Nataruk, Kenya – A group of anthropologists from Cambridge University published a study on Wednesday in the journal Nature their discovery of what seems to be evidence of a massacre in Kenya about 10,000 years ago. This discovery provides rare indications of violence between groups in ancient hunter-gatherer societies.
The gravesite was discovered in Nataruk, Kenya in 2012. It housed the remains of 27 people, including 12 intact skeletons. Based on carbon dating of the bones and surrounding sediment, the researchers estimate that the deaths took place somewhere between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago.
The scientists discovered that the bodies of a small band of men, women and children showed evidence of blunt-force head trauma, injuries made with arrow wounds around the head and neck and fractured hands, knees, and ribs. Researchers also found arrows at the site made of obsidian, a volcanic rock that wasn’t native to the area, indicating that whoever had attacked, had traveled far from home to do so.
According to the investigators, the grave site is one of the clearest examples of violence between prehistoric tribes. Warfare is an important subject among anthropologists as the question on how human violence originated remains controversial and unanswered ranging from two theories. One believes the propensity for violence is embedded deep in human nature and the other believes that it responds to the need to protect property.
The discovery does not solve the question on how violence originated in human beings, but it does conclude that the finding represents warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers competing over control of their resources. Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed there’s no other finding like this and that it shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture.
“There is a vocal minority of scholars who insist that hunter-gatherers were not prone to warfare or intergroup violence, but today’s study represents clear evidence for conflict between groups of hunter-gatherers, before food production. It’s a great and important result,” Curtis Marean, associate director of the Institute of Human Origins at the University of Arizona who didn’t participate in the study, said.
But not everybody is convinced about the study conclusions. Annemieke Milks, a prehistoric weaponry researcher at the University College London’s Institute of Archaeology, isn’t convinced that the scenario is correct. Milks claims there might not be enough evidence from the site to conclude that the skeletons belonged to hunter-gatherers, or that they all died at the same time.
Milks points out that because of the combination of the injuries to the men, along with the possible evidence that certain members had their limbs bound before their death, suggests a complex series of events that did not necessarily happened at the same time.