Rapanui art, especially carvings in stone and wood, has been the subject of numerous iconographic analyses. Not as well studied, however, are embellished human bones from Rapa Nui, particularly crania with incised or painted designs. While Rapanui scholars have known of these modified crania for over a century, there has been limited awareness of their number and variety due to the lack of comprehensive documentation. Less than 20 examples have been identified in the literature (Aliaga, 1983; Ault, 1922; Giannoni, 1993; Knoche, 1914; Métraux, 1940; Murrill, 1965; Poussart, 2010; Routledge, 1919; Thomson, 1891); yet, in connection with our study of late prehistoric and early post-contact human remains from Rapa Nui, more than 50 modified crania were noted in the collections of 13 institutions, prompting a more systematic study of this underreported art form. The objectives of this analysis are to synthesize available information related to acquisition history and recovery context, to present a demographic analysis of these modified crania to assess frequency of occurrence by age and sex, and to illustrate representative design motifs.
The modified crania dataset was compiled while documenting pathology in Rapanui human skeletal remains in 18 museum and university collections in Europe, North and South America, and on Rapa Nui (Owsley et al., this volume). Data collection included assigning age and sex to each individual following standard osteological methods (Buikstra and Ubelaker, 1994; Owsley and Jantz, 1989) and tracking bone representation and the completeness of each skeleton through computerized inventories. For each modified cranium the design was measured, replicated in detailed drawings noting the number and depth of individual incisions, and photographed when possible. The location of the design on the cranium was recorded, along with observations related to its production, such as whether the design appeared old as opposed to creation immediately prior to acquisition by a collector.
Fifty-three modified crania were documented in this extensive survey. Table 14.1 provides background information for these cases including the curating repository, the name of the collector or donor, year and means of acquisition, the number of modified crania procured, and available provenience information.
Based on oral traditions, Rapa Nui is often portrayed as having a history of warfare and violence (Métraux, 1940; Routledge, 1919; Thomson, 1891) and a frequently cited hypothesis of societal collapse culminating in civil war (Diamond, 1995, 2005, 2007). There are, however, arguments against intertribal conflict resulting from such a decline (Hunt, 2007; Hunt and Lipo, 2009; Hunt and Lipo, 2011). While other types of data can be presented, direct evidence for both the presence and nature of past violence is marked on human skeletal remains. Previous analyses of injuries (Gill and Owsley, 1993; Owsley et al., 1994) determined that a relatively small percentage of Rapanui remains showed evidence of traumatic death. The current study revisits this topic among the prehistoric and historic Rapanui, using an expanded sample to assess physical evidence for injuries in the skull and limbs. The objective is to gain more definitive information about violence and warfare as factors related to the collapse of the society.
Easter Island warfare
Literature exploring and debating societal decline and collapse on Rapa Nui is extensive. Violence is a common theme in oral traditions recorded by late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century visitors. Among other legends in which conflict and cannibalism are prominent, a tribal war between the “Long Ears” and the “Short Ears” is described (Métraux, 1940; Routledge, 1919; Thomson, 1891). Multiple versions of this story exist, and while the details differ, the rivalry between the two groups results in the near-extermination of the Long Ears by the Short Ears. This event was dated to AD 1680 by Father Sebastián Englert (1948), based on his chronology of Rapa Nui and genealogical history (Lipo and Hunt, 2009). In 1956, the Norwegian Archaeological Expedition research team radiocarbon dated Poike Ditch, the location where most of the Long Ears were reportedly burned to death, to approximately AD 1676 (Smith, 1961a: 391). With reinforcement from this single radiocarbon date, AD 1680 became associated with a climactic event in Rapa Nui chronology that was used to delineate the Middle Period (ca. AD 1100–1680) from the Late Period (AD 1680–1868) (Lipo and Hunt, 2009; Smith, 1961a: 391, 1961b: 395).
In An Introduction to Roman Law, Nicholas explains that the question of whether a person can be considered to be in possession of a thing is both a question of fact and a question of law:
[P]ossession was not a fact if by that one means that it was unregulated by law. In the case, for example, of my taking possession of a farm, whether I have entered on the land is indeed a question of fact, but whether such an entry, assuming it to have occurred, amounts to a taking of possession is a matter governed by legal rules.
The notion that “possession” is somehow both a matter of fact and a matter law is often repeated in respect of the common law as well. It can be seen in the common practice of qualifying the word by using terms such as “legal possession”, “constructive possession”, “deemed possession” and “possession in the eyes of the law”. Writing in this vein, for instance, Clarke and Kohler state, “A person who takes physical control of land or goods, with the intention of excluding all others from it or them, acquires possession of it or them as a matter of law”. It can also be seen in the other common practice of distinguishing between using the word to denote a fact and using it to describe a legal concept. Pollock and Wright adopt this approach, drawing a distinction between using “possession” to denote “an actual relation between a person and a thing”, and using it to describe “the state of being possessor in the eyes of the law”. Whilst “possession” may describe a factual state of affairs, these various approaches to possession each suggest that its meaning, at least in part, is defined by law. This chapter aims to explore and ultimately defend this characterisation of possession.
In the first section we will see that lawyers normally use the word “possession” to denote a factual state of affairs. The proof of this is that any litigant wishing to rely on a legal rule which makes reference to “possession” will usually have to introduce evidence of possession.
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