easter island heads
The statues seen with hats. Getty Images

New evidence about the fascinating Easter Island civilization in Chile has given clues about the lives of the culture responsible for the Easter Island head sculptures.

Analysis of the giant stone hats found on Rapa Nui, Chile, has led researchers to believe that the widely held belief that the ancient civilization had a warrior culture and was responsible for the destruction of the islands natural resources was wrong.

A team of researchers from Binghamton University of the State University of New York studied these ancient “stone hats” found in the island which revealed to them that the society was very supportive, inclusive and not territorially aggressive.

These hats, called pukao by the ancient culture, are found on several of these Easter Island heads (moai). These hats are seen only on some of these heads and were not studied in detail before. They were known to hold significance and were not placed for just adding flair to the long faces.

These hats are large, cylindrical stones made from a volcanic rock known as ‘red scoria.’ Each pukao weighs several tonnes and were placed atop the giant heads much before cranes or trucks were even imagined. They were placed atop these heads to honor their ancestors, which is a huge Polynesian tradition.

The researchers analyzed 70 of these giant stone hats to understand the ancient population in Chile. The team used computer models to recreate 3D computer models of these hats which were found scattered all over.

On studying the computer models, the team was able to decipher the inscriptions and drawings carved on. They found so much more than previously expected, which gave them an in-depth idea of the thought process of creating these giant stone accessory.

“With the building mitigating any sense of conflict, the moai construction and pukao placement were key parts to the success of the island,” said Lipo. “In our analysis of the archaeological records, we see evidence that demonstrates the prehistoric communities repeatedly worked together to build monuments. The action of cooperation had a benefit to the community by enabling sharing of information and resources.”

Previously, the ancient inhabitants of this island were thought to be divided into tribes who used up all the natural resources on the island and was held up as a mirror to our society. Researchers for 60 years thought that the natives were solely responsible for the deterioration of the island that ultimately forced them to war and cannibalism before they died out.

But, this notion was debunked in October when reports said that the deterioration coincided with invading Europeans. The original ‘ecocide’ — which is the deliberate destruction of the environment — was debunked and the large-scale deforestation of the palm trees was found to be the partial work of the Polynesian rat. An IBTimes report said that these rats could’ve eaten both palm nuts and sapling trees, preventing the forests from growing back.

“While Easter Island is famous, the archaeological record of the island is not well-documented,” said Carl Lipo, lead researcher in a press release on the Binghamton University, State University of New York. He believes that scientists can learn a great deal from the pukao by examining this new information.

“Every time we look at the archaeological record of the island, we are surprised by what we find. There is much more to be learned from this remarkable place — important answers that shed light on the abilities of our ancestors, as well as potential ideas for contemporary society about what it takes to survive on a tiny and remote island,” said Lipo.

The paper was published in the October issue of Advances in Archaeological Practice.