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Ancient History

Is War as Old as Mankind? These 10,000-Year-Old Bones Are the Earliest Evidence of Human Warfare



human warfare

Have you ever wondered when and how war emerged among humans? Is it the brutality of human nature that makes people fight against each other or are they forced to do so by the circumstances? This issue has been discussed for thousands of years by some of the greatest philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Hobbes.

Anthropologists are divided and support different opinions. On the one hand, some of them suggest that warfare is connected to the development of complex societies with political hierarchies. On the other hand, some believe that war emerged after the agricultural revolution when people had collected enough resources, which were worth fighting over. Here is another theory supported by researchers: a theory related to chimpanzees, as they are considered humans’ closest living relatives. According to it, chimpanzees organize violent attacks on lone chimps that enter their territory.

During a new study, researchers have discovered evidence of a battle or a violent conflict that took place about 10,000 years ago. This could be the oldest evidence of conflict among humans. They unearthed the bones of 27 people – men, women and children. These bones were discovered at a site called Naturak, on the southwest edges of Lake Turkana, in 2012. Researcher of human evolutionary biology at the University of Cambridge Marta Mirazón Lahr was responsible for a project which was aimed to study Homo Sapiens in East Africa.

The signs of violent injury on these bones were obvious. There were clubbing wounds or wounds from an arrow. Many of the bodies had blunt head wounds, as well as arrow wounds to the head and neck. According to the researchers, the murder weapons were probably bows and arrows, as well as wooden clubs. A woman was found lying on her side, with broken knees, with her wrists in front, as if they were bound.

The bones were buried in a lagoon and were in the process of being revealed, as some of them were partially visible at the surface. After the researchers had dug deeper, 27 skeletons were unearthed, some nearly complete and some with just a few fragments. The scientists dated them all to between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago.

Robert Foley, anthropologist and archeologist at the University of Cambridge in England and co-author of the study, suggests: “That scale of death — it can’t be an individual murder or homicide amongst families. It was a result of some intergroup conflict.”

Is fighting against each other part of the human nature? One thing is certain, as Dr. Foley said: “The new findings suggest that war or warlike conflict is a truly ancient part of the human experience”.



Image credit: Marta Mirazón Lahr

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