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Subject:

Warfare and archaeological evidence

From:

Colin Pardoe <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Colin Pardoe <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 19 Jan 1999 15:39:56 +0930

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The questions [John Wood and Howard Mitchell] about evidence for warfare in
late Neolithic times make me want to write about one of my favourite
topics, the analytical boundaries of archaeology. But first:

There are a number of researchers [biological anthropology, skeletal
biology, biology in archaeology] who have written, directly or indirectly,
about warfare and the skeletal evidence. Without wishing to offend by
omission, one might look at the works of Mays, Roberts, Brothwell, Molleson.

Skeletons may provide a view of a person's life, which includes insults and
injuries, but they rarely show the manner of death. We generally do not
like to divulge this information, since it is a major role of biological
anthropology to lord it over [the rest of] archaeology. Cases of arrows in
vertebral columns or sword cuts in heads are rare and newsworthy as
immediate examples of the reality of warfare and violence, but their rarity
renders analysis difficult. Studies of violence can prove instructive, even
where the source of that violence cannot be known with certainty. As an
example, cranial compression [or depressed] fractures and fractures of the
forearm are highly patterned in ancient Australian Aboriginal societies,
with social organisation and sex being two major determinants of the
prevalence of these trauma. Population based studies of violence have been
carried out in England. A couple of examples of differing sort [from ADS
catalogue]:

Brothwell, D R 1971 'Forensic aspects of the so-called Neolithic
skeleton Q1 from Maiden Castle, Dorset' World Archaeol 3, 1971 233-41.
A major finding is that some of the injuries would seem to be the result of
a long sharp metal weapon - a fact which is incompatible with the supposed
Neolithic date of the skeleton. As a result of this clash in evidence, a
14C date was obtained directly from a bone sample. This supports a
post-Neolithic date for the body.

Mays, S A 1991 'The mediaeval burials from the Blackfriars Friary,
School Street, Ipswich, Suffolk (excavated 1983-85)' Ancient Monuments
Lab Rep English Heritage AML London 16/91, 1991 ii.
Two hundred and fifty burials (148 male adults, sixty-four female adults,
fourteen unsexed adults and twenty-four juveniles)
weapon injuries.

As for direct evidence, I had a wonderful three months mid 98 collecting
data on British skeletons including a lot of Neolithic. While not looking
for pathology explicitly, I did not note any trauma that looked like the
result of combat. What was clearly evident was a great opportunity for the
application of skeletal biology to the archaeological record. Human burials
and skeletons make up a large part of the archaeological record,
particularly today when development drives a lot of work.  The most emotive
and obviously important part of that record is the burials, yet they occupy
a smaller fraction of time and effort in analysis.

All of which brings me to the analytical boundaries of archaeology.
Skeletal studies sit like a disconformity on the bedrock of science.
Instead of bridging biology and culture, they often slip down the crack
between biol.anth and archaeology; neither fish nor fowl so to speak.
Skeletal studies are an integral part of archaeology [in my view], so
imagine my amazement and horror to find that reburial is actively condoned
and even promoted by some archaeologists in England.

Yours in Science

>On 29 December John Wood wrote:
>
>>what evidence do we have for a peaceful period about 2200BC?
>
>We have evidence of warfare in the early Neolithic as enclosures like
>Crickley Hill and Carn Brea seem to have been assaulted and destroyed, but
>is there any evidence for LATE Neolithic conflict? Stonehenge itself is
>surrounded by barrows but I know of no excavation which has revealed
>injuries which could be due to battle (the skeleton in the Stonehenge ditch
>itself which had several arrows embedded in it is usually seen as a
>sacrifice). Trephination seems to have been a bigger killer than combat.
>Does anyone know of burials from the period showing what could be combat
>injuries?

Dr Colin Pardoe
Skeletal Provenancing Project
c/o South Australian Museum
North Terrace,
Adelaide, SA 5000.
AUSTRALIA

President, Australian Archaeological Association

note new numbers which should work through March 99:
Phone: (08) 8207 7573
Fax:     (08) 8207 7656         (international: +61 (8) 8207 7656)
e-mail: [log in to unmask]




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