Seeds of Warfare Precede Agriculture
Bower, Bruce, Science News
Stone Age hunter-gatherers are often billed as the peaceful precursors of agricultural peoples who cultivated frequent warfare along with their crops beginning around 5,000 years ago. But cave paintings in northern Australia, some dating to 10,000 years ago or more, bluntly blast that assumption.
In fact, these scenes painted by aboriginal peoples represent the earliest known portrayals of organized warfare, according to two researchers who have studied paintings at more than 650 Australian sites.
Depictions of large battles, small skirmishes, and people attacking one another with spears and boomerangs document an ancient tradition of warrior art by aboriginal hunter-gatherers that extends from pre-agricultural times to the early part of this century. Stone Age humans thus possessed a full-fledged capacity for waging war, argue Paul Tacon, an anthropologist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, and Christopher Chippendale, an archaeologist at the University of Cambridge in England.
"Warfare is often seen as a side effect of sedentary farming and then of urban societies," Chippendale contends. "But organized conflict is decidedly a characteristic of mobile hunter-gatherers and Homo sapiens in general."
The researchers describe their findings in the just-released October 1994 CAMBRIDGE ARCHAEOLOGICAL JOURNAL.
The roots of warfare may stretch back millions of years (SN: 2/9/91, p.88), but little archaeological evidence of such activity exists. However, violence does occur in modern hunter-gatherer groups; in fact, overall murder rates in some groups exceed those in Western nations (SN: 2/6/88, p.90).
Tacon and Chippendale's analysis, based on 5 years of fieldwork in which they recorded details from many previously discovered cave paintings as well as from some at new sites, uncovers three phases of aboriginal warfare in the Arnhem Land region of Australia's Northern Territory.
In the earliest phase, dating roughly to between 10,000 and 6,000 years ago, paintings show human figures engaged in small skirmishes and one-on-one combat, throwing boomerangs, dodging spears, and chasing each other with their weapons raised. …