Violence has always been part of human behavior, but the origins of war are hotly debated. Some experts see it as deeply rooted in evolution, pointing to violent confrontations among groups of chimpanzees as clues to an ancestral predilection. Others emphasize the influence of complex and hierarchical human societies, and agricultural surpluses to be raided.
No one is suggesting that one discovery, at a place called Nataruk, will settle this argument, but it may be the first instance of a massacre in a foraging society. A discovery in Sudan from an earlier date found burials of victims of intergroup violence, but that society may have been more settled.
Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert A. Foley, of Cambridge University and the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a team of other scientists, concluded in Nature that the find represented warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed. “There’s no other find like it,” he said.
With Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Dr. Glowacki has traced the evolutionary roots of human warfare in chimpanzee behavior. And, he said, this find “shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture.”
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