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Early FarmersThe View from Archaeology and Science$

Alasdair Whittle and Penny Bickle

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780197265758

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: May 2015

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM BRITISH ACADEMY SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.britishacademy.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright British Academy, 2020. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in BASO for personal use.date: 03 June 2020

Violence in Neolithic North-west Europe

Violence in Neolithic North-west Europe

A Population Perspective

Chapter:
(p.281) 15 Violence in Neolithic North-west Europe
Source:
Early Farmers
Author(s):

Rick J. Schulting

Linda Fibiger

Publisher:
British Academy
DOI:10.5871/bacad/9780197265758.003.0015

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter presents the (re-)analysis of Neolithic cranial remains from southern Scandinavia and Britain and Ireland, offering a large, population-based inter-regional study of violence and challenging the perception that this was a ‘peaceful’ period. The authors discuss the state and location of injuries, as well as the demography of those affected, taking into consideration the probability of the accidental or non-accidental injuries and addressing the confounding factors of differential preservation. Their results show some general similarities in the prevalence and types of injuries between the two study regions. The majority of injuries recorded are minor and healed, in contrast to the well known mass-fatality sites of the Early Neolithic. While numerous examples of unhealed injuries are observed in the study area, they generally lack the focal context that would indicate massacre sites. Both types of injury have important implications for our understanding of violent interaction and conflict in Neolithic society.

Keywords:   Cranial remains, southern Scandinavia, Britain and Ireland, injury, demography, violence, conflict

Introduction

THE PAST FEW DECADES HAVE SEEN A SIGNIFICANT INCREASE in the reporting of prehistoric violence, and a consideration of its role in past societies (Bowles 2012, Keeley 1996). This, in turn, has engendered renewed debate over the timing of the appearance of what can be termed ‘war’ and its importance in socio-political change. The onset of farming is seen in some discussions as playing a crucial role in this debate, with some denying the existence of warfare prior to this watershed in human history (Beyneix 2007, Peter-Röcher 2007). The European Neolithic provides a rich – if still fragmented – database to bring to bear on these issues (Armit et al. 2007, Schulting and Fibiger 2012). Here, we present an overview of selected results from a recently completed research project aimed at re-analysing a large number of Neolithic crania from north-west Europe. In total some 2000 crania were examined from institutions in Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Britain, Ireland and France. A central emphasis in the project was placed on putting the evidence for interpersonal violence into a population perspective, rather than focusing on individual or site- specific cases of trauma, important as these unquestionably are (Meyer et al. 2009, Teschler-Nicola 2012, Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996, Wahl an König 1987, Wahl and Trautmann 2012). This provides a baseline for the prevalence of at least cranial trauma, enabling comparisons at various levels, from different contemporary contexts (such as caves and monuments) and demographic (age/sex) groups, to broader comparisons between different regions – not just within Europe, but globally – and time periods. The findings presented here are ultimately aimed at this goal.

For this contribution we focus on a comparison of material from southern Scandinavia (Denmark and Sweden) and Britain and Ireland. These areas share some elements of cultural similarity during the early and middle Neolithic (Rowley-Conwy 2004). Both are on the fringes of the spread of farming through central Europe, and both saw a relatively late appearance, probably from c. 4000 cal BC (p.282) onwards (Sørensen and Karg in press, Whittle et al. 2011), of the set of traits and behaviours that together make up the ‘Neolithic’ (though Sheridan (2010; this volume Chapter 19) raises the possibility of an earlier inception for Britain and Ireland). These include first and foremost the domesticated plants and animals lying at the core of a mixed farming/herding way of life, along with (to varying degrees) novel material culture, and new forms of domestic and mortuary architecture. The middle Neolithic in both regions sees the introduction of passage tombs, from which a number of the individuals in the present study derive.

A significant proportion of the extant material was examined for Neolithic Britain and Ireland (c. 3800–3000 cal BC), and for middle and late Neolithic Denmark (c. 3300–2000 cal BC). For Britain and Ireland in particular, this includes a large number of individuals belonging to communities situated within the first few centuries of the appearance of farming, with coverage from southern England and Wales to Orkney in northern Scotland. Eastern Denmark (mainly Zealand, Lolland and Falster) contributes the majority of the southern Scandinavian material examined, as a result of the generally good preservation conditions there (Fibiger et al. 2013). Most individuals from this region considered here belong to a period when farming was already well established. The early Neolithic material from Denmark has previously been analysed (Bennike 1985), and is currently being reassessed (Pia Bennike, pers. comm.). Thus, while there is some overlap, the southern Scandinavian collections tend to extend rather later in time than the British and Irish material, for which the appearance of Beaker pottery c. 2500 cal BC was used as a cut-off point, though late Neolithic (3000–2500 cal BC) human remains are notoriously rare in Britain and feature only peripherally.

Methodology

The focus on cranial trauma is, in part, dictated by the diverse nature of the available material across the study area. Many of the collections are the result of nineteenth and early twentieth-century excavations, in which interest in post-cranial skeletal remains was often limited, such that they were not always retained. Crania, by contrast, were of special interest given their central role in the study of race in the fledging discipline of physical anthropology (Ripley 1899). But equally, in the absence of edged weapons, and excluding projectile injuries, post-cranial trauma is usually interpreted as reflecting accidents rather than interpersonal violence. The exceptions to this are so-called parry fractures of the ulna, and fractures of the metacarpals and hand phalanges (Lovell 1997; but see Judd 2008). While some parry fractures were observed, and others have been reported in the literature, post-crania were not systematically examined in this study.

A major advantage of the project is that the same criteria for the identification of cranial trauma were applied. A subset of crania were examined by both (p.283) researchers, with close agreement on the presence or absence of ante-/peri-mortem injury. Crania were examined visually with careful attention to fracture edges, and a digital photographic archive created. Potential cutmarks were examined by hand lens. Crania were scored for condition and completeness. Condition refers to the external cortical surfaces, and is most relevant for assessing the visibility of cutmarks, since eroded or exfoliated surfaces would not preserve such modifications. In a few cases, erosion was so extreme as to obscure any potential small, healed injuries; such specimens have been excluded from the analysis. In this overview, we do not further discuss cutmarks, but focus on the evidence for cranial trauma.

The degree of completeness was scored both in 10% and 25% increments for individual elements of the cranial vault (left and right sides of the frontal, parietals, occipital and temporals), the maxillary region (left and right nasals, malars, and maxilla) and, where present, the left and right halves of the mandible. This is necessary in order to control for differential completeness between collections, which is very much a feature of the material examined. The Danish crania, for example, tended to be both in very good condition and relatively complete, often including the presence of the fragile nasal bones (and indeed a number of healed injuries thereon). Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for most of the other collections, including those from Britain and Ireland. Obviously any comparison of the overall prevalence of trauma – and even more so of nasal trauma specifically – would need to take this into account (cf. Robb 1997, Waldron 1991). For the purposes of this chapter, we include only those elements ≥75% complete in the calculation of injury prevalence for individual cranial elements. As detailed below, this excludes a number of both healed and unhealed injuries in both study areas, on elements not meeting this criterion. This problem is particularly noteworthy in a number of collections from specific sites, in which the material is highly fragmentary. It is possible that some of this material might be reconstructed in future, which would help to both confirm the presence of trauma and allow its inclusion in the kinds of summary calculations presented here. Re-fitting is timeconsuming, however, and is further complicated by the division of skeletal material from some sites between different institutions (such as West Tump chambered tomb, Gloucestershire).

Small depressions were treated as probable healed injuries if they were at least 5mm in any one dimension (the majority were larger than this) and were smooth-walled, as opposed to exhibiting lytic reaction, such as seen for example in epidermoid and other cysts (Bikmaz et al. 2005) (Figure 15.1). While some of these small defects may of course represent accidental injuries, depressed fractures of the cranial vault are usually attributed to interpersonal violence, with falls more likely to result in linear fractures (Given and Williams 2002). Very few examples of linear fractures were observed in the present study, an exception being an adult individual from Dinnington long barrow, Yorkshire (Schulting 2012, fig. 13.3). (p.284)

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.1 Adult left parietal with active lytic lesion indicating a probable cyst (Penywyrlod 74.23H, 9.01, Wales, National Museum of Wales).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

This is excluded from further consideration in the analysis due to uncertainties over whether it is the result of interpersonal violence.

Peri-mortem injuries were identified using the following criteria: smooth, oblique fracture margins; rounded fracture arcs on the external table (a particular feature of blunt force injuries); overall shape of the defect; the presence of depressed, adhering bone around the injury site; concentric and/or radiating oblique fracture lines; and, crucially for archaeological examples, patinated fracture margins (Berryman and Haun 1996, Berryman and Symes 1998, Delannoy et al. 2012, Knight 1991). Although other contexts are represented, many of the crania examined derived from long barrows (in the case of eastern and south-central England) and chambered tombs, in which the skeletal remains were usually highly disarticulated, incomplete and fractured. In the great majority of cases, dry bone breakages could be clearly distinguished by their irregular, rough fracture margins. Given the nature of these contexts, however, a certain degree of ambiguity is introduced by the possibility of post-mortem breakage occurring while the cranium retains sufficient collagen to respond as fresh bone (Jordana et al. 2012). The potential for post-depositional damage due to trampling when the tombs or caves were reentered, and for rockfall, must be considered. It might be argued that such damage, if it occurred while the bone was still in a relatively fresh state, could result in breakages that would be indistinguishable from intentional injuries inflicted during life (cf. Meyer et al. 2008). We are confident, however, that this is not a major factor (p.285) affecting the present analysis. First, crania are arguably less likely than other skeletal elements to be affected by trampling in tomb or cave contexts, nor would a complete cranium be likely to fracture in a way that could be confused with an injury resulting from a directed blow. Secondly, chamber collapse or rockfall would need to occur within the limited period during which the cranium retained sufficient collagen to respond in the same way as fresh bone.

Given the added difficulties of working with archaeological material, we advocate the use of three probability levels – high, medium and low – for the recognition of ante-and peri-mortem trauma (though in practice the issue arises far more frequently with the latter; Schulting and Wysocki 2005). An injury site clearly meeting all or most of the aforementioned criteria would be considered as a ‘high probability’ case of peri-mortem trauma. If, usually through damage to the injury site and/or incompleteness, some of the criteria were not satisfactorily met, the trauma would be considered as being of medium probability. Finally, if too few criteria were satisfactorily met, or the specimen was too incomplete to adequately assess, the injury site would be classed as low probability and excluded from summary statistics. The advantage of formally noting cases of low probability trauma, rather than simply not recording them, is that it highlights specimens that might be worth future reconsideration (an example of which is noted below).

The cranial injuries

Denmark and Sweden

The combined sample for 378 individuals from Denmark and Sweden provides a crude (i.e. not taking cranial completeness into account) prevalence for cranial trauma of 14.0% (Table 15.1). Considering the good preservation in this sample, this figure, while still presenting a minimum, is probably very close to what can be skeletally diagnosed in this material (see below). The majority of injuries, 10.6%, are healed (Figures 15.215.3), with peri-mortem injuries observed on 4.0% of

Table 15.1 Crude prevalence of healed and unhealed injuries by age/sex class for the southern Scandinavian material (male individual with both healed and unhealed injuries is counted only once in total)

N

ante–

%

peri-

%

Total

%

Adult male

197

31

15.7

7

3.6

37

18.8

Adult female

132

9

6.8

6

4.5

15

11.4

Indet. adol/adult

29

0

0.0

1

3.4

1

3.4

Child/infant

20

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

Total

378

40

10.6

14

3.7

53

14.0

(p.286)
Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.2 Adult male with large healed injury (‘pond fracture’) to lower right parietal (Sønderup I, Denmark, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen). Photo by Linda Fibiger.

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.3 Adult male with healed fracture to left zygomatic arch (Falshøj II, Denmark, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen). Photo by Linda Fibiger.

(p.287) the sample (the discrepancy in the totals being due to a single cranium from Denmark exhibiting both healed and unhealed trauma, counted as only one case in the combined total).

Significant differences between the sexes were noted with regard to the presence of healed cranial injuries, affecting 15.7% of males (31/197) compared with 6.8% of females (9/132; χ‎2 = 5.886; df = 1; p = 0.015). In contrast, no significant differences between males and females were found with regard to unhealed (presumed fatal) trauma, and in fact a higher percentage of females were affected: 4.5% (6/132) compared to 3.6% of males (7/197) (Figure 15.4). Driven entirely by the healed injuries, overall skull trauma differences between the sexes in the Scandinavian sample can only be said to be suggestive, affecting 18.8% of males (37/197) and 11.4% of females (15/132) (χ‎2 = 3.268; df = 1; p = 0.071). There are hints of patterning in terms of injury location (right side, left side, anterior) in relation to sex (Fibiger et al. 2013, Tables 7 and 8) with women mostly affected by injuries to the right side and anterior aspect of the cranium, while males predominantly suffered injuries to the front of the head. While the results were not statistically significant (χ‎2 = 3.22, df = 2, p = 0.200) this patterning offers some hints regarding potential gendered differences in attacker–victim constellation and the contexts of violent encounters.

Considering the proportions of individual cranial bones affected (>75% complete), there were no significant differences between the sexes. Generally, more

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.4 Adult female with unhealed perforations to parietals (Hammer I, Denmark, Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen). Photo by Linda Fibiger.

(p.288) injuries were recorded in males, and only the left frontal approached significance when comparing males and females (Fisher’s exact test, p = 0.055), with more males (10/183) than females (1/121) exhibiting injuries. Three injuries – affecting a female right parietal and right temporal (unhealed) and a male right parietal (healed) – are excluded from the individual cranial element calculations, as they occur on elements less than 75% complete (Table 15.2).

Britain and Ireland

The combined British/Irish sample is represented by 573 crania, though many of these are incomplete. The great majority derive from Britain, with Ireland currently contributing only 28 specimens, due to poor preservation conditions over much of that island as a result of acidic soils, as well as a seemingly greater emphasis on cremation in the early and middle Neolithic (Schulting et al. 2012). Excluding a number in the ‘low probability’ category, a total of 74 injuries were identified on 63 individuals, for a crude prevalence of 11.0%, of which 5.1% are healed and 5.9% unhealed (Table 15.3). Individuals with more than one injury are counted only once. These values differ somewhat from those presented in Schulting and Wysocki (2005), where an overall prevalence of 8.9% was cited, with 6.0% healed, and 2.9% unhealed (calculated on the basis of ‘composite crania’, taking incompleteness into account, albeit informally). It is the figure for peri-mortem trauma that differs most substantially. This is due in part to the incorporation of new material in the present study (Figures 15.415.7), but also to a re-assessment of some specimens previously placed in the ‘low probability’ category but now accepted as probable peri-mortem injuries (such as Bole’s Barrow C2; Schulting and Wysocki 2005, fig. 12; for a discussion of other injuries at the same site, see Smith and Brickley 2007).

There are no significant differences between the sexes for either category of injury: healed injuries were recorded on 8.2% (19 of 233) of male crania and 4.2% (six of 144) female crania, while unhealed injuries were recorded on 6.0% (14 of 233) male crania and 6.3% (9 of 144) female crania. Note, however, that this leaves a number of injuries on adolescent and adult crania of indeterminate sex (8 of 132) largely as a result of their incompleteness. An additional seven injuries (out of 64) were observed on the crania of children. This was unexpected, as few such injuries were noted in the earlier study (Schulting and Wysocki 2005). In this case, the difference does lie almost entirely in the inclusion of new material, with the exception of the reclassification of cranium D-4 from Belas Knap as an older child (previously placed in the adolescent category; see Schulting 2012, fig. 13.11).

There is a tendency for both healed (18 of 32) and unhealed (21 of 30) injuries to occur more frequently on the left side of the head, though only the latter figure is statistically significant (α‎ = 0.05, two-tailed test, binomial p = 0.043: note that this analysis includes a small number of cases of multiple injuries to the same (p.289)

Table 15.2 Comparison of healed and unhealed trauma to individual elements >75% complete in the southern Scandinavian sample

Element

Healed

Unhealed

Total

Combined

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

all injuries

k

%

k

%

k

%

k

%

k

%

n

k

%

n

k

%

N

R frontal

10

5.5

4

3.3

0

0.0

i

0.8

10

5.5

182

5

4.1

123

15

4.9

305

L frontal

7

3.8

1

0.8

3

1.6

0

0.0

10

5.5

183

1

0.8

131

11

3.5

314

R parietal

7

4.0

3

2.6

3

1.7

4

3.4

10

5.7

175

7

6.0

116

17

5.8

291

L parietal

5

2.8

1

0.9

4

2.2

2

1.8

9

5.0

179

3

2.6

114

12

4.1

293

R temporal

1

0.7

0

0.0

0

0.0

1

1.1

1

0.7

146

1

1.1

95

2

0.8

241

L temporal

1

0.7

2

2.4

2

1.4

0

0.0

3

2.1

141

2

2.4

82

5

2.2

223

occipital

1

0.6

0

0.0

0

0.0

1

1.0

1

0.6

167

1

1.0

105

2

0.7

272

R malar

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

110

0

0.0

62

0

0.0

111

L malar

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

112

0

0.0

58

0

0.0

170

R nasal

2

2.3

1

2.2

0

0.0

0

0.0

2

2.3

86

1

2.2

46

3

2.3

132

L nasal

3

3.8

1

2.3

0

0.0

0

0.0

3

3.8

79

1

2.3

43

4

3.3

122

R maxilla

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

120

0

0.0

65

0

0.0

185

L maxilla

1

0.9

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

1

0.9

117

0

0.0

56

1

0.6

173

R mandible

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

68

0

0.0

23

0

0.0

91

L mandible

1

1.3

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

1

1.3

75

0

0.0

27

1

1.0

102

Total

39

2.0

13

1.1

12

0.6

9

0.8

51

2.6

1940

22

1.9

1146

73

2.4

3086

(p.290)

Table 15.3 Crude prevalence of healed and unhealed injuries by age/sex class for the British and Irish material

Age/Sex

N

ante-

%

peri-

%

Total

%

Adult male

233

19

8.2

14

6.0

33

14.2

Adult female

144

6

4.2

9

6.3

15

10.4

Indet. adol/adult

132

3

2.3

5

3.8

8

6.1

Child/infant

64

1

1.6

6

9.4

7

10.9

Total

573

29

5.1

33

5.8

63

11.0

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.5 Adult ?female with healed fracture of right zygomatic arch (Lanhill, Eu.1.5.105, England, Duckworth Laboratory, University of Cambridge).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

individual). This excludes one definite and two possible projectile injuries, for which location does not carry the same implications of face-to-face encounters between (usually) right-handed individuals. Given this expectation, an argument could be made for applying a one-tailed test, in which case both the peri-mortem and combined injuries would be significantly biased towards the left side of the cranium (binomial p = 0.031 and 0.021, respectively). There are a further four injuries to the rear of the head (occipital). There is no clear evidence for any relationship between sex and injury location.

Taking element completeness into account (Table 15.4), a number of examples of both healed and unhealed trauma in the British material are excluded for failing (p.291)

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.6a Adult male with probable unhealed blunt force traumata to right parietal (Dinnington Sk 1806, England, Natural History Museum, London).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.6b Internal view, showing patinated bevels.

(p.292)
Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.7 Adult male with unhealed circular perforation (13 × 16mm) to left superior fronto-parietal region (Rowiegar F/T1, Scotland, University of Aberdeen Museums).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

to meet the >75% criterion. A good example is the West Tump chambered tomb, Gloucestershire, where a number of cranial fragments of varying size exhibit suggestive peri-mortem fractures, sometimes on very small fragments (Figure 15.8; see also Smith and Brickley 2009). In fact, four such cases are excluded from the study, including a good candidate for a perforating arrow injury to the right parietal of an adult (?)female (cf. Smith et al. 2007, fig. 4), as well as an unhealed probable stone axe injury (Figure 15.9). Other excluded specimens include a female with two healed injuries to the occipital, a male left frontal with two small healed depressions, another male left frontal with a single healed depression, an unhealed injury to a child’s right parietal, and an unhealed injury to an adult female left parietal (a similar injury on the right parietal of the same individual meets the criterion).

Southern Scandinavia and Britain and Ireland compared

It must be emphasised that the crude prevalence figures for cranial trauma in both the southern Scandinavian and British/Irish material are minimum estimates, since many crania were incomplete, reducing their chances of recording injuries. Moreover, the collections analysed in the two regions show differential completeness, with crania in the sample from Denmark and Sweden being in general (p.293)

Table 15.4 Comparison of healed and unhealed trauma to individual elements >75% complete in the British/Irish sample

Element

Healed

Unhealed

Total

Combined

Male

Female

Male

Female

Male

Female

all injuries

k

%

k

%

k

%

k

%

k

%

n

k

%

n

k

%

N

R frontal

3

1.7

i

1.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

2

1.9

0

0.0

i

2.7

3

1.7

181

3

2.9

105

0

0.0

44

i

2.7

37

7

1.9

367

L frontal

5

2.7

i

0.9

1

2.1

1

3.3

2

1.1

3

2.8

0

0.0

i

3.3

7

3.8

184

4

3.7

109

1

2.1

48

2

6.7

30

14

3.8

371

R parietal

8

4.9

i

1.1

1

2.2

0

0.0

3

1.8

2

2.2

2

4.4

2

7.4

11

6.7

163

3

3.3

92

3

6.7

45

2

7.4

27

19

5.8

327

L parietal

4

2.6

3

3.3

0

0.0

0

0.0

10

6.4

2

2.2

0

0.0

1

3.4

14

9.0

156

5

5.4

92

0

0.0

41

1

3.4

29

20

6.3

318

R temporal

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

116

0

0.0

62

0

0.0

21

0

0.0

17

0

0.0

216

L temporal

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

124

0

0.0

63

0

0.0

23

0

0.0

20

0

0.0

230

occipital

1

0.7

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

2

1.4

0

0.0

1

2.8

1

4.3

3

2.1

143

0

0.0

70

1

2.8

36

1

4.3

23

5

1.8

272

R malar

0

0.0

1

3.1

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

83

1

3.1

32

0

0.0

11

0

0.0

16

1

0.7

142

L malar

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

78

0

0.0

39

0

0.0

11

0

0.0

16

0

0.0

144

R nasal

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

45

0

0.0

18

0

0.0

6

0

0.0

7

0

0.0

76

L nasal

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

44

0

0.0

18

0

0.0

7

0

0.0

8

0

0.0

77

R maxilla

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

79

0

0.0

41

0

0.0

19

0

0.0

17

0

0.0

156

L maxilla

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

75

0

0.0

42

0

0.0

15

0

0.0

18

0

0.0

150

R mandible

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

57

0

0.0

35

0

0.0

20

0

0.0

10

0

0.0

122

L mandible

0

0.0

0

0.0

1

5.6

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

0

0.0

63

0

0.0

34

1

5.6

18

0

0.0

10

1

0.8

125

Total

21

1.3

7

0.8

3

0.8

1

0.4

16

1.0

9

1.1

3

0.8

6

2.1

38

2.3

1591

16

1.9

852

6

1.6

365

7

2.5

285

67

2.2

3093

(p.294)
Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.8 Adult? frontal fragment with probable peri-mortem injury (arc on right side of photo) (West Tump 1913/33/1519, England, Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

considerably more complete than those from Britain and Ireland. Thus, for example, approximately 80% of the 378 crania in the southern Scandinavian sample had frontal bones that were at least three-quarters complete, whereas this figure drops to c. 65% for the British/Irish sample. A similar discrepancy applies to all of the individual elements of the cranium (with the exception of the mandible, which shows equally low representation in both study regions; Figure 15.10). Another way of making this comparison is to note that, while some 573 individuals are represented in the British and Irish sample, compared with 378 in the southern Scandinavian sample, they are very nearly equal in terms of the number of individual cranial elements that are more than 75% complete (Table 15.5).

Looking first at crude prevalence figures, the southern Scandinavian sample has a significantly greater proportion of males affected by healed trauma than the British/Irish sample (15.7% versus 8.2%, z = 2.44, p = 0.0145; Figure 15.11). There is no significant difference in unhealed trauma to males, nor in either healed or unhealed trauma to females. The high prevalence of healed male trauma is a notable feature of the Danish material in particular, though again this can be at least partly related to the excellent preservation and completeness of this collection (Fibiger et al. 2013). In fact, when differential completeness is taken into account, the prevalence of healed and unhealed injuries to adult males and females shifts. Formal evaluation of this comparison is not straightforward, and there are a number of (p.295)

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.9a Adult with probable peri-mortem injury to upper posterior left parietal (West Tump 1913/33/3758, England, Cheltenham Museum and Art Gallery).

Photo by Rick J. Schulting.

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.9b Internal view, showing patinated bevels.

(p.296)
Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.10 Comparison of percentage of elements >75% complete for southern Scandinavia (n = 378) and Britain/Ireland (n = 573).

Table 15.5 Comparison of the number of individual cranial elements >75% complete for southern Scandinavia and Britain and Ireland

Element

S Scandinavia

% of N

Britain & Ireland

% of N

R frontal

305

80.7

369

64.4

L frontal

304

80.4

372

64.9

R parietal

291

77.0

330

57.6

L parietal

293

77.5

320

55.8

R temporal

241

63.8

217

37.9

L temporal

223

59.0

231

40.3

occipital

272

72.0

273

47.6

R malar

172

45.5

142

24.8

L malar

170

45.0

144

25.1

R nasal

132

34.9

76

13.3

L nasal

122

32.3

77

13.4

R maxilla

185

48.9

157

27.4

L maxilla

173

45.8

151

26.4

R mandible

91

24.1

138

24.1

L mandible

102

27.0

139

24.3

N

378

573

(p.297) possible approaches currently being investigated. A simple first approximation is to compare prevalence figures for the part of the cranial vault most frequently affected by trauma (frontal and left and right parietals), using element counts (>75% complete). Revisiting the comparison of healed trauma to males in the two study areas, the difference highlighted in the crude prevalence figures disappears; 29 of 719 elements (4.03%) are affected in the southern Scandinavian sample, compared with 20 of 684 elements (2.92%) in the British/Irish sample (z = 1.13, p = 0.258). A similar result is obtained comparing the total number of healed injuries on all elements (>75%).

The British data show a higher proportion of cranial injuries to children (7 of 64, or 10.9% crude prevalence, compared to 0 of 20 for the smaller Danish sample; no children’s crania were examined from Ireland or Sweden). The great majority of these cases (6 of the 7) are unhealed. Given the small number of children in the southern Scandinavian sample, this difference is not significant (binomial p = 0.200).

In terms of injury locations, not surprisingly the majority (both in terms of absolute number and relative proportions) of healed and unhealed injuries are found on the frontal and the left and right parietal bones, since together these comprise most of the cranial vault, and are most at risk from blows aimed at the head. In the

Violence in Neolithic North-west EuropeA Population Perspective

Figure 15.11 Comparison of crude cranial injury prevalence data for southern Scandinavia (n = 378) and Britain/Ireland (n = 573). Note that this does not take differential completeness into account, and so underestimates the true prevalence in both regions, but more so for Britain/Ireland.

(p.298) southern Scandinavian sample this extends onto the temporals, while no clear injuries were observed on these elements in the British and Irish material. The other difference is in the number of healed breaks to the nasal bones observed on the Danish material (Fibiger et al. 2013, fig. 4); as noted above, this is no doubt partly a reflection of its better state of preservation. With this exception, and in marked contrast to modern domestic and unarmed street violence (Le et al. 2001, Rogers 2004, Shermis 1984, Walker 1997), injuries to the facial bones (maxilla, zygomatics and mandible) appear to have been relatively rare in the Neolithic. While these elements are certainly less well represented (Table 15.5), this alone is insufficient to account for the difference. Instead, it seems probable that it does relate to the nature of interpersonal violence. Specifically, and with the exception of nasal injuries, the majority of healed trauma observed on the archaeological material are the result of armed rather than unarmed conflict (leaving aside for the moment the question of the nature of the ‘arms’ cf. Chapman 1999).

The southern Scandinavian data fail to show even the hint of a tendency for left-side preference, while this is observed to some extent in the British and Irish material. This could suggest different contexts for conflict in the two areas, and/or the use of different tactics, weapons, and so on. Further work is underway on comparisons with the corpus of material from Germany and France also collected as part of the wider study.

The great majority of the recorded headed injuries are small, generally circular depressions averaging about 10mm in diameter. Such injuries could be caused, for example, by blunted antler tines used as clubs. Others are substantially larger – though of course large injuries are less likely to have been survived – and are probably the result of blows with wooden clubs or stones (either hand-held, thrown, or incorporated into a club fixed to a wooden handle). Unhealed injuries generally take similar forms, with the addition of a small number of lenticular fractures for which a stone axe can be suggested (Figures 15.4 and 15.9). Finally, a small number of small lozenge-shaped perforations with marked internal bevels can be suggested to represent arrow injuries.

Discussion

What can be said concerning the nature of Neolithic conflict in north-west Europe on the basis of the findings presented here? First, it is important to recognise the limitations of both the material and of our approach. In terms of the material, the majority of the skeletal remains from the two study areas derive from normative (or at least the most commonly found) mortuary contexts: long barrows (for eastern and south-central England) and chambered tombs. Wherever and however these individuals died – and some died violently – their remains were brought to these (usually) communal places for interment. There is clearly the potential for this to (p.299) be a biased sample, though whether this bias would be for or against individuals who died violently is unclear, and in any case perhaps no general pattern in this regard should be expected over such a large area and time period in any case (cf. Schulting and Wysocki 2005, Schulting 2012). A further limitation given these mortuary contexts is that, at least for the most part, it is not possible to address the scale of any individual violent encounters. As argued elsewhere, the small number of southern British enclosure sites that appear to have been attacked in force offer greater insights into the existence of large-scale battles and hence the scale of Neolithic conflict (‘warfare’) (such as Hambledon Hill, Carn Brea, Crickley Hill; Dixon 1988; Mercer 1989, 1999; Schulting 2006, 2012; cf. Whittle et al. 2011, chapter 14). Massacre sites such as Talheim in south-west Germany (Wahl and König 1987, Wahl and Trautmann 2012) provide another indication of the scale and ferocity of interpersonal violence sometimes realised, but no comparable sites have as yet been found in the Neolithic of southern Scandinavia or Britain and Ireland. However, some of the sites examined in these regions present with multiple injured individuals, hinting at either repeated episodes of interpersonal violence or the occurrence of violent events that go beyond one-to-one encounters. Examples include Borreby in Zealand and perhaps Whitehawk causewayed enclosure and West Tump chambered tomb in England, though consideration of the latter is hampered by heavy fragmentation. The first phase of the Wayland’s Smithy chambered tomb – with a recently confirmed embedded projectile fragment, and two other arrowheads in close association with skeletons – presents another potential case, particularly in the light of a Bayesian analysis of the radiocarbon-dated human remains from this phase, which allows the possibility that all 14 individuals were interred simultaneously in the period 3590–3550 cal BC (Whittle et al. 2007).

In terms of our approach, an obvious limitation is that we have systematically examined only crania. While a small number of possible arrow injuries have been identified on the British cranial material (Schulting 2012, fig. 13.14; Schulting and Wysocki 2005, fig. 15; Smith et al. 2007, fig. 4) and on a mandible from Kilgreany, Co. Waterford, Ireland (Dowd et al. 2006; the embedded bone point in the nasal cavity of the Early Neolithic Porsmose skeleton, Denmark, can also be mentioned here (Becker 1952)), the great majority of such wounds will have impacted on the post-cranial skeleton. A number of such examples are known from Britain (Schulting 2006, 2012; Whittle et al. 2007), Ireland (Lynch and Ó Donnabháin 1994) and southern Scandinavia (Becker 1952, Bennike 1985). Arrow injuries in turn will only hit bone in approximately one-third of the cases in which the body was struck (Milner 2005), and not all of these will leave traces in a form recognised by osteologists. In restricting our study to crania, then, we are biasing the injuries towards those received in close personal encounters. This no doubt encompasses a range of situations, including domestic violence and other intragroup disputes as well as inter-community violence. Some cranial injuries might (p.300) result from conflict at a distance, involving the use of slings or simply hand-thrown stones, though evidence for the former remains elusive for the Neolithic of northwest Europe. This could be a factor in the general lack of strong locational patterning on the cranium, especially for healed injuries (Fibiger 2014, Schulting and Wysocki 2005). If these were mainly the result of face-to-face encounters, a predominance of injuries to the left side of the head should result, as c. 90% of most human populations are right-handed, and would naturally tend to strike the left side of a facing opponent. This kind of encounter may itself have been rare, though it may have featured in the kinds of ritualised combat that are seen in a number of societies ethnographically (Abbink 2001, Chagnon 1997, Lizot 1985, Otterbein 1968, Riefenstahl 1973), and are often drawn upon in interpretations of healed blunt force cranial injuries found archaeologically (Papathanasiou 2012, Schulting and Wysocki 2005, Walker 1989), though others have rightly expressed reservations (Jurmain and Bellifemine 1997).

The end result of our focus on cranial trauma is that we are presenting only minimum estimates for the prevalence of interpersonal violence in the Neolithic. Although it has been noted previously, it is worth commenting on the essentially equal prevalence of peri-mortem (presumably lethal) cranial injuries on both men and women in the two study areas. This is counter to what some might expect when dealing with ‘warfare’, which supposedly directly affects mainly young adult males (Archer 1994). But such an expectation misconstrues the nature of conflict in small-scale societies, which tends to avoid pitched battles between groups of predominantly male warriors, in favour of raids and ambush. There is a wealth of ethnographic evidence to this effect, to the extent that it can be proffered as a central feature of inter-group conflict in small-scale societies (Burch 2007, Das 2006, Gat 1999, Maschner and Reedy-Maschner 1998, Otterbein 1999). Similarly, the strongest motivation to organising raids is revenge for past killings or other grievances, and this may be on the inter-generational level (Schröder and Schmidt 2001). The important point about revenge killings is that the specific identity of the victim often matters little, as long as they are a member of the offending group (Kelly 2000). The outcome of these two observations is that lethal violence against women (and children) is to be expected to feature as or nearly as strongly as against adult men (Schulting 2013, Fibiger 2014). The death of any member of an enemy group (a designation that may change often as alliances are created and broken), then, can satisfy the desire for blood vengeance. In some circumstances, young women may themselves be the objects of raids (Otterbein 2000), and indeed this has been suggested as a possible explanation for the dearth of this demographic group among the skeletons featuring peri-mortem trauma in the ditches of an Early Neolithic enclosure of Asparn-Schletz, Austria (Teschler-Nicola 2012, Teschler-Nicola et al. 1996). Children may also be taken as captives on raids, and this and the capture of women could offer an alternative view on the nature of mobility that is becoming an increasing focus of discussion in the European Neolithic, as a (p.301) result of the application of strontium and oxygen isotope analyses to human remains (Bentley 2007, Bentley et al. 2003, Bickle and Whittle 2013): not all individual mobility may have been voluntary.

Conclusions

As has long been recognised, the Neolithic was not an entirely peaceful time. Nor, on the other hand, was it overly violent, at least in the sense that comparisons can be made with other places and times with much higher incidences of cranial trauma (Redfern 2009, Standen and Arriaza 2000, Torres-Rouff and Junqueira 2006, Tung 2008). That being said, the inferred levels of interpersonal violence, while not atypical of small-scale ‘tribal’ societies, are far beyond what most of the modern Western world has experienced outside of the last century’s two world wars and a number of inner city areas (Keeley 1996, Pinker 2011). The aim of the present study has been to provide suitable prevalence data for healed and unhealed trauma from Neolithic north-west Europe that enable just these kinds of comparisons. While there are various caveats associated with estimating actual population prevalence figures (relating largely to issues of representativeness and completeness, concerning which further work is underway), it can be suggested that c. 8–15% of the Neolithic population in both southern Scandinavia and in Britain and Ireland experienced blows to their heads sufficient to cause bone breakage at some point or points in their lives. Males may have been at somewhat greater risk, though this may have varied regionally. Rather more critical for those involved, something on the order of 4–8% of the population experienced peri-mortem trauma, that were in most cases probably either themselves the cause of death, or part of a suite of injuries received at the same time.

But it must be acknowledged that these figures in themselves say relatively little about how violence was perceived by people at the time, whether they felt themselves to be living in ‘dangerous times’, or whether this level of interpersonal violence was taken for granted. One suspects the latter, though it is worth noting that in our own society, the actual incidence of violence may have little bearing to how it is perceived (Lewis and Salem 1986). Understanding the multi-faceted impact of interpersonal violence as experienced in the Neolithic thus presents considerable challenges.

Acknowledgements

Our thanks go to the many institutions and individuals who facilitated our visits to their collections. Meg Hutchinson was of great assistance during research on the collections of the University of Aberdeen Museums, and identified a number of (p.302) the injuries included in the study. David Lawrence kindly shared his observations on Isbister. The research presented here was supported by a Leverhulme Trust Research Grant to RJS (F/08 735/E) and by a Wenner-Gren Foundation Hunt Postdoctoral Fellowship to LF (Grant No. 8202).

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Proceedings of the British Academy 198, 281–06. © The British Academy 2014.