The origins of warfare may have been brought to light in Kenya, as archaeologists have unearthed the earliest evidence of a mass massacre, dating back to 10,000 years ago. The discovery has been presented in the journal Nature, published online on Wednesday, January 20.
Researchers led by Marta Mirazon Lahr, expert in human evolutionary biology and paleoanthropology at the University of Cambridge, conducted an analysis including 27 ancient skeletons that were found at Nataruk, close to Lake Turkana, in Kenya.
The remains had belonged to a group of hunter-gatherers who lived during the early Holocene, and apparently evidence of deadly trauma has persisted on more than 10 of the carcasses, some of them belonging to kids younger than 6 years old.
As experts explain, the injuries they have identified on the skeletons could’ve only been caused by man-made weapons, such as wooden clubs, stone daggers and arrows. The assailants had targeted various parts of their victims’ bodies, including their ribs, knees, heads, hands and necks.
Researchers have also identified two skeletons that don’t bear obvious signs of deadly injuries: it is thought that one of them belongs to an elderly man, while the other one pertains to a woman who had been approximately 6 months pregnant at the time of her death.
In spite of the lack of noticeable trauma on these bones, it’s extremely probable that the pair also had an unnatural, brutal death, as suggested by the fact that the woman appears to have been shackled when she met her end.
Given that the corpses have been found chaotically arranged, it’s likely that they never benefited from a proper burial ceremony, and instead were simply left on the battle field, without any attempts being made at transporting them elsewhere.
The impromptu East African mass grave is now considered by study authors as the earliest proof of violence between ancient tribes, placing the origins of warfare at a much earlier time than previously believed.
Since the skeletons display so many signs of blunt-force trauma and little interest appears to have been shown in providing the victims with a decent funeral, it’s obvious that the marauders were simply focused on wreaking as much havoc and destruction as possible, showing little mercy or consideration, even for pregnant women or elderly people.
Study authors now speculate that the attack may have been pre-planned, but no clues have been found regarding the identity of the aggressors, their place of origin, or the reason why they decided to target the small tribe of foragers.
One possible explanation is that the group was ambushed because their territory, located in a lagoon, was rich, fertile and plentiful, with numerous sources of food.
With Lake Turkana just around a mile away, they had a steady fish supply, and could also hunt diverse prey, archaeologists having unearthed numerous fossils in the area, belonging to rhinos, hippos, African painted dogs, lions, gazelles, hyenas and zebras.
Prior studies had suggested that the origins of warfare may be linked to the early beginnings of agriculture, land ownership and more intricate political structures.
The predominant view was that humans lived in greater harmony, with little to fight over, before the concept of property emerged, putting an end to egalitarianism and peace.
Now it appears that theory will have to be discarded, since humans have shown their innate violent nature starting from much more ancient times, just like 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes suspected all along.
Even when sedentary cultures hadn’t been established yet, inter-group conflicts still existed between nomadic populations, some of these clashes being extremely fierce and destructive.
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