Hunter-gatherer bones from 13,000 years ago show that they did not die in a single battle.
The Jebel Sahaba Cemetery, discovered in the Nile River Valley and dating from 13,400 – 18,600 years ago, is considered one of the oldest known examples of what was a war. A new analysis has now revealed how these violent clashes really took place.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, maintains that the people buried in this cemetery, located in northern Sudan, were likely the target of a series of violent attacks rather than a single armed conflict.
To do this, the researchers re-examined the bones of 61 people from this place and have found more than 100 new signs of injuries, many of which were not fatal. In addition, a quarter of the skeletons had healed and unhealed wounds, which has led them to believe that this group of people experienced more than one episode of violence in their lives.
«We reject the hypothesis that Jebel Sahaba reflects a single war event, with new data supporting sporadic and recurrent episodes of interpersonal violence, likely triggered by major climate and environmental changes,» the researchers write in the article published in Scientific Reports.
The research, carried out by a team of anthropologists, prehistorians and geochemists from the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Toulouse, has also revealed that most of the injuries were caused by projectile weapons, such as arrows or spears, by so the attacks probably came from outside the group and not from within.
The timing of these episodes coincides with the end of the last Ice Age. This climate change turned the Nile Valley area into «an area of refuge for human populations subject to these climatic fluctuations,» the researchers say.
Hence the succession of ambushes between different peoples of hunter-fisher-gatherers to take over the place. «Competition for resources is therefore probably one of the causes of the conflicts witnessed in the Jebel Sahaba cemetery,» they conclude.