Revisiting warfare, monument destruction, and the ‘Huri Moai’ phase in Rapa Nui (Easter Island) culture history
Warfare is widely accepted as a transformative factor in human history. However, as warfare is not inevitable in human groups, archaeologists must critically assess the empirical evidence for war and its importance in the past. Here, we reevaluate the culture history of Rapa Nui (Easter Island), often interpreted as a case of warfare resulting in social upheaval. Common accounts hold that, prior to European contact, clan groups eventually ceased making moai statues and statue platforms (ahu), battled with obsidian spears, sought refuge in fortified caves, and toppled rivals’ moai in a prolonged period of internecine warfare termed the “Huri Moai” phase. Examining this culture historical framework and evidence for warfare and monument destruction, we find a lack of support in archaeological or historical records for a pre-contact Huri Moai phase. Overall, these findings highlight how archaeologists must carefully evaluate assumptions about the prevalence of violence and war in the past given the evidence for each case. In the case of Rapa Nui, our prior understanding of the island’s culture history is in need of fundamental revision.