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

The Origins of Violence – Mesolithic conflict in Europe by I. J. Nick Thorpe

Paper presented at European Association of Archaeologists meeting 16th September 1999 in Bournemouth (UK)
by I. J. Nick Thorpe King Alfred's College, Winchester, UK

Recent DNA analysis suggests that some 500, 000 years ago our homo erectus ancestors were reduced in number to perhaps only a thousand individuals. David Woodruff, senior biologist on the team believes that genocide is the most likely cause: "In our success came a need to remove the competition... It's my favourite explanation." [Brookes 1999]

As always, when considering early prehistoric evidence for warfare, it is impossible to avoid one basic question – are warfare and violence fundamental to human nature?

First I should perhaps give a definition of warfare, as this has been a major debating point in the past – it is defined here as organised aggression between autonomous political units. I see no great value in too tight a definition, however, as for example, in many ethnographically recorded societies, the distinction between warfare and feuding (actions taken by individuals against members of another group) is rather artificial, since feuds frequently escalate into war.

The notion that warfare is an uneradicable part of human nature is based on analogies with primate behaviour [e.g. Wrangham & Peterson 1996] with male-centred competition, over access to females, taking violent form. Such models are described by critics as the "myth of the warlike savage", and indeed most studies of warring societies suggest no such reproductive success occurs. Moreover, most of these studies are really models derived from simplistic observations of chimpanzee behaviour in which it is assumed that this is best interpreted in human terms [Sussman 1997]; then, of course, completing the circular argument chimpanzee behaviour is assumed to be a guide to simple or even complex [e.g. Knauft 1991] gatherer-hunter societies.

A more sophisticated approach sees warfare as the outcome of violent competition by males striving for status and prestige [Chagnon 1988; Machner & Reedy-Maschner 1998]. Again, however, sociobiology, or evolutionary biology as it has been named in an attempt to make a fresh start, produces a fairly simplistic model which its less wary proponents attempt to apply to all societies [Robarchek 1989]. What of those societies within which violence was relatively rare yet embarked on bloody wars, such as the Japanese? What of the historical and ethnographic evidence of the need to produce an altered mental state before taking part in warfare [Ehrenreich 1997]; even the famously aggressive Yanomamö of the Amazon use drugs to work themselves up to fighting [Chagnon 1990].

At the other end of the spectrum, a number of anthropologists have argued strongly that much of the warfare seen by earlier travellers and later ethnographers was generated by colonialism [e.g. Ferguson 1992]. This view was partly encouraged by the tendency of early anthropologists to underestimate the significance of warfare (other than ritualised conflicts) among newly encountered societies, e.g. in New Guinea [Knauft 1990].
Although described by critics as the "myth of the peaceful savage", the observation that patterns of warfare were affected by western contact does not imply that earlier times were peaceful, as the most forceful proponents of this view now accept [e.g. Ferguson 1997].

A more nuanced approach thus accepts the existence of warfare in past societies, but seeks to situate it historically [e.g. Otterbein 1997].

One attempt to do this sees warfare either as an agriculturalist phenomenon or a product of states. An unspoken assumption has long existed that warfare is a consequence of settled agrarian communities and that it can not therefore be a significant factor in pre-agricultural life [e.g. Leakey & Lewin 1992]. However, the evidence for both serious injuries and violent death from Mesolithic skeletons in Europe is steadily growing, and now outnumbers that from the Neolithic.

Certain anthropologists have attempted to confine war to conflicts between large numbers of individuals [e.g. van Bakel 1992], thus implying that only states make wars, but we should remember here that the laws of King Ine of Wessex, written just before AD 700, describe a group of only 35 men as an 'army'. So even for states a small number of fighters was significant.

What of the causes of warfare? Two main camps exist in the literature - the sociobiological (discussed already) and the materialist. Materialists, as used in this instance, focus very narrowly indeed, starting from the standpoint that warfare is utterly irrational and therefore one would only risk one's life in combat when there was a desperate need for land or more immediately food [e.g. Ferguson 1990].

However, even in the classic ethnographic area of New Guinean warfare, recent analyses suggest that there is no simple relationship between land shortage and warfare, with some of the most warlike societies having fairly low population densities [Knauft 1990].

Again, a more nuanced approach seeks to situate warfare (just as one would with human violence more generally) historically, rather than proposing simplistic overarching models.

Turning to the Mesolithic, there are three main areas of possible evidence – the existence of weapons, depictions of warfare and skeletal remains demonstrating conflict.

Weapons may seem the most straightforward category, but here we encounter immediately the issue of symbolism. What past generations have termed weapons – battle axes, daggers etc., need not have been used in that way. On the other side of the coin, axes. normally seen as workaday tools of forest clearance, may well be weapons, while many weapons such as wooden clubs will survive only by chance in the archaeological record. With regard to weapons we need to demonstrate the actual use of objects to cause harm, of which more later.

Levantine Spanish rock art [Beltrán 1982] is often presented as the most substantial body of evidence for conflict in the Mesolithic [e.g. O'Connell 1995]; and sometimes argued to be a record of conflicts between racial groups [Beltrán 1982]. However, there are many who question the straightforward approach to interpreting rock art [e.g Campbell 1986; commentators on Taçon & Chippindale 1994]. A more fundamental difficulty, however, in the context of this paper, is the argument that the commonly suggested date of the Mesolithic is mistaken and that Levantine art is actually Neolithic [Beltrán 1982; Bahn 1989].

Skeletal evidence is more reliable, as at least avoiding the issue of symbolic violence; even here, however, we need to stress the importance of care in interpretation. The most obvious value of the skeletal record from the Mesolithic, scanty and regionally uneven though it is, is the evidence it provides of projectile wounds [Cordier 1990; Vencl 1991]. More than anything else, this justifies descriptions of the Mesolithic as the period when true warfare began, with examples from Atlantic France and Denmark to the Ukraine of individuals suffering fatal wounds from weapons.

There are indeed, a couple of final Upper Palaeolithic bodies with flint points lodged in the bones, both from Italy [Bachechi et al. 1997]. The shape of the point from the female burial at San Teodoro on Sicily has been interpreted as more likely coming from an arrowhead than a spearpoint [Bahn 1997], but the Italian investigators stress that we can not be certain. Moreover, the first definite evidence for arrows and thus bows comes from the Mesolithic, at Stellmoor in Germany, c. 8500 BC.

Starting with Scandinavia, at the Skateholm I cemetery in southern Sweden an arrowhead was lodged in the pelvic bone of an adult male [Larsson 1989], and a bone point was found in another male.

At the Vedbæk cemetery on Zealand one of the individuals (an adult male) in a grave containing three bodies had a bone point through the throat [Albrethsen & Brinch Petersen 1976]. The apparently simultaneous burial of the man, woman and child has led to the suggestion that all three died suddenly and violently [Price & Gebauer 1992].

Bone points were also probably found in the chests of two burials at Bäckaskog and Stora Bjers in Sweden [Albrethsen & Brinch Petersen 1976], although the circumstances of discovery are not so clear.

At Téviec in Brittany a male burial had two flint points embedded in his spine [Péquart 1931].

Further East, projectile injuries apparently causing death [Cordier 1990; Vencl 1984, 1991] are reported from Schela Cladovei in Romania (three cases [Radovanovic 1996]), and Volos´ke and Vasylivka I in the Ukraine; also in the Ukraine the Vasylivka III cemetery produced four burials with arrow injuries and several with apparently crushed skulls.

More indirect evidence of injuries also exists where large scale studies of skeletal material have been undertaken. Pia Bennicke's [1985] examination of cranial trauma in Denmark shows the Mesolithic to have a high number of injuries in the form of fractures and impressions. The best known example is the male boat burial from Korsør Nor off the coast of Zealand. Further examples have appeared since Bennicke's study, such as the male from the famous underwater site of Tybrind Vig on Fyn and the male boat burial from Møllegabet on Ærø [Grøn & Skaarup 1991].

A similar pattern can be seen amongst prehistoric gatherer-hunter communities in California [Lambert 1997] (where it mostly occurs among adult males, as do projectile injuries) , and among the Yanomamö, where these generally non-lethal wounds result from fighting with heavy wooden clubs [Chagnon 1992].

Other apparent examples of weapon-producing wounds [Vencl 1991] come from Téviec (two cases), other French sites and from Germany and Switzerland.

Parry fractures have also been reported from Mesolithic Europe – these are usually interpreted as resulting from an attempt to fend off a blow directed at the head or upper body. However, recent examinations of prehistoric American material show no link between the frequency of head injuries thought to result from attacks and parry fractures [Larsen 1997]. There are actually a large number of accidents which can result in parry fractures [Lovell 1997].

Skeletal material also points to the existence of conflicts occurring on a much larger scale. At Ofnet cave in Bavaria [Frayer 1997] two pits contained the skulls and vertebrae of thirty-eight individuals, all stained with red ochre, dating to around 6500 BC. Most were children (less than fifteen years old), including several under fives; two thirds of the adults were females. Finds of pierced red deer teeth & shells were associated only with adult females and children. Half the individuals were wounded before death by blunt mace-like weapons, with males & females & children (even infants) all injured, but males having the most wounds (up to seven). Several skulls had cutmarks, but these were not related to cannibalism or removal of the brain; there were also cutmarks on the vertebrae of one in three of all individuals, relating to the removal of the head.

Nearby, other skull deposits are known from Kaufertsberg and Höhlenstein. At Höhlenstein three isolated skulls (an adult male, an adult female and a two year old) were found, as at Ofnet stained with ochre and showing signs of violence and cutmarks on the vertebrae. Both sites have an apparent sequence of massacre followed by ceremonial burial, while at Ofnet the scale of the massacre suggests an attempt to wipe out a whole community. Depletion of resources leading to conflict is a highly unlikely scenario here, but the absence of contemporary settlements makes further speculation on motives pointless.

A similar story may lie behind the discoveries at Dyrholmen in Jutland, Denmark, where the bones of nine individuals were discovered. There are traces of cut marks and fractures of bones to reach the marrow, with cut marks on the skull suggesting scalping [Degerbøhl 1942]. At another Møllegabet site [Skaarup 1995] bones were also broken open and a male jaw broken to remove the front teeth.

If these are cases of cannibalism, then it could be linked to warfare through a common explanation given by historically recorded groups who practice cannibalism – that the vital energies or personal attributes of the enemy would be absorbed by the cannibals. Cannibalism is also sometimes used in South American societies as a way of disrespecting the enemy, eating their flesh "like animal meat" [Conklin 1995]. If head-hunting is involved, then this is often seen as simultaneously depriving the enemy of the benefit of the strength provided by reincorporating the dead into the group and unleashing the anger of the dead on their community unless the death can be avenged [e.g. Boès & Sears 1996]. In the case of the Møllegabet jaw, the excavator [Skaarup 1995] argued that the teeth were being removed to "become part of an ornament with which the victor could adorn himself!"

Not all Mesolithic communities do appear to have been violent, for example neither Sicily nor Portugal have produced skeletal evidence of violent death, while Schela Cladovei appears to be exceptional within the Iron Gates Mesolithic.

Given the evidence for Mesolithic violence and probable warfare, what are the implications for Mesolithic-Neolithic interaction? Within Neolithic communities there is evidence for some violent conflict in the form of weapon injuries [Keeley 1996]. Much the most dramatic case is that of Talheim in Germany, c. 5000 BC, where a mass grave contained 34 men, women and children, killed by multiple axe and adze blows to the head; two skulls also had arrowhead injuries.

However, although I believe that both Mesolithic and Neolithic groups engaged in warfare, I do not support Keeley's claims [Keeley 1996; 1997] that the Neolithic frontier was a war zone. These follow from the interpretation that the Darion Linearbandkeramik enclosure in Belgium is strongly defended and even possesses a gate tower. From this and similar sites the argument develops into the theory that a frontier existed between the LBK and the local Mesolithic population, with a fortified enclosures along it and a no-man's land without settlement beyond. Current evidence, however, suggests that violence in both Mesolithic and Neolithic communities was internally directed rather than across any frontier. Recent study of the Baltic coast [Jankowska 1998], shows that LBK lithic material, especially adzes, is found on many of the Mesolithic sites in the coastal strip, suggesting peaceful co-existence rather than the conflict envisaged by some, as Keeley accepts [1997]. That does not, of course, rule out the adzes being imported as weapons. LBK enclosures remain conspicuously non-defensive in nature by comparison with later examples from Britain such as Hambledon Hill. Even at Darion itself the supposedly defensive ditch is both shallow and discontinuous, hardly forming the substantial barrier appropriate to its supposed location on a dangerous warring frontier.

Mesolithic conflict need not have been over economic resources, but a strong degree of internal territoriality would certainly be consistent with other indications and indeed with copious ethnographic records. However, many other causes of wars among gatherer-hunters have been noted. Raiding, slaving, fishing rights and individual insults are all seen in the ethnographic literature as leading to fatal conflicts.

A wounded sense of honour can be a powerful catalyst for conflict. In December 1860 a Russian naval vessel visiting Sitka, the capital of Russian Alaska, heard an uproar in one of the native houses where a potlatch (cermonial feast) was being held. Locals ran out, returning in armour and bearing weapons. The Russian fort above fired its cannon over their heads and the natives stopped their fighting. Intrigued, Lieutenant Commander Golovnin went to investigate, finding two dead and eighteen wounded from the brief skirmish. The cause he found difficult to contemplate – a singing competition. In a potlatch the previous year the Sitka had outsung their hosts, the Yakutat. Determined not to be outdone again, the Yakutat had sent out an expedition to learn songs from neighbouring groups, but the Sitka trumped them with songs they had learnt from sea-otter hunters employed by the Russians. Fearing another humiliation, the Yakutat had come armed and attacked the Sitka to divert attention from their vocal deficiences. Lieutenant Commander Golovnin noted the wisdom of nipping the conflict in the bud, for "blood vendettas begin after such incidents, and wars will go on, perhaps for several years..." [Ames & Maschner 1999] Once again, this anecdote reminds us that the past genuinely was different.

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Heresiarch said...

Applying sociobiological thinking to human societies is a perilous task. But the sociobiology of the New World Order must be revealed!!

Numa terra lá distante said...

The best for humanity is mixture of races and genes.

Anonymous said...
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