Left: Skull of a man found lying prone in the lagoon’s sediments. The skull has multiple lesions consistent with wounds from a blunt implement. Right: The skull in situ.

Left: Fossils included the skull of a man found lying prone in the lagoon’s sediments. The skull has multiple lesions consistent with wounds from a blunt implement. Right: The skull in situ. Photo: Marta Mirazón Lahr | University of Cambridge.

Fossil emains unearthed in Nataruk, in Kenya, reveal the oldest signs of violence between stone-age peoples yet found. The remains are around 10,000 years old and date from the early Stone Age, a time when humans were hunter-gatherers who had not yet mastered agriculture.

Until now, the consensus had been that warfare, or something like it, developed after humans began to become sedentary. Once we stopped moving around, and instead claimed areas as belong to “us” instead of “them,” violence over who got to control local resources arose.

But with these new finds, that all seems to have changed. Researchers discovered the remains in 2012 but only determined the causes of death recently. They have concluded that the people were killed with weapons. They learned this by looking at the kinds of wounds the bodies had sustained, which were caused by blunt or sharp force trauma, depending on the body in question. Some even contained fragments of spears or arrows.

Most conflict between hunter-gatherer groups, historically, has left men dead, and the women and children of the losers subsumed into the victorious group. This result wasn’t the case at Nataruk. Here, fossil remains of men, women, and children were all found with unnatural causes of death. Most startling was the discovery that one of the bodies belonged to a woman who was late in pregnancy, and who shows signs of having had her hands and feet bound before she was killed.

While we can’t possibly know who these people were, who killed them, or why they died, it does paint a grim picture of at least some aspects of stone-age life. These people were very deliberately killed, and they weren’t buried but left where they fell in a lagoon that eventually dried up.

About 

Martin Ackerman is a freelance writer and current editor originally from Staten Island, NY. His university schooling focused on English education and Japanese. He has a (not so secret) passion for art history and political science. When he isn't writing or editing you can find him at sci-tech conventions, building the latest LEGO city or pampering his cat, Tea. You can follow him on Twitter @MarMackerman.