According to recent study, violence and fighting were widespread in many Neolithic communities across Northwest Europe during the period associated with the adoption of farming.
Archaeologists discovered weapon injuries in more than 2300 early farmers’ skeletal remains from 180 sites dating from around 8000 to 4000 years ago.
Contrary to the view that the Neolithic era was marked by peaceful cooperation, the team of international researchers say that in some regions the period between 6000BC to 2000BC may have been a high point in conflict and violence with the destruction of entire communities
The findings also imply that the rise of growing crops and animal herding as a way of life, rather than hunting and gathering, may have laid the foundation for formalised warfare.
Human skeletal remains from Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Sweden were studied using bioarchaeological techniques.
The team collated the findings to map, for the first time, evidence of violence across Neolithic Northwestern Europe, which has the greatest concentration of excavated Neolithic sites in the world.
The researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Bournemouth University, Lund University (Sweden), and the OsteoArchaeological Research Centre in Germany analyzed the remains for evidence of injuries caused predominantly by blunt force to the skull.
More than 10% showed injuries that might have been caused by frequent blows to the head by blunt tools or stone axes. Several cases of penetrative injuries caused by arrows were also discovered.
Some of the injuries were linked to mass graves, which could suggest the destruction of entire communities, the researchers say.
“The study raises the question to why violence seems to have been so prevalent during this period. The most plausible explanation may be that the economic base of society had changed. With farming came inequality and those who fared less successfully appear at times to have engaged in raiding and collective violence as an alternative strategy for success, with the results now increasingly being recognised archaeologically,” said Dr Martin Smith, Associate Professor of Forensic and Biological Anthropology at Bournemouth University.
Dr Linda Fibiger of the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology at the University of Edinburgh stated: “Human bones are the most direct and least biased form of evidence for past hostilities and our abilities to distinguish between fatal injuries as opposed to post-mortem breakage have improved drastically in recent years, in addition to differentiating accidental injuries from weapon based assaults.” —Bournemouth University
The findings is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
More information: Linda Fibiger et al, (2023). Conflict, violence, and warfare among early farmers in Northwestern Europe, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209481119