What We Assumed About Easter Island May Be Wrong

New study looked at the source of the tools used to carve the heads
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 13, 2018 2:48 PM CDT
Updated Aug 18, 2018 10:00 AM CDT
In this August 2012 file photo, statues of heads known as "Moais" stand at Rano Raraku, the quarry on Easter Island, Chile.   (AP Photo/Karen Schwartz, File)

(Newser) – The tale of the demise of Easter Island's people may have to be rewritten. The story has long held that infighting as resources ran out was one of the main drivers of the collapse, but a new study published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology suggests a different scenario. CNN reports on the "unlikely method" of examining the society via of some of the stone tools used to carve the island's famous stone figures: Researchers performed a chemical analysis on four of the statues and fragments from 17 of the roughly 1,600 basalt tools, called toki, that had been excavated. The goal was to determine where the basalt had come from. There were three quarries on the island that were potential sources of the volcanic rock; the key discovery is that there was "near exclusive" use of a single quarry to make the toki.

Here's the jump researchers are making from there, per a press release: Lead study author Dale Simpson Jr. sees that as "solid evidence that there was cooperation among families and craft groups. ... The idea of competition and collapse on Easter Island might be overstated." But Jo Anne Van Tilburg, who led the excavations, cautions against coming to an overstated conclusion in this case. She says the findings bolster the view "of craft specialization based on information exchange, but we can't know at this stage if the interaction was collaborative. It may also have been coercive in some way. Human behavior is complex." (This separate study pushes the same theory but based on different evidence: obsidian.)

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