Violence and war spread widely in Europe during the transition to agriculture 8000–4000 years ago

(ORDO NEWS) — An international team of archaeologists led by the University of Edinburgh has shown that violence and warfare were widespread 8,000-4,000 years ago in many Neolithic communities in northwest Europe, a period associated with the spread of agriculture.

An analysis of more than 2,000 remains showed that one in ten suffered injuries caused by weapons, in many cases they were fatal.

The reason for the wars during the transition to agriculture was probably the resulting inequality of different communities. Those who failed to grow a rich harvest took up arms to take it away

Bioarchaeologists have found that of the skeletal remains of more than 2,300 early farmers from 180 sites dating from about 8,000 to 4,000 years ago, more than one in ten had weapon damage.

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Examples of blunt force strikes to the Neolithic skull: (A), (C), (D) unhealed mortal wounds, (B) healed wound

Contrary to the belief that the Neolithic era was marked by peaceful cooperation, the team of researchers concluded that in some regions the period from 6000 BC. to 2000 BC can be the peak of conflict and violence, sometimes destroying entire communities.

Real war

The findings suggest that the development of crops and grazing as a way of life that replaced hunting and gathering may have laid the foundations for actual warfare.

These were no longer chaotic wall-to-wall fights, but planned attacks. The researchers used bioarchaeological methods to study human skeletal remains from Denmark, France, Germany, the UK, Spain and Sweden.

The team has for the first time mapped evidence of violence in Neolithic Northwest Europe, where the largest concentration of excavated Neolithic sites in the world is concentrated.

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Map of Neolithic sites with traces of violence

Map of Northwest Europe showing archaeological sites with violence-related trauma on Neolithic skeletal remains (red) and settlements with evidence of collective violence (blue).

More than ten percent of the remains show signs of damage caused by blows to the head with blunt objects or stone axes. Several examples of penetrating wounds, believed to have been caused by arrows, have also been found.

Researchers say that in some cases, traumatized remains have been found in mass graves, which could indicate the destruction of entire communities.

“Human bones provide the most direct and least biased evidence of past warfare, and our ability to distinguish fatal injuries from post-mortem fractures has greatly improved in recent years.

In addition, we are now able to distinguish between accidental injuries and wounds received during an attack with a weapon, ”says co-author Dr. Linda Fiebiger.

“The study raises the question of why violence was so prevalent during this period. The most plausible explanation might be that the economic basis of society has changed.

With agriculture came inequality, and those who were less successful in agriculture went on raids and lived in war,” says Dr. Martin Smith.

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