Throughout most of recorded history, there has been war. Whether documented with wall paintings, written on scrolls, depicted by carvings on monuments, chiseled in stone or published in a book, the records of vast numbers of wars have been passed on through the generations. But has it always been so? Is war an innate human need or an inherited characteristic? I have always wondered if paleontologists had ever found evidence of war among our primitive ancestors, or was war a newer phenomenon caused by the “modern” motivations of organized societies such as greed, religion, territorial acquisition or despotic desire for conquest and power. There is ongoing controversy about the origins of war, although chimpanzees have been observed to commit murder; so an evolutionary theory is not without its proponents.
Now comes help toward an answer. A paper by Lahr et. al. published in the highly respected scientific journal Nature earlier this year showed that indeed there was conflict akin to war in a primitive culture in the late Pleistocene/early Holocene period, roughly 12,000 to 10,000 years BCE. A discovery was made of the bodies of 12 men — 10 of whom had met a violent death — beside a lagoon in Nataruk not far from Lake Turkana in Kenya. This is important because they were from a group of hunter-gatherers, not members of a sedentary society. Several of the unburied, fortuitously preserved skeletons had multiple fractures and penetrating wounds about their heads and vertebrae. One had a projectile embedded in his skull. Another had several projectiles lying within the skeletal cavity. The paper concluded that there is “evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.” Is war hereditary? Inevitable? Recently Democratic National Convention attendees shouted out “no more war” as Hillary Clinton was nominated. They may have been wishing against their own genetic determination.