November 27, 2012

Skull trauma in Neolithic Scandinavia

I would be interested to know how this Neolithic sample might differ from more recent ones. My limited understanding suggests that between-male violence often has a signalling component whereby an individual's or group's dominance over another is asserted, so the fight often does not go all the way to death, but only until the status quo is manifested by the controlling party or toppled by a challenger.

This type of "signalling" aspect of violent behavior does not apply to male-to-female violence because of the physical strength inequality between the sexes. Indeed, as with violence towards children or the elderly, male-to-female violence may have a "reverse signalling" effect, because it suggests that the perpetrator is unable to fight with "the strong" and is only able to assert physical dominance in "easy fights". On the other hand, such "easy fights" might be more abundant if perpetrators tend to enter fights they can win.

Fight-to-the-death, on the other hand, may occur either by accident (e.g., when the aim is to assert dominance, but the killer underestimates the tolerance of the victim), or by intent (when the aim is physical annihilation, either because reconciliation with the victim is perceived to be impossible, or because the victim's death may help keep other challengers in check).

There may be lots to learn about gender roles and social hierarchy from large palaeoanthropological samples. For example, how much did ideology affect secular patterns of interpersonal violence, and how much did changes in weapon technology (e.g., from Neolithic to Bronze, Iron, and more recently firearms).

Am J Phys Anthropol DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22192

Patterns of violence-related skull trauma in neolithic southern scandinavia

Linda Fibiger et al.

This article examines evidence for violence as reflected in skull injuries in 378 individuals from Neolithic Denmark and Sweden (3,900–1,700 BC). It is the first large-scale crossregional study of skull trauma in southern Scandinavia, documenting skeletal evidence of violence at a population level. We also investigate the widely assumed hypothesis that Neolithic violence is male-dominated and results in primarily male injuries and fatalities. Considering crude prevalence and prevalence for individual bones of the skull allows for a more comprehensive understanding of interpersonal violence in the region, which is characterized by endemic levels of mostly nonlethal violence that affected both men and women. Crude prevalence for skull trauma reaches 9.4% in the Swedish and 16.9% in the Danish sample, whereas element-based prevalence varies between 6.2% for the right frontal and 0.6% for the left maxilla, with higher figures in the Danish sample. Significantly more males are affected by healed injuries but perimortem injuries affect males and females equally. These results suggest habitual male involvement in nonfatal violence but similar risks for both sexes for sustaining fatal injuries. In the Danish sample, a bias toward front and left-side injuries and right-side injuries in females support this scenario of differential involvement in habitual interpersonal violence, suggesting gendered differences in active engagement in conflict. It highlights the importance of large-scale studies for investigating the scale and context of violence in early agricultural societies, and the existence of varied regional patterns for overall injury prevalence as well as gendered differences in violence-related injuries.


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