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21 September 2003
Warfare began after people formed villages

Warfare forms the backdrop of human history. But anthropologists, archaeologists and other scholars tend to disagree on war's origins: Some see it as an ailment of civilization and others say it has deeper roots.
     Two anthropologists from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, suggest that although people could have come into conflict before civilization, archaeological remains of burning homes, fleeing refugees and slain captives show simple raids steadily maturing into full-scale warfare as humans settled into villages and society became more stratified.
     Their report appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In their study, Kent Flannery and Joyce Marcus examined the past 10,000 years of  Mexico's Oaxaca Valley. Until Native American village life began there, even with corn's domestication around 5,400 years ago, no evidence of warfare emerges from the region. But researchers find signs of dwellings burned in raids from 3,500 years ago, when settled life began.
     Defensive palisades in the valley were rapidly followed by hieroglyphics depicting slain captives, fortresses and "the first skull rack," the researchers write. Dating of artifacts shows temples burned and captives taken in hieroglyphic descriptions, and a warrior elite was widespread throughout villages in the valley by 2,500 years ago.
    Fighting did occur among simpler foraging societies before the settlement of villages, but it was sporadic and seldom led to full-scale warfare, said archaeologist Richard Blanton of Purdue University. "They could solve problems by simply getting up and leaving," he said. But once they had invested the effort in constructing dwellings and other buildings, he added, "It was worth it to stand and fight."

Sources: Gannet News, The Seattle Times (17 September 2003)

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