Although we live in the most peaceful and prosperous era for the human race, some people despise the present time and believe that humans were better people in the past — in fact, this belief often comes hand in hand with that of an idyllic and idealized past that never existed, making it clear that a lot of people skipped history lessons.
And last week the noble savage myth received another lunge, as a prehistoric slaughter committed in Nataruk (Kenya) 10,000 years ago was discovered. The New York Times notes that the slaughter took place between hunter-gatherers:
Of 12 relatively complete skeletons, 10 showed unmistakable signs of violent death, the scientists said. Partial remains of at least 15 other people were found at the site and are thought to have died in the same attack.
The bones at the lake, in northern Kenya, tell a tale of ferocity. One man was hit twice in the head by arrows or small spears and in the knee by a club. A woman, pregnant with a 6- to 9-month-old fetus, was killed by a blow to the head, the fetal skeleton preserved in her abdomen. The position of her hands and feet suggest that she may have been tied up before she was killed.
Marta Mirazon Lahr and Robert A. Foley, of Cambridge University and the Turkana Basin Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and a team of other scientists, concluded in Nature that the find represented warfare among prehistoric hunter-gatherers.
Luke A. Glowacki, a postdoctoral researcher in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University not involved with the discovery, agreed. “There’s no other find like it,” he said.
With Richard Wrangham, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, Dr. Glowacki has traced the evolutionary roots of human warfare in chimpanzee behavior. And, he said, this find “shows warfare occurred before the invention of agriculture.”
Researchers have been exploring a large area there since 2009 that is rich in fossils, remnants of tools like harpoons, and some evidence of pottery.
While in Latin America their counterparts carried out ritual beheadings, in Africa they were savagely killing each other.
Do you think the past was better? Think again!
(image: Marta Mirazon Lahr)