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Weapons of war? Rapa Nui mata'a morphometric analyses

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 February 2016

Carl P. Lipo
Department of Anthropology and IIRMES, California State University Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840, USA (Email:
Terry L. Hunt
Robert D. Clark Honors College, 129 Chapman Hall, 1293 University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403-1293, USA
Rene Horneman
Department of Anthropology and IIRMES, California State University Long Beach, 1250 Bellflower Boulevard, Long Beach, CA 90840, USA (Email:
Vincent Bonhomme
School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Sheffield, Hicks Building, Hounsfield Road, Sheffield S3 7RH, UK UMR 5554 Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution, équipe Dynamique de la biodiversité, anthropo-écologie Université de Montpellier, CNRS, IRD, EPHE Place Eugène Bataillon 34095 Montpellier cedex 05, France


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.

Copyright © Antiquity Publications Ltd, 2016 

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