New publication: Weapons of war? Rapa Nui mata’a morphometric analyses


Carl P. Lipo, Terry L. Hunt, Rene Horneman and myself authored a paper published today in Antiquity.

Using morphometrics (and Momocs), we tested the hypothesis that mata’a, often envisaged as spearheads, i.e. weapons of war, have been produced in the context of endemic warfare, a consequence of environmental degradation and the consecutive ‘collapse’ in Rapa Nui, or Eastern Island (l’île de Pâques for the frogs). We show that their shape is not specific to Rapa Nui which argues for more peaceful uses.

You can read the paper there; the abstract follows.


Traditional explanations of Rapa Nui history invoke environmental degradation and warfare to explain the ‘collapse’ of the island’s social and economic structure. One element in these reconstructions are the stemmed obsidian points known as mata’a, which some have envisaged as spearheads produced in the context of endemic warfare. Morphometric analysis shows, however, that mata’a were not specifically designed for interpersonal violence but were general purpose tools that may have been used for peaceful tasks such as ritual scarification. This discovery provides further evidence against the theory of the violent collapse of Rapa Nui society.


RapaNui Photo by Makemake

Vincent Bonhomme

Vincent Bonhomme

The opposite of play is not work, it's depression


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