Butchered Remains Reveal Violence of Hunter-gatherers

Published: 21st January 2016 08:14 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st January 2016 08:14 AM   |  A+A-

LONDON: A chilling prehistoric war grave, holding the smashed remains of hunter-gatherers, provides the first evidence of a human massacre and

demonstrates the terrifying aggression of early man.

The fossilised bones of 27 people, who were murdered 10,000 years ago, have been discovered at Nataruk near Lake Turkana in Kenya.

Four victims, including a heavily pregnant woman, were bound by the hands and feet before being slaughtered. The others showed signs of extreme violence.

The origins of human aggression are controversial, with many archaeologists believing that hunter-gatherers were largely peaceful, and did not resort to warfare until after the agricultural revolution, when groups grew jealous of the land and possessions of their rivals. Before the find, the earliest war grave was at Darmstadt in Germany and dated to around 5,000BC.

But the Nataruk massacre is the earliest scientifically dated historical evidence of human conflict.

Study author Prof Robert Foley, from Cambridge's Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies, said the findings show that violence is as much part of the human character as the altruism that allowed us to be the most cooperative species on the planet.

He said: "I've no doubt it is in our biology to be aggressive and lethal, just as it is to be deeply caring and loving. A lot of what we understand about human evolutionary biology suggests these are two sides of the same coin."

The 27 skeletons included at least eight women and six children. Twelve of the skeletons were relatively complete, and showed clear signs of a violent death, including smashed skulls and cheekbones, broken hands, ribs and knees and evidence of arrow wounds to their necks. Arrows were lodged in the skull and chest of two men.

Several skeletons were found face down with the faces smashed, possibly by wooden clubs, and none had been buried.

Lead author Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr said: "The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war.

"These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers."

One adult male had an obsidian bladelet embedded in his skull. Another lesion suggests another implement crushed the right-front part of the head and face.

Archaeologists believe the victims represent an extended family who were attacked and killed by a rival group.

The massacre is likely to have occurred around the start of the Holocene: the geological epoch that followed the last Ice Age.

The research was published in the journal Nature.

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