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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.


Saturday, 25 April 2009

Developments of cognitive capacities for violence in Bronze Age Ireland - Barry Molloy

in The Sixth World Archaeological Congress
29 June - 4 July 2008
University College Dublin
Session: The experiential role of violence and combat in the creation of social identities
Session organisers: Barry Molloy and Angelos Papadopoulos
Developments of cognitive capacities for violence in Bronze Age Ireland
Barry Molloy
UCD School of Archaeology


Introduction
Should warfare be seen as a defining characteristic of European Bronze Age societies as has been asserted by Anthony Harding (1999)? Was it really that important in the daily grind of prehistoric life to warrant such a dramatic claim? It will be argued in this paper that the evolution of formalised group combat fundamentally changed the ordering of prehistoric societies in Europe, as will be illustrated through the case study of Bronze Age Ireland. The use of the material culture from this specific dataset will provide a succinct example as to the impact that changes in combat modalities had on broader social trajectories, particularly through an increased level of specialisation of warrior skills.
The notion of so-called "warrior elites" in the Bronze Age of Europe has been around for as long as the discipline of archaeology, though this term has by now fallen out of favour with many. It is not my aim to engage in a quest for a more palatable way of expressing "warrior elites" or indeed to rehabilitate the term in and of itself. Instead, I would like to explore how the evolution of the material culture of combat demanded a commensurate increase in skill specialisation by those who used these weapons to kill one another, and what were the social and practical implications of such a development.
Violence and killing in formal warfare can be seen as acutely meaningful actions in that they are not the result of random aggression or belligerence, they are functional actions which were socially tailored and legitimated. Society expected these events to occur and it was structured to facilitate them to occur when needed – tools were designed and created and those who used these tools were selected (by family, skill or otherwise) and equipped. The complexity of the martial panoplies therefore reflects to some considerable extent both the expectations and requirements of warriors. This exploration of how the evolution of weaponry in Ireland impacted on society will begin in the Early Bronze Age where we first find artefacts which may be regarded as a tool of interpersonal violence – in particular, the dagger.


The Early Bronze Age
The first daggers which were in widespread use in Ireland could scarcely be called such given the short blades which they possessed. Their very basic design may owe equally to their heritage in weapons and tools of flint and to the novelty of the medium being used to manufacture them – copper (alloyed with arsenic and later tin). To call these early artefacts weapons may be slightly ostentatious, though their use to this end is one of several workaday purposes to which they may have been put. By the beginning of the second millennium BC in Ireland, the daggers in use were becoming increasingly complex and ornate in their form, with a parallel increase in the length of the objects, implying if not proving their increasing tendency to be used as weapons.
There is no doubt that the advances in the technology of manufacturing metal objects played an important role in this elaboration of daggers, and it may well have been that the more sophisticated pieces were a demonstration of the skills of the bronze smiths as much as for martial expediency. This relationship between technological advance, complexity of design, manufacturing skill, intended function and status symbol for the end user appears to have something of a linear pattern in their earliest manifestations, but as will be discussed below, the driving forces behind design become more complex as time goes on.
In their most basic essence, as an offensive weapon a dagger can cause serious injury through thrusting attacks and can inflict minor injuries using the cutting-edges. An important consideration relating to the use of daggers is the trajectories of attack which are utilised – due to the comparatively short blade, thrusting attacks follow closely, if not precisely, the natural trajectories of limb movements used in unarmed combat – essentially modified versions of punches. This is somewhat simplified, but it bears heavily on the range of body movements which are used when fighting with daggers which will of necessity incorporate elements of unarmed combat such as kicking and punching as well as grappling moves. In this sense, combat with bronze daggers is well within the parameters of combat / fighting styles that were millennia old in their essence. Even the use of tools which were multi-functional would have affected the perception of dagger-combat in society. While we cannot know what the social location or frequency of such combat was – the equivalent of bar brawls or gentlemanly duels – the actions undertaken were essentially basic and lacking the sophistication required for more complex weapon forms. Other weapons from hunting such as the bow and arrow in particular were most probably used in combat at this time also, but
do not appear to have had as large an impact on the subsequent development of combat weaponry as the dagger.
Another order of weapons which was in use alongside these daggers was the halberd, and this was a highly important development in the martial trajectory of prehistoric combat. The halberd blade was technologically very similar to the dagger and morphologically closely related – it had a triangular blade (sometimes gently curved) and was attached to its haft by means of rivets, as with the daggers. Where it differed dramatically was the nature of the organic component and the orientation of attacks. Rather than a short wooden or horn handle, the halberd was attached to the end of a long wooden pole, and most importantly, it was set at a right-angle to the shaft. O’ Flaherty (2007) has suggested the possibility of a shorter version with a shaft in the region of one meter and more common varieties with shafts in the region of around two meters.
Experiments carried out by O’Flaherty put paid to any likelihood that these were purely ceremonial or ritual weapons, and they were capable of penetrating the crania of (already slaughtered) sheep. One can extrapolate from this the likelihood that they were able to penetrate human skulls or to cause severe injury to muscle tissue or to the torso in particular. One cannot forget the organic component in itself which constituted the majority of the weapon and would have been effective as a percussive weapon complementing the penetrative element of copper alloy ‘weapon head’.
Unlike contemporary daggers, these weapons were not borrowed from existing tool categories and they served no presently known function beyond combat. While we cannot state the context of their use beyond the high probability of interpersonal combat, the manoeuvrability and space required to successfully execute strikes strongly implies that loose order formations were a necessity. While single-combats are again attractive as with daggers, their use in more complex situations involving several combatants is also possible, especially in the context of skirmishing. One must be hesitant to use the ambiguous catch-all term of "ritual combat", but if we define this as combat controlled by broad sets of regulations which were respected as part of formal conflict resolution mechanisms, one can envisage the halberd potentially used in single-combats and / or alongside daggers, (flint tipped) spears and potentially bows and arrows on the battlefield. A human rib-bone found in Poulnabrone portal tomb in Co. Clare had the tip of a flint arrowhead still embedded in it, thus adding the likelihood of this latter weapon being used on the field of combat.
It is difficult to move beyond such cursory outlines to suggest models of warfare, but one can see that the weapons involved were fairly rudimentary and were not yet capable of taking full advantage of the mechanical properties of bronze over and above stone weapons. Only the halberd marks a point of departure in the conduct of combat in that it introduces not only a tool peculiar to interpersonal combat, but also the need for warriors to develop specific skill-sets which are only applicable in this environment. For the first time in the prehistory of Ireland a particular form of object was characterised as a weapon of war and its users were not translating skills and tools of hunting to other ends but bearing weapons tailored to kill humans. Warrior skills, and the responsibilities entailed, were becoming increasingly complex.


The introduction of swords and spears in the Middle Bronze Age
Around 1600 BC, quite early in the period conventionally called the Middle Bronze Age, there were significant changes in the form and function of bladed weaponry, and the earliest form of sword was born in Ireland. It is sometimes suggested that these new weapons, conventionally called "Dirks" and "Rapiers" (see Molloy 2007) evolved from earlier dagger forms, though the biological undertones of such ‘evolutionary’ language perhaps detracts from the importance of combat traditions in this development.
The stylistic fashions which characterise these new weapons are borrowed from the existing design repertoire of bronze smiths, and indeed so is the hilting system. As a point of departure from the preceding daggers, these new weapons had a considerable range of sizes, many were 40cm long and more when hilted, and they were 6 to 8 mm thick. These relatively stocky proportions made many of them robust weapons suited to a limited range of cutting attacks as well as the thrusting attacks associated with daggers. It also dramatically altered the range at which combats would be fought, by virtue of the longer blades. Despite being comparatively short, these were beginning to operate more like swords, and it is perhaps no accident that the earliest evidence for shields in Ireland comes from around this time in the form of the Kilmahamogue shield former. Experiments carried out by the author (Molloy 2007) have proven that they were relatively effective at cutting attacks, and this opened up the manner in which combatants moved in combat in an unprecedented way, particularly as it offered them a whole new range of targets.
These new weapons therefore represent changes in combat styles that need not have simply ‘grown’ out of the existing ones or have developed as the skills of bronze casters increased
and longer castings became available. We must assert also the importance of martial intentionality, the desire of warriors using these tools in combat to have weapons with specific functional properties, particularly the extension of the blade to allow more effective cutting attacks to be made. In this sense it is possible that martial needs were driving the technological advance rather than vice versa. Tools or prestige items in the form of daggers were being replaced by weapons which were well suited to performing complex combat actions. While the halberd of the Early Bronze Age represented the introduction of a new form of specialised combat weapon, the leap forward from dagger to sword in the Middle Bronze Age introduces a weapon form which was to dominate the battlefields of Europe for millennia. We must not therefore underestimate the impact that the more complex forms of fighting that they facilitated had in Bronze Age societies. In themselves, they represent a significant change, but when taken in association with other martial developments in spearhead form, axe form and the introduction of the shield, it is clear that there were very important changes occurring in the way that society managed unrest, ambition or discontent.
With regard to the spearheads, the earliest examples were simple forms operating as stabbing implements when attached to the tip of long wooden shafts. In the centuries following the initial introduction of spearheads of bronze, the forms and related functions virtually exploded in their diversity so that by the end of the period there were a host of different spearheads in use alongside each other. Many of the spearheads had long thin cutting edges along with the (more obvious) threat of the sharp point. Some of these were stout robust weapons with long narrow blades, others were more fragile pieces of similar length with deeper cutting edges. Still other forms had very widely flaring convex blades with a broadly angled point, and the conventional short varieties suitable for thrusting and throwing continued to be manufactured. This richness in the forms that spearheads took would have reflected a similarly broad range in the modes in which they could be used. The spear and related pole-arms were slightly more numerous than the long daggers and swords, though when one takes account of the variety of types of each, it is clear that the entire offensive martial panoply was rich and provided for several different modes of attack.


The emergence of a "warrior identity" in the Middle Bronze Age
In the Middle Bronze Age (or early part of the Later Bronze Age) there was an unprecedented increase in the range of weapons being specifically designed for use in interpersonal combat, and a coeval development in the complexity of combat systems. Warfare was being
transformed into an entirely artificial operation, the new tailor-made tools and traditions of the Bronze Age warrior set him apart from male combatants of preceding millennia. This leads into the semantic minefield that we archaeologists so love - was there such thing as the fabled "warrior elite" and if so, what can we say about it? We must first of all pose questions in relation to the primary archaeological data if we are to explore issues relating to those who used these as weapons. Some pertinent lines of enquiry being – were they structurally sound weapons, did they have effective functional designs, were they complicated to use, how do they work in combination together or were they suited to single and / or multiple opponents?
These questions have been pursued at greater length in relation to experimental and use-wear analyses carried out by the author (Molloy 2006, 2007), though here specific mention is made in relation to the experience gained when addressing these questions during this research to date. Strength and dexterity are important factors in the effective use of these weapons, but it was determined that the most important element, perhaps unsurprisingly, was skill developed through repeatedly using swords in test cutting exercises. In the limited context of this academic research, it was clear that more training would have been required over a longer duration if there was a need to effectively undertake these actions in the heightened physiological state of a combat context (Grossman 1995). It is noted here that for many of the weapons which survive today, we are not looking at forms of ‘fool-proof’ spears provided to those press-ganged or drafted into service in other times and places, the swords and majority of the more elaborate spears (considerable in their number (Ramsey 1989)) of this epoch were weapons which could ONLY function effectively if used in trained hands. With the number and variety of weapons surviving to this day, this may well indeed be expected to be the case. Improper use would rapidly render these weapons useless due to the mechanical properties of bronze, and as practically determined by the damage inflicted in a number of poorly executed strikes by the author during test cutting with replica swords. The level of expertise may or may not have equated to martial arts skill levels in the modern sense of the phrase, but we can say with certainty that Bronze Age warriors had a level of complexity to their combat system sufficient to warrant being called a martial art, while allowing for significant variation in skill level therein on an individual basis.
Modern military psychology has shown how undertaking acts of violence and the training required to successfully undertake these acts when required has significant psychological effects on the majority of combatants. A direct analogy with warriors of the Bronze Age would be problematic at best, though it is important to consider the impact which the
requirements of performing acts of violence may have had in broad terms. While a concept of "warrior identity" was probably nothing new, the increased specialisation required by the new weapons would have necessitated increased interaction with weapons through training, making them explicitly more prominent in daily activities. Furthermore, the greater intensity and brutality of combat in this era was a marked departure from preceding periods in human development, and would have resulted in very different experiences for combatants resulting in longer term effects on their perception of the potential roles and functions of combat and warfare. This in turn would have necessarily altered cognitive capacities for violence on an individual and group level, as the specialised tools of violence became increasingly effective and multivariate in their applications and forms of combat became ever more "up close and personal". To identify oneself as a warrior and to undertake the acts of a warrior was a transformative process, and one which became more acutely so as weapons panoplies and combat systems became more complex.
What is of central importance is that the actual weapons which were used in combat give us a keen insight into the complexity of the combat systems, and in turn indicate a significant increase in the level of skill specialisation in the undertaking of combat over and above the Early Bronze Age. The time and resources required are strong circumstantial evidence that such specialisation was not pursued equally by all adult males on the island, and so combat skills and obligations were likely to have set some members of society apart as "warriors".
The Late Bronze Age
Developments in the Late Bronze Age were to compound and further concretise the important role of the warrior in prehistoric Ireland. The grip-tongue swords of the Late Bronze Age in Ireland were markedly different than their predecessors as they were a direct intrusion of weapon style from the continent following a pattern of upheavals and change that spread across Europe around the century 1250 – 1150 BC (Eogan 1965; Cowen 1951, 1966). These new swords were more robust and versatile than the existing weapons, though how much they could have changed warfare remains something of an open question.
In Ireland, the new swords were adopted wholesale throughout the island in a relatively short time, probably within a single generation, though this was not a simple process of replacement of the old with the new. The intrusive sword tradition was itself adapted by local weapon smiths in many areas of Ireland to better complement the existing combat traditions, particularly in a band across the island incorporating the provinces of Leinster and
Connaught. The new weapons had a shorter reach and were more quickly deployed than their continental ancestors by virtue of their decreased length and weight. We can see in this a pattern whereby new intrusive weapon forms are adapted to fit into the existing martial arts traditions, particularly the light and fast Middle Bronze Age swords of Ireland (Molloy, forthcoming). This illustrates the level that the combat systems already in place were embedded in society, specifically through the medium of combat practitioners or warriors.
The spearheads of Late Bronze Age Ireland have functional affinities with weapons across the continent, but in typological terms they are distinctly local forms. They follow on from the Middle Bronze Age tradition of having several distinct forms in contemporary use (Molloy 2006). The basal-looped spearheads of the Middle Bronze Age continued in use for the earlier part of the Late Bronze Age also into the first millennium BC. While forms therefore changed with time, the continuity of functional attributes, and importantly the diversity inherent in these attributes, is attested in swords, spears and shields. Axes again follow from continental leads in insular formats, but are in functional terms rather similar to their earlier incarnations, though their inclusion in Irish weapon hoards may suggest that they were being more commonly used in battle.
The Late Bronze Age marks many significant changes in the martial panoplies, and these were largely instigated by broader changes in martial arts and weaponry across the continent at this time, but the way in which warfare was conducted in Ireland was not dramatically changed as indicated by the settlement evidence in particular. Importantly, the role of the warrior in society appears to have continuity through the middle second millennium into the first millennium, an expanse of over a thousand years. This is not to suggest a monolithic unchanging society as many other categories of evidence from pollen to pots show considerable patterns of change. The tradition of warriorhood was embedded in the fabric of society as it was an intrinsic aspect of male identity for many, as evidenced by the continued interest in weapon possession.


Conclusion
From the halberd of the Early Bronze Age to the swords of the Late Bronze Age we can see a trajectory for the role of warrior skills in social systems slowly begin and then to take hold, increasing in intensity and importance through time. To the age old adage of ‘fight or flight’ Grossman (1995) added the alternatives also of ‘posture’ and ‘submit’ allowing for assertion of will through gesture. When we look to the loose order combat of the Early Bronze Age
when skirmishing and single combats appear to have prevailed, one may consider the possibility that sizing up or cowing down before a foe interspersed with actions of fight and / or flight may fit well with what some may define as "ritual warfare" (e.g. Keegan 1994).
The "weapons revolution" of the Middle Bronze Age changed the way in which communities interacted, and based on the modified and increasingly artificial context of combat it became possible to use violence in a more broadly encompassing fashion when pursuing social or political agendas. Combat modalities became more intense and the efficacy of the weapons indicates that it became commensurately more bloody and violent. It introduces new threats and new securities at the same time – larger communities as control of landscape becomes more sustainable.
The production of weapons en masse in Middle and Late Bronze Age indicates an institutionalisation of violence as a legitimate and socially sanctioned activity, and this was a dramatic step in altering the trajectories of human societies in much the same way as the often debated ‘Agricultural Revolution’ had millennia earlier. If we are to populate the social world of prehistory, this martial aspect was certainly one of the most striking and exciting manifestations of cultural activity whether through hunting, agonistic combat and displays, territorial ‘management’ or actual mortal combat. Whether we choose to say warrior elites or not, the evolution of more complex martial arts parallel to the more complex weapon varieties was not a neutral social process based simply on passive possession of a new artefact form. The use of these artefacts and the artificial context in which they were used allowed for forms of combat which could include greater numbers of participants and were potentially more brutal and bloody. We simply cannot underestimate the impact that this had on society, as it was contemporary with other important developments in the Bronze Age world such as significantly increasing land clearance and changes in burial practices. Society was changing and warfare would have played an active role in this, whether it was the primary process driving these changes or not.

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