Knife Stories

Archaeologists discover early example of “warfare” in Kenya

Archaeologists digging on the shores of Lake Turkana in Kenya have made shocking discovery – the site of a massacre of at least 27 individuals from a prehistoric hunter-gatherer group which occurred approximately 10,000 years ago. Historians had believed that inter-group conflict arose from resource competition once humans became settled.

From NPR:

“Archaeologists from Cambridge University excavated the remains of 27 people, including at least eight women and six children, in a region that was once the edge of a lagoon, near modern-day Lake Turkana. The remains included 12 skeletons that were fairly complete, “preserved by the particular conditions of the lagoon,” the researchers write in Nature this week.

They all appeared to have died at the same time, 10,000 years ago or so. The researchers focused on the 12 skeletons — 10 showed evidence of fatal injuries, including sharp-force and blunt-force trauma, and several had blades or projectiles embedded in them.”

One indicator that this was what is known in archaeology-speak as “out-group violence” is that the bodies were not buried, they were left where they fell, with indications that some had bound hands.

Only the unique bog-environment allowed the skeletons to be preserved. Normal taphonomic processes (weather, scavengers, etc.) would destroy unburied bones. It is a rare snapshot into a single discrete event with wide-ranging consequences for our understanding of violent behavior.

As an aside, Dr. Jane Goodall observed a rudimentary “warfare” between different groups of Gombe chimpanzees. Groups of chimps would be seen banding together and infiltrating neighboring territory where they would ambush a lone chimp and beat, bite, and kick it – sometimes resulting in death.

It seems that primates, ourselves included, will find a way to kill others regardless of the choice of tool.

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