Beating Ploughshares Back into Swords: Warfare in the Linearbandkeramik

By Golitko, Mark; Keeley, Lawrence H. | Antiquity, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Beating Ploughshares Back into Swords: Warfare in the Linearbandkeramik


Golitko, Mark, Keeley, Lawrence H., Antiquity


Introduction

The prevalence of conflict or warfare between social groups in prehistory is itself a hotly contested topic at present. Where many prehistorians note evidence for violence in fortifications, skeletal trauma and weapons, others prefer to assign it to ritual or symbolic practice. This intellectual thrust and parry is exemplified in the study of the earliest farming culture of central Europe, the Linearbandkeramik (Linear Pottery or LBK) culture. Here, evidence includes a large number of enclosed (and likely fortified) village sites, and an abundance of burial trauma, which might suggest that violence was common and at times abnormally intense among these early European agriculturalists. However, as in many other regions of the world, there have been criticisms of the interpretation of this data as relating to inter-group conflict. We broadly define warfare here as 'armed conflict between any social and political units' (Keeley & Quick 2004: 110; see Keeley 1996: Chapter 1 for a more in-depth discussion).

It is our purpose to review the evidence for warfare found at LBK archaeological sites, particularly burial trauma and the fortification of sites. We conclude that conflict was highly prevalent, particularly at later period western sites, and, furthermore, that there is increasing evidence to support the claim previously put forth by one of the authors (Keeley 1998) that this conflict not only occurred between LBK communities, but also between LBK farmers and indigenous hunter-gatherers. We wish to place this violence in its proper prehistoric context, as to its frequency and social context at the time of the earliest appearance of agriculture in Central Europe some 7500 years ago.

Evidence for conflict in the Linearbandkeramik

The Linearbandkeramik is perhaps the best-studied Neolithic culture in all of Europe, with hundreds of sites having been subjected to excavation over the last century. It was initially believed that the movement of agriculture into central Europe occurred via a process of peaceful migration of peoples deriving from the Near East. Little was made of the fate of indigenous hunting-gathering peoples that had previously occupied central Europe, and no solid evidence existed to demonstrate the occurrence of violence of any kind. It has become clear in recent years that the early Neolithic was in fact a much more complex and sometimes very violent period.

While the idea of a large-scale migration into central Europe by farmers has been criticised recently (see Whittle 1996 for instance), many researchers studying the LBK still hold that physical migration of a substantial number of people offers the best explanation for the sudden appearance of a radically new material culture and subsistence system between 5700 and 4900 calBC (Bogucki 2000; Gronenborn 1999; Keeley & Golitko 2004). A recent review of radiocarbon dates shows that, in contrast to some other regions of Europe, the Mesolithic/Neolithic transition in the LBK region was quite abrupt, with little overlap between dates for the two traditions, though this does not rule out low levels of mixing between populations (Gkiasta et al. 2003: 59). While regional chronologies exist, we here accept a four-period division: the oldest phase (with expansion out of Hungary into Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, southern Poland, and eastern and central Germany), two middle phases (expansion through the Rhine Valley into the low Countries, Alsace and the Paris Basin, and in the east into Poland, Romania and the Ukraine), and the youngest phase (regional diversification in already settled areas with significant population growth).

Evidence of traumatic injury

Perhaps the most obvious evidence for past conflicts is provided by the presence of certain types of traumatic injury in burial populations. This is particularly the case if these involve embedded projectile points or traumas indicating blunt instruments. …

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