Monday, July 22, 2013

War Before Civilization?

Humans aren't angels, but large-scale war and killing appears to be a consequence of settled farming societies:
Researchers from Abo Academy University in Finland say that violence in early human communities was driven by personal conflicts rather than large-scale battles.They say their findings suggest that war is not an innate part of human nature, but rather a behaviour that we have adopted more recently. The study is published in the journal Science.

Patrik Soderberg, an author of the study, said: "This research questions the idea that war was ever-present in our ancestral past. It paints another picture where the quarrels and aggression were primarily about interpersonal motives instead of groups fighting against each other."

The research team based their findings on isolated tribes from around the world that had been studied over the last century. Cut off from modern life and surviving off wild plants and animals, these groups live like the hunter gatherers of thousands of years ago. "They are the kind of societies that don't really rely on agriculture or domestic animals - they are primitive societies," explained Mr Soderberg. "About 12,000 years ago, we assume all humans were living in this kind of society, and that these kind of societies made up about for about 90% of our evolutionary path."

Using the modern tribes as an analogy for earlier society, the researchers looked at cases where violent deaths had been documented. They found 148 such deaths but very few were caused by war. "Most of these incidents of lethal aggression were what we call homicides, a few were feuds and only the minority could be labelled as war," Mr Soderberg said.

"Over half the events were perpetrated by lone individuals and in 85% of the cases, the victims were members of the same society." Most of the killings were driven by personal motives, he added, such as family feuds or adultery. The researchers admitted that modern communities were not a perfect model for ancient societies, but said the similarities were significant and did provide an insight into our past.

Mr Soderberg said: "It questions the idea that human nature, by default, is developed in the presence of making war and that war is a driving force in human evolution." Instead, he thinks that war may have developed later. As the hunter gatherers made the transition to farming, groups became more territorial and with a more complex social structure. "As humans settled down, then war becomes more dominant and present. For these primitive societies, war has not yet entered the picture," he added.
Primitive human society 'not driven by war' (BBC). I may have to head to my local library to pick up a copy of this study. I wonder what other things about "primitive" societies may be untrue. Maybe they didn't all die at 18 either.

Incidentally, this is from an earlier post. Note how the violence escalates after the transition to a farming/herding way of life and the scuttle for scarce land:
Linda Fibiger, an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and her colleagues focused on the late Stone Age, when European hunter-gatherers had transitioned into farming or herding animals.

Some mass graves unearthed from that time contained mostly males who had died in violent conflicts. As such, researchers had thought women were spared from conflicts due to their potential childbearing value, Fibiger told LiveScience. But looking only at the aftermath of big, bloody conflicts can obscure the day-to-day realities of Neolithic farmers. "It would be like only looking at a war zone to assess violence," Fibiger said. "That's not going to tell you what's going on in your neighborhood."

To see what more humdrum days looked like for these Stone Age farmers, the team assessed 378 skulls from collections throughout Sweden and Denmark from between 3900 B.C. and 1700 B.C. They distinguished bumps due to falls or accidents from violent wounds, which might leave evidence such as an "axe-shaped hole in the skull," Fibiger said.
Nearly 10 percent of the Swedish skulls exhibited signs of violent injury, and nearly 17 percent of the Danish skulls had such wounds. Men had more nonfatal injuries, but women were just as likely as men to have lethal head wounds — which can be identified because they never healed. That suggests these ancient herders routinely experienced violence, likely due to raids, family feuds, or other daily skirmishes with competing groups, Fibiger said.
Battered Skulls Reveal Violence Among Stone Age Women (Live Science)

See also: Farming 'spread by migrant wave' (BBC) and How European Farmers Spread Agriculture Across Continent (Live Science)

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