May 11, 2009

Injuries and Violence in Iberian Neolithic and Bronze Age

American Journal of Physical Anthropology doi:10.1002/ajpa.21089

Possible relationship of cranial traumatic injuries with violence in the south-east Iberian Peninsula from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age

S.A. Jiménez-Brobeil et al.


The main aim of this study was to analyze the presence and distribution of cranial trauma, as possible evidence of violence, in remains from the Neolithic to Bronze Age from the SE Iberian Peninsula. The sample contains skulls, crania, and cranial vaults belonging to 410 prehistoric individuals. We also studied 267 crania from medieval and modern times for comparative purposes. All lesions in the prehistoric crania are healed and none of them can be attributed to a specific weapon. In all studied populations, injuries were more frequent in adults than in subadults and also in males than in females, denoting a sexual division in the risk of suffering accidents or intentional violence. According to the archeological record, the development of societies in the SE Iberian Peninsula during these periods must have entailed an increase in conflict. However, a high frequency of cranial traumatic injuries was observed in the Neolithic series, theoretically a less conflictive time, and the lowest frequency was in crania from the 3rd millennium B.C. (Copper Age), which is characterized by the archeologists as a period of increasing violence. The relatively large size and the high rate of injuries in Neolithic crania and the practice of cannibalism are strongly suggestive of episodes of interpersonal or intergroup conflict. The number and distribution of injuries in Bronze Age is consistent with the increase in violence at that time described by most archeologists.



Maju said...

Wonder why do they claim cannibalism. First time I read such thing.

The decrease of traumatic injuries towards the Chalcolithic can have two reasons:

1. Generalization of more refined weapons such as arrows, which were very common in that period.

2. That was in fact a time of relative peace.

Anyhow, I recall that Humboldt mentioned that Basque youngster gangs had the custom (in the early 19th century) of meeting halfway of their respective towns to hold fights with their reinforced makilak (canes), fights that ended sometimes in death - but most commonly not. So guess it can be a very ancient tribal practice of reinforcing their local borders maybe?

Chalcolithic was a much more organized period, which clear civliizations arising in some areas. The fact that these cities are fortified and the finding of weapons, notably arrowheads, is what has suggested increase of warfare but there are no other clear indications and in fact cultural and economic networks were very large, suggesting to me rather peace and prosperity if anything (in general).

The real conflicts in Iberia and nearby areas surely began in the Bronze Age, when Western Europe and notably Iberia became the target of colonial ambitions because of their mineral riches and especially the tin mines, which had became too strategical in that tehnological context to be simply ignored. So you see Greek influences transforming the SE and later also the first Celtic migrations, all surely mixed with conflict between the different cultural-political entities for the access to the tin mines of the Atlantic (Galicia, Cornwall). The weapon of choice then was already the sword, many of which have arrived in pretty good shape to present time (bronze does not decay as easily as traditional steel).

Maju said...

PS- We do find probably warfare in Chalcolithic times in France though, linked to the events of Central Europe. In my interpretation, IEs pressed Western Danubians and these eventually took over the Brittany-Loire Megalithic area. In reaction, Aquitanians (Artenac culure), armed with arrows, conquered all Western France and Belgium. The resulting IE-Western border at the Rhin was stable for the next milennium.

Kepler said...

It would be then interesting to see also if cranial injuries have the same distribution through the Iberian peninsula or there is a higher levels in, say, the Northeast, and whether the levels have come down particularly from the the XVIII century onwards. :-)