- Skeletal remains suggest that dozens of people were victims of a war in Spain
- It pushes back the first evidence of large-scale battles by more than 1,000 years
According to a new study, humans waged large-scale wars in Europe 5,000 years ago – much earlier than previously thought.
Analysis of more than 300 skeletal remains suggests that dozens of individuals may have been victims of Europe’s earliest war.
The study pushes the first evidence of large-scale battles back more than 1,000 years and suggests that periods of conflict lasted for months.
Warriors used bows and arrows, axes and blades in their bloody conflicts – with many injuries noted on the head.
Previous research suggests that conflicts in this period, called the Late Neolithic, consisted of short raids lasting no more than a few days and involving small groups of 20 to 30 people.
Analysis of more than 300 skeletal remains suggests that dozens of individuals may have been victims of Europe’s earliest war
It was therefore assumed that early societies lacked the logistical capabilities to deal with longer, larger conflicts.
To investigate this, a team including scientists from the University of Oxford examined the remains of 338 people from a single mass burial site in northern Spain that dates back 5,000 years.
They found that about a quarter of the subjects had skeletal injuries, with 107 head injuries identified.
Most head injuries were attributed to blunt force trauma, possibly caused by axes, wooden clubs, slingshots, or thrown stones.
The researchers also found that most injuries occurred in adolescent or adult males – a significantly higher rate than females.
The findings suggest that many of the people at the burial site were exposed to violence and may have been victims of the conflict.
A relatively high rate of healed injuries also suggests that the conflict lasted for several months.
About 50 flint arrowheads were discovered at the same site, as well as 64 blades and two polished stone axes.
The team wrote in the journal Scientific Reports: “Individuals were killed and buried.” [the site] are likely to have been primarily defenders in a scenario where their settlement was attacked or their territory or resources plundered.
Most head injuries were attributed to blunt force trauma, possibly caused by axes, wooden clubs, slingshots, or thrown stones
“The evidence shows that many people who were killed were buried [the site] indicates, first, that the site of the encounters was not far from the site, and second, that this defense was essentially successful, or at least that enough members of the community survived to bury them.
The authors suggest that there may have been tensions between different cultural groups in the region during the Late Neolithic, which led to the conflict.
Researcher Teresa Fernández-Crespo explained what life was like 5,000 years ago.
“Late Neolithic populations in the Rioja Alavesa region, where [the site] “Large groups of up to a few hundred people formed in the area where the place is located,” she said.
“Their livelihood was based on the cultivation of grain, especially wheat and barley, and animal husbandry, consisting of sheep, goats, cattle and pigs.”
“Perhaps hunting and gathering also played a role, as the occasional discovery of red deer and wild boar bones and some nut shells suggests.”
“It was exciting to see how looking at an ancient skeletal collection stored in a museum for decades led us to question the underlying assumptions of Neolithic warfare.”
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STONE AGE?
The Stone Age is a period of human prehistory characterized by the original development of stone tools and covering more than 95 percent of human technological history.
It begins with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, the ancestors of humans, during the Paleolithic period – beginning about 3.3 million years ago.
The pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate slightly around 400,000 to 200,000 years ago, a period known as the Mesolithic.
At the beginning of this period, hand axes were made with exquisite craftsmanship. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse toolkits, with an emphasis on flake tools rather than larger core tools.
The Stone Age is a period of human prehistory characterized by the original development of stone tools and covering more than 95 percent of human technological history. This image shows Neolithic jadeite axes from the Museum of Toulouse
These toolkits were established at least 285,000 years ago in some parts of Africa and 250,000 to 200,000 years ago in Europe and parts of western Asia. These toolkits persist at least until 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.
During the Younger Stone Age, the pace of innovation increased and the level of craftsmanship increased.
Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with various raw materials, including bone, ivory and antler, and stone.
The period between 50,000 and 39,000 years is also associated with the emergence of modern human behavior in Africa.
Different groups sought their own cultural identity and adopted their own production methods.
Later Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread from Africa over the next thousand years.