Surprising Research Reveals Rampant Violence in Early Farming Societies

Ancient Human Skull

Over one in ten of the skeletal remains of more than 2,300 early farmers, dating from around 8,000 to 4,000 years ago, from 180 sites showed evidence of weapon injuries.

According to new research, violence, and warfare were prevalent in many Neolithic communities across Northwest Europe during the time when farming was adopted.

New research suggests that violence and warfare were widespread in numerous Neolithic communities throughout Northwest Europe during a time period associated with the adoption of agriculture.

Bioarchaeologists discovered that more than one in ten of the over 2300 skeletal remains of early farmers from 180 sites dating back to around 8000 – 4000 years ago displayed weapon injuries.

Contrary to the view that the Neolithic era was marked by peaceful cooperation, the team of international researchers says that in some regions the period from 6000BC to 2000BC may be a high point in conflict and violence with the destruction of entire communities.

The findings also suggest the rise of growing crops and herding animals as a way of life, replacing hunting and gathering, may have laid the foundations for formalized warfare.

Researchers used bioarchaeological techniques to study human skeletal remains from sites in Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain, Spain, and Sweden.

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 team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Bournemouth, and Lund in Sweden, and the OsteoArchaeological Research Centre in Germany examined the remains for evidence of injuries caused predominantly by blunt force to the skull.

More than ten percent showed damage potentially caused by frequent blows to the head by blunt instruments or stone axes. Several examples of penetrative injuries, thought to be from arrows, were also found.

Some of the injuries were linked to mass burials, which could suggest the destruction of entire communities, the researchers say.

Dr. Linda Fibiger, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, said: “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.”

Dr. Martin Smith, of Bournemouth University’s Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, said: “The study raises the question as 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 recognized archaeologically.”

Reference: “Conflict, violence, and warfare among early farmers in Northwestern Europe” by Linda Fibiger, Torbjörn Ahlström, Christian Meyer and Martin Smith, 17 January 2023, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2209481119

8 Comments on "Surprising Research Reveals Rampant Violence in Early Farming Societies"

  1. That’s my spinach damn you!

  2. a weapon injury VS a farming injury?
    how to distinguish?

  3. Why would anyone think for one second that this period of time was peaceful when no other point in human history was peaceful?

  4. “With farming came inequality …”
    Oh, really?
    I suppose people in hunting communities were all equally keen of vision, fleet of foot, skilled in weaponry, adept in butchering, and endowed with luck.
    In gathering communities, would there have been equal outcomes for those who were sharp of sight and smell, and blessed with a longer reach, and those who were not?
    The learned professor’s assertion seems robustly implausible.

  5. … now, me concern grows … it is just a thing some can’t overcome … it sucks…

  6. The most surprising thing about this piece of news is the word „surprising” in the title. Does anybody still believe the silly Enlightment fables about happy savages?

    • Ah yes. The Noble Savage living in Paradise, free of strife and conflict and espousing modern ethics before the concept of ethics was even developed.

  7. The rule of “if you can keep it it’s yours” is as old as mankind. That’s where walled towns & cities came from.
    Look at the cities today that have stores leaving because the cities are not willing to protect property rights… “if you can keep it it’s yours” is valid, even today.

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