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Este Blogue é um estudo da Associação Projecto Raia Alentejana e tem como objectivo a discussão da violência em geral e da guerra na Pré-História em particular. A Arqueologia da Península Ibérica tem aqui especial relevo. Esperamos cruzar dados de diferentes campos do conhecimento com destaque para a Antropologia Social. As críticas construtivas são bem vindas neste espaço, que se espera, de conhecimento.

Guerra Primitiva\Pré-Histórica
Violência interpessoal colectiva entre duas ou mais comunidades políticas distintas, com o uso de armas tendo como objectivo causar fatalidades, por um motivo colectivo sem hipótese de compensação.


Friday, 6 March 2009

Origins of war: Mesolithic conflict in Europe - Nick Thorpe

Review by Simon Denison
The Mesolithic era is often characterised as a kind of golden age of harmony with nature and peaceful co-existence between people. Not so, writes Nick Thorpe
Eight and a half thousand years ago a small community was massacred in southern Germany. Stone clubs flew against skulls. Women screamed; children cowered in shocked silence. No one was spared.
Most of the men seem to have been away, perhaps hunting for the rest of the group. Those that remained put up stout resistance against their attackers. But they were all killed too.
Evidence of the massacre was uncovered a century ago by archaeologists excavating Ofnet cave in Bavaria. They found two pits containing 38 decapitated skulls. Most had belonged to children under 15 years old, including several under five.
Two thirds of the adults were women, but the men suffered the most wounds - some had been struck as many as seven times. Several skulls had cut-marks suggesting they had been scalped.
Their burial was particularly curious. It many ways it resembles a conventional burial of this date.
The skulls were covered in red ochre. Pierced red deer teeth and shells were included in the grave.
So were these scalped, decapitated heads buried, reverently and tearfully, by the absent men on their return - who chose not to bury the remainder of the bodies? Or, perhaps more likely, do the skulls represent the booty from a head-hunting expedition, which was later given a ceremonial burial? We cannot be sure.
Massacres were not uncommon in prehistoric Europe. Perhaps the most dramatic case we know took place at Talheim in south-west Germany, where a mass grave dating from about 5000 BC contained 34 men, women and children, killed by multiple axe and adze blows to the back of the head. Three of the dead had also been shot with arrows from behind. Here the victims had been unceremoniously thrown into a pit without grave goods.
What is remarkable about the earlier event at Ofnet is not so much the fact of massacre as the date. The Ofnet community of hunter-gatherers were slaughtered in the Mesolithic period, often characterised as a kind of golden age of harmony with nature and peaceful co-existence between people.
Archaeologists have for some years been squeamish about prehistoric warfare. Many seem to want to imagine that there was no such thing, and war is a product of more modern times. Others argue that war started with the growth of centralised power blocs in the Bronze Age. Some agree to push the origins of war back to the Neolithic, when settled agriculture gave groups a cause to fight as resources became jealously guarded. The Talheim massacre may have marked the end of one such conflict over livestock or land. Yet accumulating archaeological evidence shows this vision of the past is much too rosy. It now seems there never was a golden age in which conflict was unknown. In the last issue of British Archaeology, Paul Pettitt wrote of the evidence for war between the earliest modern humans in Europe and Neanderthals. We also have clear signs of conflict between modern humans as far back as the last Ice Age.
Two late Palaeolithic bodies from about 11,000 BC have been found in Italy with flint points lodged in the bones. One, from San Teodoro cave in Sicily, was a woman with a flint point in her pelvis. The other was a child with a flint point in its backbone, found in the Grotta dei Fanciulli on the Italian mainland. Whether the points were spear-tips or arrowheads is unclear. The excavators in both cases thought they were arrows.
Far more evidence comes from the Mesolithic era, beginning after the end of the last Ice Age around 10,000 BC. The first strand of evidence is weaponry. Tools interpreted as battle axes and daggers are known from parts of Europe in this period. Arrows dating from about 8500 BC have been found at Stellmoor in Germany. Axes, normally seen as workaday tools of forest clearance, may well also have been used for attack (a male burial from Møllegabet in Denmark was found with a healed axe-wound in the head). Wooden weapons such as clubs survive only by chance, and may once have been common.
Some scholars have suggested that these weapons had symbolic value only and were not used in anger. This is surely wishful thinking - for an axe can hardly symbolise power unless its use, as an enforcer of power, has been practically demonstrated.
Rock art from the coastal region of south-eastern Spain has also been cited as evidence for organised, early conflict. Drawn in red pigment on cave walls, three examples are particularly telling. All show groups of archers. At Cueva del Roure, four figures confront three archers; at Les Dogues, 11 archers in one band confront nine in another; and at El Molino de las Fuentes 15 archers are ranged on one side against 20 on the other. These remarkable paintings seem to represent nothing less than pitched battles.
The art has traditionally been interpreted as Mesolithic as it contains no representations of farming. Recently the dating has been questioned on stylistic grounds, and many scholars now regard the art as Neolithic.
The issue remains unresolved.
Human remains with spearpoints or arrowheads stuck in the bones provide the most indisputable evidence for Mesolithic warfare (see
box). Such remains are widespread in Europe, from Atlantic France and Denmark in the West to the Ukraine in the East. Most date from after 7000 BC, when the number of human remains surviving from this period really takes off with the creation of cemeteries.
Alongside bows and arrows, clubs seem to have been a favourite weapon. In the early 1980s, Pia Bennicke of the University of Copenhagen studied all head injuries in the archaeological record in Denmark. She discovered that the proportion of skulls with fractures and dents was greater for the Mesolithic than for any subsequent period. Clubbing was not always fatal. Several examples of healed club injuries are known. But the evidence proves the Mesolithic was hardly a golden age of peace and universal goodwill between people.
As in Mesolithic Denmark, a high proportion of head injuries can be seen in the remains of prehistoric hunter-gatherers from California. Among these groups, fractures mostly occur among adult males, as do projectile injuries. A similar pattern has been recorded among the famously aggressive Yanomamö of the Amazon, much studied by anthropologists, where these generally non-lethal wounds have been confirmed as resulting from fighting with heavy wooden clubs.
So if conflict was widespread in the Mesolithic - perhaps for the first time in human history - what was its cause? Why did warfare begin?
Some may say that violence is fundamental to human nature. This is a notion based largely on analogies with primate behaviour. Among some primates, male competition over access to females takes a violent form, and some anthropologists have argued that this would have been the case in human prehistory. However, studies of non-western warring societies (such as the Yanomamö) suggest no such reproductive success occurs. Moreover, most of these theories are really derived from simplistic interpretations of chimpanzee behaviour which apply human notions such as warfare, so creating a circular argument.
I don't believe that warfare is inherent in human nature, or a constant feature of human history. Archaeology suggests that there have been times and places where conflict has been relatively common or uncommon.
Nor can there be any one universal cause of war. A highly developed territorial instinct has been suggested for Mesolithic groups (at least in Scandinavia) and at times, perhaps, conflicts may have arisen over land or economic resources. Such conflicts may have been most acute at the time of transition from the Mesolithic to the Neolithic, when incoming agriculturalists staked their claims to land. But much of the evidence for conflict dates to long before this.
Moreover, in New Guinean warfare - a classic subject of anthropological study - recent analyses suggest there is no simple relationship between land shortage and warfare, with some of the most warlike societies having fairly low population densities.
Many other causes of wars among modern hunter-gatherers have been noted. Raiding, slaving, fishing rights and individual insults are all known from anthropological accounts to have ended with fatalities.
My own belief is that warfare, in earliest prehistory, arose over matters of personal honour - such as slights, insults, marriages going wrong, or theft. In a small hunter-gatherer community, everyone is related. An attack on one group member is an attack on the whole family. A personal feud may quickly involve the whole community. From there it is a small step to war.

Killed, scalped and eaten
The remains of people who died in the Mesolithic in suspicious circumstances have been found all over Europe - in Portugal and Spain, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark and Sweden, Rumania, Greece and the Ukraine. Typically they are found with arrowheads in the back or chest, or with damaged skulls.
We can only guess at the cause of these people's deaths. Sometimes, though, the circumstances hint at a story.
At the Vedbæk cemetery on the Danish island of Zealand, an adult male was found with a bone point through the throat. He lay in a grave containing the bodies of a woman and one year-old child. They had been buried at the same time, suggesting that all three died suddenly and violently.
No obvious marks of violence were found on the woman or child, but the woman was found with a necklace of deer, pig, aurochs and human teeth around her neck and a flint knife below her jaw. Had her throat been cut, and that of the child? Had the man, a great warrior, been shot in conflict with a neighbouring group, and were they - the man's family - sacrificed to accompany him to the afterlife?
At Teviec in Brittany a male burial had two flint points embedded in his spine. Why two? Was he fleeing from more than one enemy? An outcast, perhaps, spurned and chased away by his furious community.
Some Mesolithic remains even bear the hallmarks of cannibalism. At Dyrholmen in Jutland, bones were found belonging to at least nine people. Skulls bore cutmarks suggesting scalping, and there were traces of cuts and fractures of bones - as if the assailants intended to reach the marrow.
Bones had also been broken open at Møllegabet in Denmark, and a male jaw broken to remove the front teeth. The excavator claimed that the teeth were removed to `become part of an ornament with which the victor could adorn himself'. It is a striking thought.

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