20120206-stone age art 3.jpg
Saharan art Warfare — defined as organized group combat as opposed to acts of individual violence — is thought to have evolved around the time agriculture and villages developed, with idea that it became necessary when there was turf to defend, covet and fight over. Dr. Steven A LeBlanc of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard and author of a book called “Constant Battles,” told the New York Times, “War is universal and goes back deep into human history” and it is a myth that once people were “sublimely peaceful."

E. O. Wilson wrote: “Tribal aggressiveness goes back well beyond Neolithic times, but no one as yet can say exactly how far. It could have begun at the time of Homo habilis, the earliest known species of the genus Homo, which arose between 3 million and 2 million years ago in Africa. Along with a larger brain, those first members of our genus developed a heavy dependence on scavenging or hunting for meat. And there is a good chance that it could be a much older heritage, dating beyond the split 6 million years ago between the lines leading to modern chimpanzees and to humans. [Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“Archaeologists have determined that after populations of Homo sapiens began to spread out of Africa approximately 60,000 years ago, the first wave reached as far as New Guinea and Australia. The descendants of the pioneers remained as hunter-gatherers or at most primitive agriculturalists, until reached by Europeans. Living populations of similar early provenance and archaic cultures are the aboriginals of Little Andaman Island off the east coast of India, the Mbuti Pygmies of Central Africa, and the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa. All today, or at least within historical memory, have exhibited aggressive territorial behavior. *\

“History is a bath of blood,” wrote William James, whose 1906 antiwar essay is arguably the best ever written on the subject. “Modern man inherits all the innate pugnacity and all the love of glory of his ancestors. Showing war’s irrationality and horror is of no effect on him. The horrors make the fascination. War is the strong life; it is life in extremis; war taxes are the only ones men never hesitate to pay, as the budgets of all nations show us.” *\

Websites and Resources on Prehistory: Wikipedia article on Prehistory Wikipedia ; Early Humans ; Prehistoric Art ; Evolution of Modern Humans ; Iceman Photscan ; Otzi Official Site Websites and Resources of Early Agriculture and Domesticated Animals: Britannica; Wikipedia article History of Agriculture Wikipedia ; History of Food and Agriculture museum.agropolis; Wikipedia article Animal Domestication Wikipedia ; Cattle Domestication; Food Timeline, History of Food ; Food and History ;

Archaeology News and Resources: : serves the online community interested in anthropology and archaeology; is good source for archaeological news and information. Archaeology in Europe features educational resources, original material on many archaeological subjects and has information on archaeological events, study tours, field trips and archaeological courses, links to web sites and articles; Archaeology magazine has archaeology news and articles and is a publication of the Archaeological Institute of America; Archaeology News Network archaeologynewsnetwork is a non-profit, online open access, pro- community news website on archaeology; British Archaeology magazine british-archaeology-magazine is an excellent source published by the Council for British Archaeology; Current Archaeology magazine is produced by the UK’s leading archaeology magazine; HeritageDaily is an online heritage and archaeology magazine, highlighting the latest news and new discoveries; Livescience : general science website with plenty of archaeological content and news.Past Horizons: online magazine site covering archaeology and heritage news as well as news on other science fields; The Archaeology Channel explores archaeology and cultural heritage through streaming media; Ancient History Encyclopedia : is put out by a non-profit organization and includes articles on pre-history; Best of History Websites is a good source for links to other sites; Essential Humanities provides information on History and Art History, including sections Prehistory

Early Evidence of Warfare

The earliest evidence of war comes from a grave in the Nile Valley in Sudan. Discovered in the mid-1960s and dated to be between 12,000 and 14,000 years old, the grave contains 58 skeletons, 24 of which were found near projectiles regarded as weapons. The victims died at a time the Nile was flooding, causing a severe ecological crisis. The site, known as Site 117, is located at Jebel Sahaba in Sudan. The victims included men, women and children who died violently. Some were found with spear points in near the head and chest that strongly suggest they were not offering but weapons used to kill the victims. There is also evidence of clubbing — crushed bones an the like. Since there were so many bodies, one archaeologist surmised, "It looks like organized, systematic warfare." [Source: History of Warfare by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Nataruk, a 10,000-year-old site in Kenya, contains the earliest known evidence of inter-group conflict. Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post: “The skeletons told an alarming tale: One belonged to a woman who died with her hands and feet bound. The hands, chest and knees of another were fragmented and fractured — likely evidence of having been beaten to death. Stone projectiles protruded ominously from skulls; razor-sharp obsidian blades glittered in the dirt. [Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, April 1, 2016 \=]

“The grotesque tableau, discovered in Nataruk, Kenya, is the oldest known evidence of prehistoric warfare, scientists said in the journal Nature earlier this year. The scattered, scrambled remains of 27 men, women and children seemed to illustrate that conflict is not simply a symptom of our modern sedentary societies and expansionist ambitions. Even when we existed in isolated bands roaming across vast, unsettled continents, we showed capacity for hostility, violence and barbarism. One of the members of the “Nataruk Group” was a pregnant woman; inside her skeleton, scientists found her fetus’s fragile bones.” \=\

“The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war,” lead author Marta Mirazon Lahr, a paleoanthropologist at the University of Cambridge, said in a statement. She told Smithsonian, “What we see at the prehistoric site of Nataruk is no different from the fights, wars and conquests that shaped so much of our history, and indeed sadly continue to shape our lives.”“\=\

A site in northern Iraq, dated to 10,000 years ago, contains maces and arrowheads found with skeletons and defensive walls — thought to evidence of early warfare. Forts, dated to 5000 B.C., have been found in southern Anatolia. Other early evidence of war includes: 1) a battle scene, dated to between 4300 and 2500 B.C., with groups of men firing bows and arrow at each other in a rock painting in Tassili n’Ajjer, a Saharan plateau in southeastern Algeria; 2) a pile of decapitated human skeletons, dated to 2400 B.C., found at the bottom of a well near Handan, China, 250 miles southwest of Beijing; 3) paintings, dated to 5000 B.C., of an execution, found in a cave in Remigia cave, and a clash between archers from Morella la Vella in eastern Spain.

Early Bows and Arrows

20120207-Otzi Museum arrows.jpg
5,000-year-old Iceman arrows
Based on indirect evidence, the bow seems to have been invented near the transition from the Upper Paleolithic to the Mesolithic, some 10,000 years ago. The oldest direct evidence dates to 8,000 years ago. The discovery of stone points in Sibudu Cave, South Africa, has prompted the proposal that bow and arrow technology existed as early as 64,000 years ago.The oldest indication for archery in Europe comes from the Stellmoor in the Ahrensburg valley north of Hamburg, Germany and date from the late Paleolithic about 9000-8000 BC. The arrows were made of pine and consisted of a mainshaft and a 15-20 centimetre (6-8 inches) long foreshaft with a flint point. There are no known definite earlier bows or arrows, but stone points which may have been arrowheads were made in Africa by about 60,000 years ago. By 16,000 B.C. flint points were being bound by sinews to split shafts. Fletching was being practiced, with feathers glued and bound to shafts. [Source: Wikipedia]

The first actual bow fragments are the Stellmoor bows from northern Germany. They were dated to about 8,000 B.C. but were destroyed in Hamburg during the Second World War. They were destroyed before Carbon 14 dating was invented and their age was attributed by archaeological association. [Ibid]

The second oldest bow fragments are the elm Holmegaard bows from Denmark which were dated to 6,000 B.C. In the 1940s, two bows were found in the Holmegård swamp in Denmark. The Holmegaard bows are made of elm and have flat arms and a D-shaped midsection. The center section is biconvex. The complete bow is 1.50 m (5 ft) long. Bows of Holmegaard-type were in use until the Bronze Age; the convexity of the midsection has decreased with time. High performance wooden bows are currently made following the Holmegaard design. [Ibid]

Around 3,300 B.C. Otzi was shot and killed by an arrow shot through the lung near the present-day border between Austria and Italy. Among his preserved possessions were bone and flint tipped arrows and an unfinished yew longbow 1.82 m (72 in) tall. See Otzi, the Iceman

Mesolithic pointed shafts have been found in England, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. They were often rather long (up to 120 cm 4 ft) and made of European hazel (Corylus avellana), wayfaring tree (Viburnum lantana) and other small woody shoots. Some still have flint arrow-heads preserved; others have blunt wooden ends for hunting birds and small game. The ends show traces of fletching, which was fastened on with birch-tar. [Ibid] Bows and arrows have been present in Egyptian culture since its predynastic origins. The "Nine Bows" symbolize the various peoples that had been ruled over by the pharaoh since Egypt was united. In the Levant, artifacts which may be arrow-shaft straighteners are known from the Natufian culture, (10,800-8,300 B.C) onwards. Classical civilizations, notably the Persians, Parthians, Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese fielded large numbers of archers in their armies. Arrows were destructive against massed formations, and the use of archers often proved decisive. The Sanskrit term for archery, dhanurveda, came to refer to martial arts in general. [Ibid]

Composite Bow

4th century B.C.
Scythian archer
The composite bow has been a formidable weapon for over 4,000 years. Described by the Sumerians in the third millennia B.C. and favored by steppe horsemen, the early versions of these weapons were made of slender strips of wood with elastic animal tendons glued to the outside and compressible animal horn glued on the inside. [Source: “History of Warfare” by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Tendons are strongest when they are stretched, and bone and horn are strongest when compressed. Early glues were made from boiled cattle tendons and fish skin and were applied in very precise and controlled manner; and sometimes they took a year to dry properly. [Ibid]

Advanced bows that appeared centuries after the first composite bows appeared were made of pieces of wood laminated together and steamed into a curve, then bent into a circle opposite the direction it was going to be strung. Steamed animal horn was glued onto the "back," to make it hold its position. When the bow had "cured" a great amount of strength was required to bend it back to be strung. The finished product was nearly a hundred times stronger than a bow made from a sapling. [Ibid]

Long bows, used by medieval Europeans, employed the same principles of the composite bow but used heart and sap wood instead of tendons and horn. Long bows were just as powerful as composite bows but their large size and long arrows made them impractical to use from a horse. Both weapons could easily shoot an arrow over 300 years and piece armor at 100 yards. An advantage of the composite bow is that an archer could carry many more of the smaller arrows.

Copper Age and Bronze Age Weapons

Some natural copper contains tin. During the forth millennium in present-day Turkey, Iran and Thailand man learned that these metals could be melted and fashioned into a metal — bronze — that was stronger than copper, which had limited use in warfare because copper armor was easily penetrated and copper blades dulled quickly. Bronze shared these limitations to a lesser degree, a problem that was rectified until the utilization of iron which is stronger and keeps a sharp edge better than bronze, but has a much higher melting point. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

In Copper Age Middle East Period people living primarily in what is now southern Israel fashioned axes, adzes and mace heads, from coppers. In 1993, archaeologists found a skeleton of a Copper Age warrior in a cave near Jericho. The skeleton was found in a reed mat and linen ocher-died shroud (probably woven by several people with a ground loom) along with a wooden bowl, leather sandals, a long flint blade, a walking stick and a bow with tips shaped like a ram's horns. The warrior’s leg bone showed a healed fracture.

The Bronze Age lasted from about 4,000 B.C. to 1,200 B.C. During this period everything from weapons to agricultural tools to hairpins was made with bronze (a copper-tin alloy). Weapons and tools made from bronze replaced crude implements of stone, wood, bone, and copper. Bronze knives are considerable sharper than copper ones. Bronze is much stronger than copper. It is credited with making war as we know it today possible. Bronze sword, bronze shield and bronze armored chariots gave those who had it a military advantage over those who didn't have it.

Scientists believe, the heat required to melt copper and tin into bronze was created by fires in enclosed ovens outfitted with tubes that men blew into to stoke the fire. Before the metals were placed in the fire, they were crushed with stone pestles and then mixed with arsenic to lower the melting temperature. Bronze weapons were fashioned by pouring the molten mixture (approximately three parts copper and one part tin) into stone molds.

See Otzi

Early Defenses

Much is made about medieval castles as a defensive vehicle, but the technoloy they utilized — the moat, the fortress wall and observation towers — have been around since Jericho was established in 7000 BC. The ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians used siege devises — battering rams, scaling ladders, siege towers, mineshafts) between 2500 and 2000 BC. Some of the battering rams were mounted on wheels and had roofs to shield soldiers from arrows. The difference between siege towers and scaling ladders in that former resembled a protected staircase; mineshafts were built under walls to undermine their foundation and makes the wall collapse. There were also siege ramps and siege engines. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

Fortress were usually made with the materials at the hand. The walled city of Catalhoyuk Hakat (7500 B.C). in Turkey and early Chinese fortresses were made of packed earth. The main purpose of a moat was not to stop attackers from climbing the wall but rather to keep them collapsing the base of the wall by mining underneath it.

Pre-Biblical Jericho had an elaborate system of walls, towers and moats in 7,500 B.C. The circular wall that surrounded the settlement had a circumference of 700 feet and was10-feet-thick and 13-feet-high. The wall in turn was surrounded by 30-foot-wide, 10-foot-deep moat. Thirty-foot-high stone observation tower required thousands of man hours to build. The technology used to build them was virtually the same as those used in medieval castles. The original walls of Jericho appear to have been built for flood control rather defensive purposes. [Source: "History of Warfare" by John Keegan, Vintage Books]

The Greeks introduced catapults in the forth century BC. These primitive projectile throwers hurled stones and other object with torsion springs or counterweight (that operated a bit like a fat kid on one end of seesaw hurling another kid into the air). Catapults were generally ineffective as fortress breaking device because they were difficult to aim and didn't launch objects with much force. After gunpowder was introduced, cannons could blast walls in a particular place and the cannon balls traveled with a flat powerful trajectory. [Ibid]

20120207-military Fortress Nubian.jpg
Ancient Egypt fort
Seizing a fortress was difficult. An army of hundreds inside a castle or strongholds could easily hold off thousands of attackers. The main assault strategy was to attack with a large number of men, hoping to spread the defenses thin and take advantage of a weak point. This strategy rarely worked and usually ended with a massive amount of casualties for the attackers. The most effective means of seizing a castle was bribing somebody on the inside to let you in, exploiting a forgotten latrine tunnel, making a surprise attack or setting up a position outside the castle and starving the defenders out. Most castles had huge stores of food (enough to last several hundred men at least a year) and often it was the attackers who ran out of food first. [Ibid]

Castles could be built relatively quickly. As time went on, fortification advances including the construction of inner and outer walls; towers outside the walls which gave defenders more positions to shoot from; maintain strongholds built outside the walls to defend vulnerable points like gates; elevated fighting platforms behind the walls which defenders could fire weapons from; battlements which were sort of like shields above walls. Advanced artillery fortifications of the 16th to 18th century had multi-level moats to trap attackers if they attempted to scale the walls, plus they were shaped like snowflakes or stars which gave the defenders all shorts of angles to shoot at their attackers. [Ibid]

Is War Inevitable?

Harvard sociobiologist E. O. Wilson wrote: “Our bloody nature, it can now be argued in the context of modern biology, is ingrained because group-versus-group competition was a principal driving force that made us what we are. In prehistory, group selection (that is, the competition between tribes instead of between individuals) lifted the hominins that became territorial carnivores to heights of solidarity, to genius, to enterprise—and to fear. Each tribe knew with justification that if it was not armed and ready, its very existence was imperiled. [Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“Throughout history, the escalation of a large part of technology has had combat as its central purpose. Today the calendars of nations are punctuated by holidays to celebrate wars won and to perform memorial services for those who died waging them. Public support is best fired up by appeal to the emotions of deadly combat, over which the amygdala—a center for primary emotion in the brain—is grandmaster. We find ourselves in the “battle” to stem an oil spill, the “fight” to tame inflation, the “war” against cancer. Wherever there is an enemy, animate or inanimate, there must be a victory. You must prevail at the front, no matter how high the cost at home. /*/

“Any excuse for a real war will do, so long as it is seen as necessary to protect the tribe. The remembrance of past horrors has no effect. From April to June in 1994, killers from the Hutu majority in Rwanda set out to exterminate the Tutsi minority, which at that time ruled the country. In a hundred days of unrestrained slaughter by knife and gun, 800,000 people died, mostly Tutsi. The total Rwandan population was reduced by 10 percent. When a halt was finally called, 2 million Hutu fled the country, fearing retribution. The immediate causes for the bloodbath were political and social grievances, but they all stemmed from one root cause: Rwanda was the most overcrowded country in Africa. For a relentlessly growing population, the per capita arable land was shrinking toward its limit. The deadly argument was over which tribe would own and control the whole of it. /*/

20120207-Tadrart Acacus Libya.jpg
Saharan rock art

Universality of Conflict?

E. O. Wilson wrote: “Once a group has been split off from other groups and sufficiently dehumanized, any brutality can be justified, at any level, and at any size of the victimized group up to and including race and nation. And so it has ever been. A familiar fable is told to symbolize this pitiless dark angel of human nature. A scorpion asks a frog to ferry it across a stream. The frog at first refuses, saying that it fears the scorpion will sting it. The scorpion assures the frog it will do no such thing. After all, it says, we will both perish if I sting you. The frog consents, and halfway across the stream the scorpion stings it. Why did you do that, the frog asks as they both sink beneath the surface. It is my nature, the scorpion explains. [Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“War, often accompanied by genocide, is not a cultural artifact of just a few societies. Nor has it been an aberration of history, a result of the growing pains of our species’ maturation. Wars and genocide have been universal and eternal, respecting no particular time or culture. Archaeological sites are strewn with the evidence of mass conflicts and burials of massacred people. Tools from the earliest Neolithic period, about 10,000 years ago, include instruments clearly designed for fighting. One might think that the influence of pacific Eastern religions, especially Buddhism, has been consistent in opposing violence. Such is not the case. Whenever Buddhism dominated and became the official ideology, war was tolerated and even pressed as part of faith-based state policy. The rationale is simple, and has its mirror image in Christianity: Peace, nonviolence, and brotherly love are core values, but a threat to Buddhist law and civilization is an evil that must be defeated. /*/

“Since the end of World War II, violent conflict between states has declined drastically, owing in part to the nuclear standoff of the major powers (two scorpions in a bottle writ large). But civil wars, insurgencies, and state-sponsored terrorism continue unabated. Overall, big wars have been replaced around the world by small wars of the kind and magnitude more typical of hunter-gatherer and primitively agricultural societies. Civilized societies have tried to eliminate torture, execution, and the murder of civilians, but those fighting little wars do not comply. /*/

Population Pressures and War

world population

E. O. Wilson wrote: ““The principles of population ecology allow us to explore more deeply the roots of mankind’s tribal instinct. Population growth is exponential. When each individual in a population is replaced in every succeeding generation by more than one—even by a very slight fraction more, say 1.01—the population grows faster and faster, in the manner of a savings account or debt. A population of chimpanzees or humans is always prone to grow exponentially when resources are abundant, but after a few generations even in the best of times it is forced to slow down. Something begins to intervene, and in time the population reaches its peak, then remains steady, or else oscillates up and down. Occasionally it crashes, and the species becomes locally extinct.[Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“What is the “something”? It can be anything in nature that moves up or down in effectiveness with the size of the population. Wolves, for example, are the limiting factor for the population of elk and moose they kill and eat. As the wolves multiply, the populations of elk and moose stop growing or decline. In parallel manner, the quantity of elk and moose are the limiting factor for the wolves: When the predator population runs low on food, in this case elk and moose, its population falls. In other instances, the same relation holds for disease organisms and the hosts they infect. As the host population increases, and the populations grow larger and denser, the parasite population increases with it. In history diseases have often swept through the land until the host populations decline enough or a sufficient percentage of its members acquire immunity. /*/

“There is another principle at work: Limiting factors work in hierarchies. Suppose that the primary limiting factor is removed for elk by humans’ killing the wolves. As a result the elk and moose grow more numerous, until the next factor kicks in. The factor may be that herbivores overgraze their range and run short of food. Another limiting factor is emigration, where individuals have a better chance to survive if they leave and go someplace else. Emigration due to population pressure is a highly developed instinct in lemmings, plague locusts, monarch butterflies, and wolves. If such populations are prevented from emigrating, the populations might again increase in size, but then some other limiting factor manifests itself. For many kinds of animals, the factor is the defense of territory, which protects the food supply for the territory owner. Lions roar, wolves howl, and birds sing in order to announce that they are in their territories and desire competing members of the same species to stay away. /*/

War, Territory and Resources

E. O. Wilson wrote: “Humans and chimpanzees are intensely territorial. That is the apparent population control hardwired into their social systems. What the events were that occurred in the origin of the chimpanzee and human lines—before the chimpanzee-human split of 6 million years ago—can only be speculated. I believe that the evidence best fits the following sequence. The original limiting factor, which intensified with the introduction of group hunting for animal protein, was food. Territorial behavior evolved as a device to sequester the food supply. Expansive wars and annexation resulted in enlarged territories and favored genes that prescribe group cohesion, networking, and the formation of alliances. [Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“For hundreds of millennia, the territorial imperative gave stability to the small, scattered communities of Homo sapiens, just as they do today in the small, scattered populations of surviving hunter-gatherers. During this long period, randomly spaced extremes in the environment alternately increased and decreased the population size so that it could be contained within territories. These demographic shocks led to forced emigration or aggressive expansion of territory size by conquest, or both together. They also raised the value of forming alliances outside of kin-based networks in order to subdue other neighboring groups. /*/

“Ten thousand years ago, at the dawn of the Neolithic era, the agricultural revolution began to yield vastly larger amounts of food from cultivated crops and livestock, allowing rapid growth in human populations. But that advance did not change human nature. People simply increased their numbers as fast as the rich new resources allowed. As food again inevitably became the limiting factor, they obeyed the territorial imperative. Their descendants have never changed. At the present time, we are still fundamentally the same as our hunter-gatherer ancestors, but with more food and larger territories. Region by region, recent studies show, the populations have approached a limit set by the supply of food and water. And so it has always been for every tribe, except for the brief periods after new lands were discovered and their indigenous inhabitants displaced or killed. /*/

“The struggle to control vital resources continues globally, and it is growing worse. The problem arose because humanity failed to seize the great opportunity given it at the dawn of the Neolithic era. It might then have halted population growth below the constraining minimum limit. As a species we did the opposite, however. There was no way for us to foresee the consequences of our initial success. We simply took what was given us and continued to multiply and consume in blind obedience to instincts inherited from our humbler, more brutally constrained Paleolithic ancestors. /*/

No, War Is Not Inevitable.

John Horgan wrote in Discover: “I have one serious complaint against Wilson, though. In his new book and elsewhere, he perpetuates the erroneous—and pernicious—idea that war is “humanity’s hereditary curse.” As Wilson himself points out, the claim that we are descended from a long line of natural-born warriors has deep roots—even the great psychologist William James was an advocate—but like many other old ideas about humans, it’s wrong. [Source: John Horgan, science writer, Discover, June 2012 /*/]

“The modern version of the “killer ape” theory depends on two lines of evidence. One consists of observations of Pan troglodytes, or chimpanzees, one of our closest genetic relatives, banding together and attacking chimps from neighboring troops. The other derives from reports of intergroup fighting among hunter-gatherers; our ancestors lived as hunter-gatherers from the emergence of the Homo genus until the Neolithic era, when humans began settling down to cultivate crops and breed animals, and some scattered groups still live that way. /*/

“But consider these facts. Researchers did not observe the first deadly chimpanzee raid until 1974, more than a decade after Jane Goodall started watching chimps at the Gombe reserve. Between 1975 and 2004, researchers counted a total of 29 deaths from raids, which comes to one killing for every seven years of observation of a community. Even Richard Wrangham of Harvard University, a leading chimpanzee researcher and prominent advocate of the deep-roots theory of war, acknowledges that “coalitionary killing” is “certainly rare.” /*/

“Some scholars suspect that coalitionary killing is a response to human encroachment on chimp habitat. At Gombe, where the chimps were well protected, Goodall spent 15 years without witnessing a single lethal attack. Many chimpanzee communities—and all known communities of bonobos, apes that are just as closely related to humans as chimps—have never been seen engaging in intertroop raids. /*/

“Even more important, the first solid evidence of lethal group violence among our ancestors dates back not millions, hundreds of thousands, or even tens of thousands of years, but only 13,000 years. The evidence consists of a mass grave found in the Nile Valley, at a location in modern-day Sudan. Even that site is an outlier. Virtually all other evidence for human warfare—skeletons with projectile points embedded in them, weapons designed for combat (rather than hunting), paintings and rock drawings of skirmishes, fortifications—is 10,000 years old or less. In short, war is not a primordial biological “curse.” It is a cultural innovation, an especially vicious, persistent meme, which culture can help us transcend. /*/

“The debate over war’s origins is vitally important. The deep-roots theory leads many people, including some in positions of power, to view war as a permanent manifestation of human nature. We have always fought, the reasoning goes, and we always will, so we have no choice but to maintain powerful militaries to protect ourselves from our enemies. In his new book, Wilson actually spells out his faith that we can overcome our self-destructive behavior and create a “permanent paradise,” rejecting the fatalistic acceptance of war as inevitable. I wish he would also reject the deep-roots theory, which helps perpetuate war.” /*/

Chimpanzee Warfare

Saharan art Chimpanzees share the human proclivity to territorial aggression and scientists are studying this kind of behavior among chimps to gain insights into the behavior of ancient humans. Studies of modern hunter gatherers show that when one group outnumbers another group it may attack and kill them. Chimpanzee display similar behavior.

In 1974 scientists at Gombe Reserve in Tanzania observed a gang of five chimpanzees attack a single male and hit, kick and bite him for twenty minutes. He suffered terrible wounds and was never seen again. A month later, a similar fate befell a male attacked by three members of the gang of five and he too disappeared — apparently dying from his wounds. The two victims were members of a splinter groups with seven males, three females and their young that were all eventually killed in a "war" that lasted four years. The victims were killed by a rival group that appeared to be attempting to claim territory they had previously lost or were seeking revenge for the transfer of a female from the aggressors group to the victims group. The "war" was the first example of inter-community violence ever observed in the animal kingdom.

In the 1990s scientists in Gabon noted that the population of chimpanzees had been reduced by 80 percent in areas logged in Lope National Park and the surviving animals demonstrated unusual aggressive and agitated behavior. Logging in Gabon rain's forest reportedly touched of a chimpanzee war that may have claimed the lives of as many 20,000 chimpanzees. Even though only about 10 percent of the trees had been selectively logged in the areas where the war occurred, the lost trees seem to have set of violent territorial battles. Biologists say the chimps near the logging areas were disturbed by the presence of humans and the noise generated by the logging machines and moved out of the area, fighting with and displacing other chimp communities, which in turn attacked their neighbor who then in turn attack their neighbors setting off a chain reaction of aggression and violence.

Harvard sociobiologist E. O. Wilson wrote: “A series of researchers, starting with Jane Goodall, have documented the murders within chimpanzee groups and lethal raids conducted between groups. It turns out that chimpanzees and human hunter-gatherers and primitive farmers have about the same rates of death due to violent attacks within and between groups. But nonlethal violence is far higher in the chimps, occurring between a hundred and possibly a thousand times more often than in humans. [Source: E. O. Wilson, Discover, June 12, 2012 /*/]

“The patterns of collective violence in which young chimp males engage are remarkably similar to those of young human males. Aside from constantly vying for status, both for themselves and for their gangs, they tend to avoid open mass confrontations with rival troops, instead relying on surprise attacks. The purpose of raids made by the male gangs on neighboring communities is evidently to kill or drive out their members and acquire new territory. There is no certain way to decide on the basis of existing knowledge whether chimpanzees and humans inherited their pattern of territorial aggression from a common ancestor or whether they evolved it independently in response to parallel pressures of natural selection and opportunities encountered in the African homeland. From the remarkable similarity in behavioral detail between the two species, however, and if we use the fewest assumptions required to explain it, a common ancestry seems the more likely choice. /*/

Violence at a 7000-Year-Old Farming Community in Germany

Seven-thousand-year-old skeletons with shattered skulls and shin bones found in a mass grave in Germany, some archaeologist argue, could be signs of torture and mutilation in an early Neolithic culture. Emily Mobley wrote in The Guardian: “The chance discovery of a mass grave crammed with the battered skeletons of ancient Europeans has shed light on the lethal violence that tore through one of the continent’s earliest farming communities. In 2006, archaeologists were called in after road builders in Germany uncovered a narrow ditch filled with human bones as they worked at a site in Schöneck-Kilianstädten, 20km north-east of Frankfurt. They have now identified the remains as belonging to a 7000-year-old group of early farmers who were part of the Linear Pottery culture, which gained its name from the group’s distinctive style of ceramic decoration. [Source: Emily Mobley, The Guardian, August 17, 2015 ~~]

“In the seven metre-long, V-shaped pit, researchers found the skeletons of 26 adults and children, who were killed by devastating strikes to the head or arrow wounds. The skull fractures are classic signs of blunt force injuries caused by basic stone age weapons. Along with close-quarter fighting, attackers used bows and arrows to ambush their neighbours. Two arrowheads made of animal bone were found in the soil stuck to the skeletons. They are thought to have been inside the bodies when they were placed in the pit. More than half of the individuals had their legs broken in acts of apparent torture or posthumous mutilation. The smashed-in shin bones could represent a new form of violent torture not seen before in the group. ~~

“In the Linear Pottery culture, each person was given their own grave within a cemetery, the body carefully arranged and often buried with grave goods such as pottery and other possessions. By contrast, in the mass grave the bodies lay scattered. Christian Meyer, an archaeologist who led the study at the University of Mainz, believes the attackers meant to terrorise others and demonstrate that they could annihilate an entire village. The site of the mass grave, which dates back to about 5000BC, is located near an ancient border between different communities, where conflict was likely. “On one hand you are curious about finding out more about this, but also shocked to see what people can do to each other,” he said. Details of the study are reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. ~~ “In the 1980s, a number of similar mass graves were found in Talheim, Germany, and Asparn, Austria. The latest grim discovery bolsters evidence for prehistoric warfare in the final years of the culture, and points to torture and mutilation not recorded before. “This is a classic case where we find the ‘hardware’: the skeletal remains, the artefacts, everything that is durable we can find in the graves. But the ‘software’: what people were thinking, why they were doing things, what their mindset was at this time, of course was not preserved,” Meyer said.

Theories About What Happened at a 7000-Year-Old Farming Community in Germany

Emily Mobley wrote in The Guardian: “The scientists’ best guess is that a small farming village was massacred and thrown into a pit nearby. The skeletons of young women were absent from the grave, which suggests that the attackers may have taken the women captive after killing their families . It is likely that fighting broke out over limited farming resources, upon which people depended for survival. Unlike their nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors, people of the Linear Pottery culture settled into a farming lifestyle. Communities cleared forests to farm crops and lived in timber longhouses alongside their livestock. [Source: Emily Mobley, The Guardian, August 17, 2015 ~~]

“The landscape soon became full of farming communities, putting a strain on natural resources. Along with adverse climate change and drought, this led to tension and conflict. In acts of collective violence, communities would come together to massacre their neighbours and take their land by force. ~~

“Lawrence Keeley, an anthropologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago, said that alongside Talheim and Asparn, this latest massacre discovery fits a pattern of common and murderous warfare. “The only reasonable interpretation of these cases, as here, is that a whole typically-sized Linear Pottery culture hamlet or small village was wiped out by killing the majority of its inhabitants and kidnapping the young women. This represents yet another nail in the coffin of those who have claimed that war was rare or ritualised or less awful in prehistory or, in this instance, the early Neolithic.” ~~

“But he is doubtful that the victims’ legs were broken through acts of torture. “Torture focuses on the parts of the body with the most nerve cells: the feet, pubis, hands and head. I can’t think of anywhere that torture involved breaking the tibia. “This is rank speculation, but there are ethnographic instances of disabling the ghost or spirits of the dead, especially enemies. Such mutilations were done to prevent enemy spirits from following home, haunting or doing mischief to the killers. These motives seem most likely to me. Or perhaps it was done to further revenge by crippling the enemy’s spirits in the afterlife,” he added.” ~~

6,000-Year-Old Massacre in France

Cave painting of a battle between archers, Morella la Vella, Spain.

In 2016, archaeologists said they had found the remains of a 6,000-year-old massacre that took place in Alsace in eastern France, saying it was likely carried out by "furious ritualised warriors". AFP reported: “At a site outside Strasbourg, the corpses of 10 individuals were found in one of 300 ancient "silos" used to store grain and other food, a team from France's National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) told reporters. [Source: AFP, June 7, 2016 */]

“The Neolithic group appeared to have died violent deaths, with multiple injuries to their legs, hands and skulls. The way in which the bodies were piled on top of each other suggested they had been killed together and dumped in the silo. "They were very brutally executed and received violent blows, almost certainly from a stone axe," said Philippe Lefranc, a specialist on the period for Inrap.

“The skeletons of five adults and one adolescent were found, as well as four arms from different individuals. The arms were likely "war trophies" like those found at a nearby burial site of Bergheim in 2012, said Lefranc. He said the mutilations indicated a society of "furious ritualised warriors", while the silos were stored within a defence wall that pointed towards "a troubled time, a period of insecurity".

Warfare at Tell Hamoukar

The oldest known example of large scale warfare is from a fierce battle that took place at Tell Hamoukar around 3500 B.C. Evidence of intense fighting include collapsed mud walls that had undergone heavy bombardment; the presence of 1,200 oval-sapped “bullets” flung from slings and 120 large round balls. Graves held skeletons of likely battle victims. Reichel told the New York Times the clash appeared to have been a swift, rapid attack: “buildings collapse, burning out of control, burying everything in them under a vast pile of rubble.”

No one knows who the attacker of Tell Hamoukar was but circumstantial evidence points to Mesopotamia cultures to the south. The battle may have been between northern and southern Near Eastern cultures when the two cultures were relative equally, with the victory by the south giving them an edge and paving the way for them to dominate the region. Large amount of Uruk pottery was found on layers just above the battle. Reichel told the New York Times,”If the Uruk people weren’t the ones firing the sling bullets, they certainly benefitted from it. They are all over this place right after its destruction.”

Discoveries at Tell Hamoukar have changed thinking about the evolution of civilization in Mesopotamia. It was previously though that civilization developed in Sumerian cities like Ur and Uruk and radiated outward in the form of trade, conquest and colonization. But findings in Tell Hamoukar show that many indicators of civilization were present in northern places like Tell Hamoukar as well as in Mesopotamia and around 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C. the two placed were pretty equal.

Peaceful Jomon People in Japan

Jomon people

In a study published in the journal Biology Letters, researchers said they found little evidence of violence or warfare among on Jomon people skeletons. Researchers in Japan searched the country looking for sites of violence similar to the one at Nataruk, described above, and found none, leading them to surmise that violence is not an inescapable aspect of human nature. [Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, April 1, 2016 \=]

Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post: “They found that the average mortality rate due to violence for the Jomon was just under 2 percent. (By way of comparison, other studies of the prehistoric era have put that figure somewhere around 12 to 14 percent.) What's more, when the researchers sought out “hot spots” of violence — places where lots of injured individuals were clustered together — they couldn't find any. Presumably, if the Jomon had engaged in warfare, archaeologists would have bunches of skeletons all in a heap...That no such bunches seemed to exist suggests that wars weren't being fought. \=\

Archaeologists have yet to find any evidence of battles or wars during the Jomon Period, a remarkable finding considering the period spanned 10,000 years. Other evidence of the peaceful nature of Jomon people includes: 1) no signs of walled settlements, defences, ditches or moats; 2) no finds of unusually large numbers of weapons such as lances, spears, bows and arrows; and 3) no evidence of human sacrifice nor masses of unceremonially dumped bodies. Nevertheless, there is evidence that violence and aggression occurred. The hip bone of a male individual, dated to the Initial Jomon period, was found at Kamikuroiwa Site in n Ehime Prefecture, Shikoku, that had been perforated by a bone point. Arrowheads have been found in bones and broken crania at other sites dated to the Final Jomon Period. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website,]

Peaceful Jomon People and What It says About Human Nature

Sarah Kaplan wrote in the Washington Post: “The implication of both those finds, the authors argue, is that humans are not as innately drawn to violence as the Nataruk group [a group of bones found in Kenya that date to the same time and display signs of violence] and Thomas Hobbes might lead us to believe. “It is possibly misleading to treat a few cases of massacre as representative of our hunter-gatherer past without an exhaustive survey," they wrote in their study. “We think warfare depends on specific conditions, and the Japanese data indicate that we should examine these more closely." This innocuous-sounding assertion hits at the heart of an ongoing debate in the field of anthropology: Where does our violence come from, and is it getting better or worse? [Source: Sarah Kaplan, Washington Post, April 1, 2016 \=]

“One school of thought holds that coordinated conflict, and eventually all-out warfare, arose with the establishment of permanent settlements and the development of agriculture. Though it smacks of 18th century sentimentalism, not to mention racism (the idea of a “noble savage” whose innate goodness has not been corrupted by civilization was used to justify all manner of abuses against non-European people) there is a logic to this way of thinking. Farming is associated with the accumulation of wealth, the concentration of power and the evolution of hierarchies — not to mention the rise of good-old-fashioned notion “this is mine” — all phenomena that make it more likely that one group of people will band together to attack another. \=\

“But other anthropologists ascribe to the Thomas Hobbesian notion that people have an innate capacity for brutality — though perhaps modern civilization gives us more outlets for expressing it. Luke Glowacki, a Harvard University anthropologist who studies the evolutionary roots of violence, believes that the Nataruk discovery illustrated this second view. “This new study shows that warfare can and did occur in the absence of agriculture and complex social organization," he told Scientific American in January. “It fills in important gaps in our understanding of the human propensity for violence and suggests a continuum between chimpanzee raiding and full-blown human warfare." \=\

“Some studies have even suggested that violence is essential to our evolution. In a 2009 study in the journal Science, the economist Samuel Bowles modeled how prehistoric warfare may have given rise to complex communities that took care of one another — forming the genetic basis of altruism — because evolution favored groups that were able to get along during their violent pursuit of victory over others. If that's the case, the authors of the Japanese study say, inter-group violence must have been pretty pervasive during the prehistoric period — that's the only way it could have so dramatically shaped human evolution in a relatively short span of time. \=\

“But their study, and others like it, have found hunter-gatherer societies where lethal conflict was relatively rare. “We are not asserting warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers in all areas and times," they write. “However … it is possibly misleading to treat a few cases of massacre as representative of our hunter-gatherer past without an exhaustive survey." Instead, they argue, warfare is probably the product of other forces — scarce resources, changing climates, growing populations. This actually isn't so different from an argument made by Mirazon Lahr, the lead author on the Nataruk study. Even though the human capacity for violence is deep-rooted, it doesn't get expressed in all-out war until it is triggered by the right array of circumstances: a sense of membership in a group, the existence of an authority to command it and a good reason — land, food, wealth — to risk your life. “Being able to carry out violence is a prerequisite for warfare," she told Discover. But, “one does not necessarily lead to the other." \=\

Study Concludes Warfare Isn’t Part of Human Nature

A study published in Science in July 2013 concluded that warfare is necessarily an intrisic part of primitive societies. Monte Morin wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “It's been argued that warfare is as old as humanity itself — that the affairs of primitive society were marked by chronic raiding and feuding between groups. Now, a new study argues just the opposite. After reviewing a database of present-day ethnographies for 21 hunter-gatherer societies — groups that most closely resemble our evolutionary past — researchers at Abo Akademi University in Finland concluded that early man had little need or cause for war. [Source: Monte Morin, Los Angeles Times, July 19, 2013 +||+]

“Though these so-called mobile forager band societies — referred to in the report as MFBS — were not free of violence, researchers said the mayhem was very unorganized and seldom involved rival groups. In fact, the violence practiced by these wandering societies was overwhelmingly murder, plain and simple, according to Douglas Fry, an anthropology professor, and Patrik Soderberg, a developmental psychology graduate student. "Many lethal disputes involved two men competing over a particular woman (sometimes the wife of one of them), revenge homicide exacted by family members of a victim (often aimed at the specific person responsible for the previous killing), and interpersonal quarrels of various kinds; for instance, stealing of honey, insults or taunting, incest, self-defense or protection of a loved-one," authors wrote. +||+

“The researchers examined 148 killings and their reported cause. For the most part, the 21 groups were peaceful, but one group in particular stood out for its violence, the Tiwi of Australia. They generated nearly half of the lethal events. "The findings suggest that MFBS are not particularly warlike if the actual circumstances of lethal aggression are examined. Fifty-five percent of the lethal events involved a sole perpetrator killing only one individual (64 percent if the atypical Tiwi are removed). One-person-killing-one-person reflects homicide or manslaughter, not coalitional killing or war," the authors wrote.

“Only 15 percent of the lethal events occurred across societal lines, however. The authors listed numerous factors that made warfare among hunter-gatherer societies very unlikely. Small group size, large foraging areas and low population density were not conducive to organized conflict. If groups didn't get along, they were more likely to put distance between them than fight, authors said. +||+

“Foraging societies are also more egalitarian than sedentary societies and lack clear leadership to organize for war. Likewise, their roaming lifestyle made it difficult to capitalize on conquest. "Typical spoils of war — material goods or stored food — are largely lacking, and the necessity of mobility makes the capture and containment of individuals against their will (e.g., slaves or brides) impractical," authors wrote. Because of this, the authors argue that warfare is a behavior that humans adopted more recently, after we abandoned a hunter-gatherer lifestyle.” +||+

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Nature, Scientific American. Live Science, Discover magazine, Discovery News, Ancient Foods ; Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, BBC, The Guardian, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson (Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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