Researchers have unearthed fossilised bones of a group of prehistoric hunter-gatherers who were massacred around 10,000 years ago in Kenya which sheds light on the earliest scientifically-dated historical evidence of human conflict — an ancient precursor to what we call warfare.
Researchers from Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies found the partial remains of 27 individuals, including at least eight women and six children, 30 km west of Lake Turkana in Kenya in a place called Nataruk.
Twelve skeletons were in a relatively complete state, and 10 of these showed clear signs of a violent death.
Several of the skeletons were found face down while most had severe cranial fractures.
The bodies were not buried. Some had fallen into a lagoon that has long since dried and the bones preserved in sediment.
The findings suggest these hunter-gatherers, perhaps members of an extended family, were attacked and killed by a rival group of pre-historic foragers.
“The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war,” said Marta Mirazon Lahr, who led the Nataruk study, in a paper published in the journal 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 said.
The authors estimate the event occurred between 9,500 to 10,500 years ago, around the start of the Holocene — the geological epoch that followed the last Ice Age.
“While we will never know why these people were so violently killed, Nataruk is one of the clearest cases of inter-group violence among prehistoric hunter-gatherers,” Lahr added.