Neolithic farmers may have faced more violent conflict than once believed. (Image: Getty Images)
The rise of agriculture in northwestern Europe could be the beginning of war and violence in the neolithic era, which was previously thought to be “marked by peaceful cooperation”, according to a study at the University of Edinburgh.
The research suggests that the rise of crop breeding and herding as a way of life, replacing hunting and gathering, may have laid the foundations for formalized warfare.
The findings come after researchers used bioarchaeological techniques to study human skeletal remains from areas in Denmark, France, Germany, England, Spain and Sweden.
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In the skeletal remains of more than 2,300 early farmers from 180 different sites spanning from 6000 BC to 2000 BC, more than 10 individuals showed gunshot wounds, potentially caused by frequent blows to the head with blunt tools or stone axes.
Dr Linda Fibiger, senior lecturer in osteoarchaeology at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Human bones are the most direct and least biased form of evidence for past hostilities, and our ability to distinguish post-mortem injuries versus post-mortem injuries has recently greatly improved. as well as distinguishing injuries from gun-based attacks.
The team from the Universities of Edinburgh, Bournemouth and Lund in Sweden and the Center for Osteoarchaeological Research in Germany also found several examples of penetrating injuries thought to be caused by arrows.
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The researchers believe the findings may suggest greater-scale violence and the destruction of entire communities, as some injuries are “linked to mass burials.”
The peaceful nature of Neolithic European society has been the subject of heated debate among historians, beginning with the discovery of an early neolithic mass grave in Talheim, Germany in 1983, as there is more evidence to suggest that violence has gradually unfolded since the 1980s.
Dr Martin Smith, from Bournemouth University’s department of archeology and anthropology, said: “The study raises the question of why violence was so prevalent during this period.
“The most plausible explanation would be that the economic basis of society has changed.
“With agriculture came inequality, and the less successful occasionally engaged in raid and collective violence as an alternative strategy for success, and the consequences are now increasingly archaeologically accepted.”