The history of Easter Island, a 165-square-kilometer (64-square-mile) piece of land in the South Pacific Ocean, remains shrouded in mystery. It’s long been thought that ecological collapse once led to violent internal wars on the island, destroying a society that once thrived there. However, according to a new study published in the Journal of Pacific Archaeology, this may not have been the case, as the island’s ancient inhabitants were likely more cooperative that we thought.
The first people to arrive on Easter Island came by canoe from Polynesia around 1200 CE. An intriguing culture began to flourish, and the people that lived there, known as the Rapa Nui, began constructing their world-famous moai statues – huge stone figures carved between 1250 and 1500 CE. It is these impressive sculptures that led the researchers to their discovery.
A common theory about the demise of the Rapa Nui is that they deforested the island, running out of wood to build boats that allowed them to fish. This loss of resources led to violent conflict, starvation, and even cannibalism, killing off the island’s inhabitants. Most of the population were dead by the 1860s.
But did this savage warfare actually take place?
Evidence is mounting that this was not actually the case. A new study has thrown even more doubt on this theory by suggesting that the island’s people were actually very cooperative and their society complex, thanks to analysis of tools used to create the island’s unique statues.
"Ancient Rapa Nui had chiefs, priests, and guilds of workers who fished, farmed, and made the moai,” explained lead author Dale Simpson in a statement. “There was a certain level of sociopolitical organization that was needed to carve almost a thousand statues."