The Nataruk Massacre – Pre-Historic Battleground Holds Clues to Earliest Human Conflicts

The site of history's first confirmed armed encounter was recently discovered in sub-Sahara Africa. What does the disturbing find tell us about human-kind's earliest wars? (Image source: WikiCommons)

The site of history’s first known armed encounter was recently discovered in Sub-Saharan Africa. What does the disturbing find tell us about human-kind’s earliest wars? (Image source: WikiCommons)

“The find suggests that pre-historic peoples used violence to secure resources and land – not unlike their modern-day descendants.”

THE BODIES OF 27 stone-age humans, recently unearthed in northern Kenya, are offering science new insights into the origins of human conflict.

The team of Cambridge University researchers who made the discovery estimate that the site dates from between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago.

This skull has multiple lesions on the front and on the left side, consistent with wounds from a blunt implement, such as a club. (Image source: Marta Mirazon Lahr)

The remains, which were located in the barren scrubland 20 miles west of Lake Turkana, Kenya, were slaughtered and left beside what was once a marsh by what are believed to have been members of a rival tribe.

The grisly discovery represents the earliest known evidence of human conflict – “an ancient precursor to what we call warfare,” say officials with the Cambridge’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies.

Of the 12 mostly intact fossilized skeletons discovered in the dried swamp-bed, 10 clearly died from either blows to the head or puncture wounds to the neck and chest. Spear and arrow heads found among the bodies were carved from volcanic obsidian – a stone not found locally. This suggests the victims, which appear to be from the same extended family or tribe, were slaughtered by an invading band of nomads.

The site also represents the first known evidence of what we could today consider a war atrocity – at least four of those killed, including a pregnant female, appear to have been bound when they died. Some of the other dead were children. Many of the partial remains recovered feature broken ribs, hands and limbs.

The location of the discovery, the site of a once fertile wetland, may provide proof that pre-historic humans used violence to secure resources and land – not unlike their modern-day descendants. Fragments of pottery found nearby indicate the slaughtered inhabitants likely stored food at the site – another possible objective of the murderous raiders.

“The Nataruk massacre may have resulted from an attempt to seize resources – territory or food stored in pots – whose value was similar to those of later food-producing agricultural societies,” said Cambridge researcher Marta Mirazon Lahr. “However, Nataruk may simply be evidence of a standard antagonistic response to an encounter between two social groups at that time.”


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