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"Warfare Among Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherers"



(p. A7) The scene was a lagoon on the shore of Lake Turkana in Kenya. The time about 10,000 years ago. One group of hunter-gatherers attacked and slaughtered another, leaving the dead with crushed skulls, embedded arrow or spear points, and other devastating wounds.

The dead, said the scientists who reported the discovery Wednesday [January 20, 2016] in the journal Nature, seem to have been scattered in no apparent order, and eventually covered and preserved by sediment from the lake. Of 12 relatively complete skeletons, 10 showed unmistakable signs of violent death, the scientists said. Partial remains of at least 15 other people were found at the site and are thought to have died in the same attack.

The bones at the lake, in northern Kenya, tell a tale of ferocity. One man was hit twice in the head by arrows or small spears and in the knee by a club. A woman, pregnant with a 6- to 9-month-old fetus, was killed by a blow to the head, the fetal skeleton preserved in her abdomen. The position of her hands and feet suggest that she may have been tied up before she was killed.

Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection. Others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided.


. . .


Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert A. Foley, of Cambridge University and the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a team of other scientists, concluded in Nature that the find represented warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed. "There's no other find like it," he said.

With Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Dr. Glowacki has traced the evolutionary roots of human warfare in chimpanzee behavior. And, he said, this find "shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture."



For the full story, see:

JAMES GORMAN. "Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers." The New York Times (Thurs., JAN. 21, 2016): A7.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 20, 2016, and has the title "Prehistoric Massacre Hints at War Among Hunter-Gatherers.")


The Nature article mentioned above, is:

Lahr, M. Mirazón, F. Rivera, R. K. Power, A. Mounier, B. Copsey, F. Crivellaro, J. E. Edung, J. M. Maillo Fernandez, C. Kiarie, J. Lawrence, A. Leakey, E. Mbua, H. Miller, A. Muigai, D. M. Mukhongo, A. Van Baelen, R. Wood, J. L. Schwenninger, R. Grün, H. Achyuthan, A. Wilshaw, and R. A. Foley. "Inter-Group Violence among Early Holocene Hunter-Gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya." Nature 529, no. 7586 (Jan. 21, 2016): 394-98.






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