December 12, 2010

More violent deaths at Turkish Neolithic necropolis

I mentioned in October the finding of what seems to be a whole family murdered at the Neolithic necropolis of Aktopraklık, near Bursa, Turkey. They are not the only ones at that burial site whith violent deaths.

The skeleton of a man in his 30s with an arrowhead in its lower spine has been found in the intriguing Neolithic cemetery, dated to c. 8500 years ago, at the beginning of Neolithic in the Balkans and when most of Europe was still a continent of hunter-gatherers.

He was buried in fetal position
Source: Sunday's Zaman (via Stone Pages News)


  1. Initially I read the news out of curiosity, but when i saw your october´s post i have to admit that i impressed.

    I think that some of the human qualities like badness, heartburning and avarice maybe have been born in the beginning of the neolitic age, when people identified with the concept of property.

    We have some evidence in paleolitic age of violence deaths in the neanderthals, but maybe is a different concept, maybe linked to the concept of survival.

  2. The ethnographic evidence seems to strongly indicate that modern humans were more murderous before the neolithic age than they were after it. Deadly warfare in endemic in modern hunter-gatherer societies.

  3. "Deadly warfare in endemic in modern hunter-gatherer societies".

    That is simply put: false, Andrew. Hunter-gatherers normally avoid conflict, both inside and outside.

    There is some evidence for "domestic" violence among hunter-gatherers, because people sometimes lose their tempers and weapons are always at hand. But all society discourages such violence and normally conflicts are solved by "voting with the feet" instead and prevented by discouraging individualism.

    The only case I can think of modern belligerant hunter-gatherers are the Onge, who apparently make fierce displays each time any outsider approaches (but they are a most special case for their unique isolation).

    In general foragers have their members as most vital resource, land is secondary. Instead for farmers land may be primary and people secondary.

  4. "... i saw your october´s post i have to admit that i impressed.

    I think that some of the human qualities like badness, heartburning and avarice maybe have been born in the beginning of the neolitic age, when people identified with the concept of property".

    We have to understand that that the kind of settlements we are discussing here are relatively large and developed (proto-cities?), as far as I can understand. While the distinction Neolithic/Chalcolithic is not usually done in West Asia, the latter is generally defined in Europe (even in absence of copper smelting) by greater social development, including stratification, economic specialization and political organization (and also war and rather common violence).

    I was tempted to describe this Aktopraklık site as Chalcolithic in the other article for this very reason, as it seems a rather "advanced" form of Neolithic. But regardless of the category you prefer, the case seems to be one of a complex society with laws and "armies" (militias or whatever) in sometimes violent conflict with other groups (hunter-gatherers? rebels? other farmers?)

    It is hard to know if this was a civil or "international" war or even if there was war at all (could be "private" instances of murder and repression). We just do not have enough data yet on this settlement or in general for West Anatolian Neolithic, which was rather unknown till recently.

    In any case, some 500 years later, there was an invasion of parts of the Balcans by peoples surely arrived from Anatolia (and by skull shape, closest to Syrians), who inaugurated the Dimini-Vinĉa cultural complex by burning many previous settlements. Art and pottery changed too, though there is also some continuity, specially in Bulgaria.

    So we are probably before an ill-understood bellicose conquest/migration. But at the moment I can't judge in detail what happened in Turkey (just that at Can Hassan, not far from Çatalhöyuk, there is also clear signs of this intrusive people). It is not the beginnings of Neolithic anyhow but a second or rather third stage.

  5. Not false. You can argue that modern hunter-gatherer numbers are not an accurate reflection of those in pre-history, but the numbers from modern hunter-gatherer societies speak unequivocally and with one voice. See, for example:

    "Violence is the major cause of death among the precontact Ache (55% of all deaths) and very important among the Hiwi (30% of all deaths), but notably less important in the two African societies and the Agta (7% of all deaths)." From here.

    "In War Before Civilization, Lawrence H. Keeley, a professor at the University of Illinois, calculates that 87% of tribal societies were at war more than once per year, and some 65% of them were fighting continuously. The attrition rate of numerous close-quarter clashes, which characterize endemic warfare, produces casualty rates of up to 60%, compared to 1% of the combatants as is typical in modern warfare. Stephen Pinker agrees, writing that “in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher.”" From here.

    "The Casiguran Agta constitute a Negrito hunter-gatherer society in northeastern Luzon. . . . Agta figures on crude death rate, rate of natural decrease, infant mortality, life expectancy at birth, and homicide are among the most extreme known for any human population. Reasons for this decline are described, with emphasis on the factor of homicide." From here.

  6. More:

    "Before the Canadian government suppressed the practice, murder of travelling individuals by local Inuit peoples often lead to revenge raids by relatives of the slain, and even after suppression, murder rates remained much higher than in the United States. In one Copper Eskimo group of fifteen families, every adult male had been involved in a homocide. From 1920 to 1955, murder rates among the !Kung Bushmen of southern Africa were twenty to eighty times higher than recent murder rates in industrialized countries, and the Yahgan "canoe nomads" of Tierra del Feugo had a murder rate ten times that of the United States in the twentieth century. There is little reason to doubt that such levels of violence also occurred widely in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies." From Human natures: genes, cultures, and the human prospect By Paul R. Ehrlich (copyright 2000) at page 206.

    "Homicide rates in modern hunter-gather societies generally dwarf those of modern nation states." Hormones, brain, and behavior, Volume 5 By Donald W. Pfaff at page 395 (copyright 2002) citing Daly and Wilson (1988).

    "The warless !Kung San were billed in the title of one book as The Harmless People, yet during the 1950s and 1960s, their homicide rate was between 20 and 80 times as high as that found in industrialized nations. Eskimos, to judge by popular accounts, are all cuddliness and generosity. Yet early this century, after westerners first made contact with a fifteen-family Eskimo village, they found that every adult male had been involved in a homicide.

    One reason the !Kung and most Eskimo haven't waged war is their habitat. With population sparse, friction is low. But when densely settled along fertile ground, hunter-gatherers have warred lavishly. The Ainu of Japan built hilltop fortresses and, when raiding a neighboring village, wore leather armor and carried hardwood clubs. The main purpose of the raids—to kill men, steal women, and settle grievances, real or imagined—is a time-honored goal of primitive warfare. Even today it is part of life among the Yanomamo of South America. . . . evidence of violent death is especially common among remains of the more complex hunter-gatherer societies. And in the yet-more-complex agrarian societies on the ethnographic record, things are similarly grim. In south Asia, a young Naga warrior was not considered marriageable until he had brought home a scalp or a skull. In Borneo, a Dayak hero returning from war would be seated in a place of honor and surrounded by singing women, with the head of one his victims placed nearby on a decorative brass tray. The, warriors of Fiji gave their favorite weapons terms of endearment; one war club was called "Damaging beyond hope," and a spear was dubbed "The priest is too late."" From Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, By Robert Wright, published by Pantheon Books. Copyright 2000 by Robert Wright.

    "Very high rates of homicide reported are reported from such primitive populations all around the world. . . . The highest death rate recorded in a nation, as opposed to a tribe, is 34/100,000, in Colombia. . . . the !Kung bushmen, popularised as "The Harmless People", had a had a homicide rate of 41.9 on this scale; the Yanomamo come in at 165. The record appears to be held by the Hewa people of New Guinea, with a score of 778. . . . the Murngin hunter-gatherer aborigines of Northern Australia come in with a score of 330." From here citing Chagnon

  7. More:

    The reference to Chagnon above is to Napoleon Chagnon.

    "Surveys of ethnographic data show that only 10-13 percent of primative societies never or rarely engaged in war or raiding; the others engaged in conflict either continously or at less than yearly intervals. Closer examination of the peaceful cases shows that they were frequently refugee populations driven into remote locations by prior warfare or groups protected by a more advanced society." Francis Fukuyama, "Women and the Evolution of World Politics," Foreign Affairs, September/October 1998 page 26.

    "The Gebusi ["a society of around 450 persons living in a New Guinea rain forest" . . . where "Food, including bananas grown in small gardens and the occasionally hunted wild pig, is routinely shared among all the residents of a settlement."] murder one another at a rate among the highest ever reported, about 40 times greater than the 1980 homicide rate in the United States." From here (Science News, February 8, 1998).

    "From the
    !Kung in the Kalahari to the Inuit in the Arctic and the aborigines in Australia, two-thirds of modern hunter-gatherers are in a state of almost constant tribal warfare, and nearly 90% go to war at least once a year. War is a big word for dawn raids, skirmishes and lots of posturing, but death rates are high—usually around 25-30% of adult males die from homicide. The warfare death rate . . .[is] 0.5% of the population per year that Lawrence Keeley of the University of Illinois calculates as typical of hunter-gatherer societies[.]" From The Economist, December 19, 2007.

    "In ancient graves excavated previously, Bowles found that up to 46 per cent of the skeletons from 15 different locations around the world showed signs of a violent death. More recently, war inflicted 30 per cent of deaths among the Ache, a hunter-gatherer population from Eastern Paraguay, 17 per cent among the Hiwi, who live in Venezuela and Colombia, while just 4 per cent among the Anbara in northern Australia. On average, warfare caused 14 per cent of the total deaths in ancient and more recent hunter-gatherers populations." From New Scientist, "Ancient warfare: Fighting for the greater good," 04 June 2009 by Ewen Callaway citing Samuel Bowles, "Did Warfare Among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behaviors?" Science, 5 June 2009 at page 1293 et seq.

  8. Maju, are you not trying to idealize a society without land claims?

    Violence among apes

    I don't know. Do we have statistically significant samples of dead by killing versus dead-otherwise? I believe we hardly have samples from Paleolithic time to compare.

  9. "False" was maybe a bit of an overtone, "mislead" or "misleading" would have been a better choice of words. In truth I was not considering American foragers but I have the clear idea that neither Bushmen, nor Pygmies, nor Hadza, nor some tribe of India whose name I can't recall right now, nor the Negritos, nor even Australian Aborigines are (or were before losing their lifestyle) particularly bellicose (neither internally murderous).

    I discussed and learned much about this matter at Music 000001 (the 2009-2010 sections) but I do not feel like making a lengthy search for the sources right now. In general foragers tend to find cultural ways to have rather low levels of violence. Today the loss of a relative or a friend is still something important, for those peoples all in their communities are such things and they are even more important in many aspects, specially the economy and daily convivence. But even more important was to keep the community in a good level of positive harmony and for that they developed a host of strategies, which are generally easy to understand even for us.

    The cases you mention refer in exclusive to the Amazon-Orinoco basin, which must probably be considered an exception, not the rule (it's a largely neolithized area, even if some pure foragers also exist). There can of course be, in theory too, cases of hunter-gatherer groups driven to be more violent for whatever reasons, but they are clearly not the norm.

    "87% of tribal societies were at war more than once per year"

    Tribal is not the same as hunter-gatherer. Tribes existed in Europe until the Middle Ages... but they had been agriculturalist-pastoralist for a very long time already before that. The typical Papuan or Yanomamo does not reflect hunter-gatherer lifestyle: they are farmers. They may, mutatis mutandi, reflect, some of the trends that existed in early Neolithic in other contexts but not foragers.

    And, now that I mention Papuans, I recall that the Asmara are considered hunter-gatherers and yet they are rather violent (as most Papuan societies). An element of convergence with the Amazon Basin appears: jungle farming all around: these peoples cannot probably be considered separated from the context of their neighbor farmers.

    An element that arose, I believe, in my discussions with Victor Grauer, was that maybe the Eastern branches of Paleolithic peoples were more violent for some cultural founder effect. But we could not reach any clear conclusion. All I can say is that West of the Ganges Delta there is no known hunter-gatherer group that shows "cultural violence", while east of it there are some but not all show it.

  10. LOL, Kepler!

    The only reference we have, and a quite fragmentary, reconstructed one, of Humankind as-it-is are hunter-gatherers. Roughly 95% of the history of H. sapiens and 100% the history of all other Homo back to two million years ago, is hunter-gathering.

    This lifestyle defines us as species and it is important to understand it in order to understand ourselves.

    While there may be some instances of "idealization", it is also true that most huntergatherers, with the precisions stated above, leave what we can easily understand as a natural or even "hippy" lifestyle (no vegetarianism however). Marx and Engels understood (up to a point) this but maybe it was the Anarchists, particularly the great Piotr Kropotkin, who emphasized primitive communism the most.

    Primitive communism or huntergatherer lifestyle remains the core of humanity in any case. It is not reproducible as such in modern conditions but it should not be disregarded either as merely pointless primitivism, in an exercise of futile cynicism. It is the most direct reference of what we really are, under the thin varnish of civilization and technology.

  11. "Bushmen, nor Pygmies, nor Hadza, nor some tribe of India whose name I can't recall right now, nor the Negritos, nor even Australian Aborigines"

    I made three comment posts with quotes and citations, because they wouldn't all fit in one post, but they have apparently disappeared. Maybe a spam filter ate them.

    Anyway, the data specifically show orders of magnitude higher homicide/war death rates in Bushmen, Hadza, Negrito, Inuit, and Australian Aborigine populations, as well as several others (an Amazonian and Tierra del Fuego group among them). The least violent societies were 14x the rate in the United States (which is among the higest in the OECD), and in some of these societies it is 78x that rate.

    I agree by the way that Papuan Highlanders are farmers, but Yanomamo are hunter-gatherers.

    There is really no compelling data supporting a lower homocide rate (including war) except in war exile communities and groups under the protection of a more or less modern state. Homocide/war related violent deaths were apparently much more common than they are now in hunter-gatherer societies.

    The earliest writings (from Sumeria, the Hebrew Bible, Rig Veda, Scandinavian Epics, Greek Epics, Hittie records, Chinese histories, Mayan/Olmec/Aztec writings) all convey an image of frequent violent combat (of course perhaps that could be just because those were the interesting bits), and the earliest systemic records from roughly the Middle Ages show high levels of violent deaths that don't really start to fall until the Enlightenment, and then fall steadily for a couple of hundred years. The label Pax Romana also greatly downplays the actually very high levels of lawlessness in the Western Roman Empire even at its peak.

    I don't have a good feel for the amount of violent homicide in early Neolithic farmers or herders relative to hunter-gatherer populations. The "culture of honor" literature makes a case that pastoralist societies have more violent homicides than farmer societies, which seems plausible but isn't supported by very rigorous data more than a couple of hundred years old. The only existing society with early Neolithic levels of farming or marginal farming technology for which I am aware of really good evidence is the Papuan one and the Papuan homocide rates are very high as well. Archaeology also support high levels of violence in late Puebloan societies of the American Southwest which has so many stunning parallels with early Anatolian Neolithic societies that an inference about violence in the form of between tribe warfare in early Neolithic Anatolia from Puebloans wouldn't be unfounded, although there isn't evidence from the earliest phases of these Neolithic cultures via material culture like weapontry caches or fortification to indicate high levels of violence at first -- the violence seems to come at times of societal survival stress. There is also considerable evidence of between group warfare in Tropical/Sahel Africa immediately prior to European colonial contact added slavery revenues to that mix, and of between group warfare in Meso-American and North American societies of both farmers and hunter-gatherers.

    There is a plausible argument that violent death rates were uniformly high in almost all societies until strong states developed and secured a monopoly on violence.

  12. "I made three comment posts with quotes and citations, because they wouldn't all fit in one post, but they have apparently disappeared. Maybe a spam filter ate them".

    Exactly. They are already in their place. I hate-hate-hate Blogger spam filter. But cannot deactivate (I have requested though).

    I actually also missed two of those three posts in the email but maybe that was my mistake?

    Anyhow, I would need to re-document all the materials (what I do not feel like, sincerely) but I understand from your discourse that your are mixing murder and war casualty quite happily.

    And also including often nations that are agricultural such as the Yanomamo, the Fijians or the Papuans. Compared to them certainly the !Kung are extremely peaceful with violent death rates of 1/4 those of FARMING Yanomamo, 1/8 those of Murngin (hunter-gatherers) and 1/20 those of Hewa (FARMERS). Other peoples you mention that are FARMERS are the Gebusi ("wild" pigs are not really wild but just semi-feral, bananas and taro are crops), probably the Hiwi (who certainly have an important traditional TEXTILE industry, a Neolithic activity).

    A common and highly undesirable mistake of some bad anthropologists is to confuse "tribal" with "hunter-gatherer". Most tribal peoples known historically were farmers already at their "discovery". And farmers are more like us than like hunter-gatherers in their economy and nearly everything else, even if primitive.

    Also some hunter-gatherer groups were at their "discovery" and are surely now too, excessively in perpetual contact with bellicose farmers, such as Japanese (Ainu), other Papuans (Asmara), other Native Americans (Aché), etc. This may have dramatically altered their societies.

    Your best argument seems to me the Australian Aboriginal nation. We'd have to explore in detail the narrations re. !Kung and Inuit because I know of opposite accounts as well. Both peoples have social mechanisms to diffuse conflict (generosity, song contests, hostility against pride). These mechanisms not always work however: they are people like you and me with their passions and there's no police, tribunals nor prisons, just other people in equal footing (who can avenge in various ways and can also mediate preventively or even correctively).

    But still I think you exaggerate quite a bit. Typically every second murder is an execution of a murderer (revenge or justice): you don't get away so easily - violence causes violence. Your sources seem too one-sided in any case.

  13. "Yanomamo are hunter-gatherers".

    From Wikipedia: "The Ya̧nomamö depend on the rain forest; they use "slash-and-burn" horticulture, grow bananas, gather fruit, and hunt animals and fish".

    Their main crop is the manioc, which is the base of the diet. They are a particularly violent culture with strongly Patriarchal lifestyle.

    Most Amazonian peoples (if not all) are farmers. There are probably some tribes that do not farm but they may be in some cases "regressive Neolithic" groups. Probably the Aché are genuine hunter-gatherers as I have seen them mentioned elsewhere but their larger context has been mostly farmer from many millennia now.

    In the past there was also surely a jungle civilization of some sort. There are (proto-)historical reports and there are some recent archaeological findings. Like the Mayas in Mesoamerica, they seem to have vanished on their own.

    "The earliest writings (from Sumeria, the Hebrew Bible, Rig Veda, Scandinavian Epics, Greek Epics, Hittie records, Chinese histories, Mayan/Olmec/Aztec writings) all convey an image of frequent violent combat"...

    Of course! You are talking of the Metal Ages here. The Metal Ages were very violent, specially in some periods such as the Late Bronze Age Crisis, when Hittite and Greek epics are located in time. Indoeuropeans and Semites are anyhow two particularly belligerant macro-ethnicities (and that's why they expanded so much: by conquest and enslavement).

    The Metal Ages are conceptually between the pre-Columbian civilizations (Chalcolithic stage, incipient Bronze in NW Mexico) and the European Middle Ages: they are essentially monarchical and feudal, or proto-feudal and tribal in less civilized areas. Land property, slavery, division of labor, hierarchies, trade... all that began then.

    Earlier populations were like the Papuans or the Yanomamo (very rough approximations for the Neolithic proper stage - there are many other examples of this stage, which runs until industrialization in its essentials). And even earlier (Paleolithic) they were like the Bushmen, the Pygmy, the Hadza, the Inuit, the Nganasan, the Negritos or maybe the Australian Aborigines.

    I stand by my claim that all known hunter-gatherers West of the Ganges Delta show rather peace-loving and horizontal culture. However we lack examples for West Eurasia, except the Nganasan which are quite off the radar and rather belong to another region (North or East Asia). This also extends to most Negritos (except surely the Andamanese). But being peace-loving doesn't mean that you cannot kill: you are a hunter and you know how to kill - but you prefer not to and society prefers you not to.

    Instead among Papuans, Yanomamo and such, violence is deeply present in the culture and there is no or less social pressure against violent resolution of conflict. Similarly warring societies of all times have promoted violence (in some circumstances at least), chanting heroes and warrior gods and promising valhallas.

    This never happens in hunter-gatherer societies - with doubts on some "Eastern" groups (Australian Aborigines, Amerindians...), hunters may be sung (not among Bushmen anyhow) but there is no real room for the warrior, much less the murderer of a neighbor and a relative. Even hunting is often heavily ritualized, with cultural performances oriented to exorcise (often by due apology and rationalization) the violence of killing an animal that typically embodies cosmological concepts central to their lives.


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