion that they brought upon themselves.
The accompanying metaphor, a gloomy prognosis for humanity’s symbiotic relationship with the environment, has weaved itself into the public consciousness. Unsurprisingly, a few dissident scholars challenge the status quo version of Easter’s history. Benny Peiser and Paul Rainbird claim that evidence for ecological collapse on Easter is inconclusive, and that other causes for the destruction of Island society exist, but these causes are neglected by most. Peiser argues that the promotion of an ecocide scenario is the result of ulterior motives by “environmental campaigners” seeking to promote ecological collapse scenarios in order to stoke anxieties about the future of the environment. He underscores inconsistencies with carbon dating techniques and records of oral traditions, and both Peiser and Rainbird suggest that Easter society only collapsed because of interaction with Europeans. As will be shown however, their work is insufficient in countering the weight of overwhelming evidence that coincides with the sudden and dramatic destruction of Easter Island’s environment.—Barzin Pakandam, Why Easter Island Collapsed: An Answer for an Enduring Question, London School of Economics, Working Papers February 2009
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