Bound hand and foot, a pregnant woman and other people met violent deaths before being dumped into shallow lagoon in East Africa. Trussed like a captive animal, the mother was found with at least 27 members of her tribe who were also brutally murdered. The spectacular archaeological find allows scientists to date warfare to its earliest point in human pre-history. In a murderous rampage of 10,000 years ago, archaeologists have discovered the earliest evidence of stone-age war.
This partially excavated skeleton of a man shows blunt force trauma to the skull
Scientists from Cambridge University found the fossilized bones of the victims lying were they fell. They were preserved in the much of a marshy area that dried up thousands of years ago. The discovery was made in Nataruk, which is a site located some 25 miles from Lake Turkana in the Rift Valley of northern Kenya. The valley is also the place where some of the oldest fossils of hominids such as Australopithecus have been found.
In this skull was found a shard of obsidian left by a Stone Age weapon
The bones of the dead early Africans show the unmistakable signs of violence. The victims included at least eight women and six children. Some were found with the stone points of weapons still imbedded from the time they were slain. The fossilized remains show cracked skulls, skeletons pierced through by stone-tipped arrows and blades. In four cases, the victims had been almost certainly bound before death. Examination of the fossilized bones of the children that they were all under the age of six years, except for one adolescent, and were associated with the women’s skeletons.
The presence of fresh-water molluscs associated with the skeletons aided in dating the Nataruk site.
Most of the skeletons had severe skull fractures, indicating blunt force injuries to the face, as well as broken hands, knees and ribs. Archaeologists also found the marks left by arrows – “sharp force trauma” - piercing the victims’ bodies at the neck. In the case of two men, arrow tips were still lodged in their skulls and chests. The pregnant woman was found crouched, with her arms and ankles crossed and indicating that they were probably bound. Fetal bones were also discovered.
A diagram of the remains of the pregnant woman
Archaeologists found that one of the men had bit of a razor-sharp obsidian blade man still wedged into his skull. The wound was apparently not quite enough to kill him outright. The right side of his head was bashed in by a blunt weapon. The victim’s knees were also shattered and caused him to fall face down in the water that once was there. Another man was killed with two strong blows to the head. Obsidian is a form of volcanic glass that can be chipped by skillful hands into razor-sharp implements. "Obsidian is rare in other late Stone Age sites of this area in West Turkana, which may suggest that the two groups confronted at Nataruk had different home ranges," said Marta Mirazón Lahr of the Leverhulme Center for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge University.
This skull shows characteristics of blunt force trauma
“The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war,” said Mirazón Lahr, who led the study. The news was first reported in “Nature.” “These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers,” Lahr, who hails originally from Argentina.
This skull shows obvious signs of ultra-violence
The site was dated to a much more fertile wetter period that followed the last ice age in Africa. Radio-carbon testing and other tests were conducted on the bones, as well as on the sediment and other organic evidence. The testing dated the find to 9,500 to 10,500 B.C. to the beginning the Holocene – the present geological period. Ten thousand years ago, where there is now relatively barren land, there was a lake shore that afforded plenty of fish, wild game in the nearby forest, and drinking water. The presence of pottery at the site suggests that the people there had enough surplus food that they could store it.
Lahr said, “The Nataruk massacre may have resulted from an attempt to seize resources – territory, women, children, food stored in pots – whose value was similar to those of later food-producing agricultural societies among whom violent attacks on settlements became part of life.” Lahr added that such violence was the rule, not the exception at that point in human evolution. “Nataruk may simply be evidence of a standard antagonistic response to an encounter between two social groups at that time.”
The remains of the pregnant woman showed signs of being hog-tied.
Even so, Professor Robert Foley and study co-author was philosophical: “I’ve no doubt it is in our biology to be aggressive and lethal, just as it is to be deeply caring and loving. A lot of what we understand about human evolutionary biology suggests these are two sides of the same coin.”