Science: Paleontology and the Prehistory of Warfare


Is there a biological human propensity to organize into gangs and attack one another violently? In other words, is war baked into our genes? Or is warfare an artifact of civilization, that may first have begun as the ‘gangs’ became organized hierarchies with calendars and scribes?  In the 1960s paleontologists seem to have unearthed evidence for the former hypothesis, although the analysis behind that conclusion had to wait until 2021.


A recent analysis of ancient skeletons of both adults and children found in the Sudan in the 1960s concludes that the humans who once adorned these skeletons must have engaged in battle — skirmishes, raids, and ambushes — perhaps as long ago as 18,600 years, certainly more years ago than 13,400 years.

Those dates make these true Stone Age conflicts, conducted by competing groups of hunter gatherers along the Nile, well south of where — and thousands of years before the days — when Egyptian civilization would emerge.

Strange New Worlds:

Paleoanthropologist Isabelle Crevecoeur of the University of Bordeaux in France led the new analysis of the bones recovered in the ’60s. She and her team say that in the Stone Age (as now, some might say) the fatal fights were likely over competition for dwindling resources as a consequence of environmental changes.

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