War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage

By Lawrence H. Keeley

Oxford University Press, New York. 1996


Preface –

The author made several proposals for research funding.  A third proposal was successful only after he rewrote it to be neutral about the function of the Darion ditch-palisade, which was referred to as an “enclosure.”.


The percentage of violent deaths at the prehistoric California Indian village, he helped excavate was four times the percentage of violent daths suffered by inhabitants of the US and Europe in this bloody century.


Archaelogical opinion quickly became much more open-minded about the probability of armed conflicts in the Early Neolithic of western Europe.  In 1989, when Cahen and he published a report in an international journal on our first full field seasons, the prepublication reviewers (some of whom were almost certainly the same referees who had skeptically review my unsuccessful NFS proposal) were uniformly favorable.


Chapter One The pacified Past: The anthropology of War

It is thus not surprising that the first written accounts of the exploits of mortals, are military histories.

But recorded history presents less than half of one percent of the more than two million years humans have existed.  In fact, prehistory ended in some areas of the world a mere thirty years ago.  At the dawn of European expansion (A.D. 1500), only a third of the inhabited world was civilized. 

By recent count only three complete books devoted exclusively to primitive warfare have been published.

Eminent sociologist William Sumner said that primitive man, “might be described as a peaceful animal”  In 1941 Bronislaw Malinowsi argued that “anthropology has done more harm than good in confusing the issue by . . . depicting human ancestry as living in the golden age of perpetual peace.”


Few of the early ethnographers were explorers, however, and they usually lived with people who had already been pacified by Western administration.  Thus they had to rely on their informants’ memories of precontact warfare and had little opportunity to observe it directly.  But such accounts tended to idealize behavior.  Informants’ descriptions of many aspects of social life could be enhanced or corrected by the anthropologists’ direct observations, independent checks on their descriptions of warfare were usually impossible.    

For example Sambia warriors “unconsciously repress the gory pars of war tales, transforming them into drama”  When the accounts were filtered through the interest of anthropologists in customary rules and rituals, the image of primitive combat that emerged had a very stylized, ritualistic allure. 



Harry Holbert Turney-High (1899-1982) and Quincy Wright (1890 – 1970)

Wright and Turner-High agreed that primitive warfare differed drastically from warfare conducted by civilized states.

In civilized or real warfare, the motives or goals were economic and political – for example, plunder, more territory, or hegemony.   Turney-High characterized these as “rational and practical.”  By contrast, primitives were said to fight for personal, psychological, and social motives.


Both Turney-High and Wright asserted the widely repeated claim that primitive people commonly went to war for adventure or sport – literally, to escape boredom.  Warriors in some tribes to desert a war party because of ill omens or dreams was even more disastrous. 

Turney-High found that tribal warriors generally obeyed the principles that prescribed Offensive Action, Surprise, Intelligence, Utilization of Terrain, and mobility.    They were surprisingly poor at the law of Security, often being surprised or ambushed. 

Both scholars assumed that fighting for practical goals with civilized techniques automatically made war more terrible and, conversely, that irrational goals with simple techniques made war ineffective.  Neither supported these assumptions with any facts or figures. 


--------------------The Controversy Over Causes-----------------------

Cultural materialism proposes that most cultural practices are explainable by reference to the material conditions of life – ecology, technology, demography, and basic economy.

The materialist perspective focuses on the adaptive consequences of war.  One early materialist view was  that warfare redistributes or controls human populations to bring them into a better balance with available scarce resources especially productive land.

Peace is the inertial or natural state to which societies revert when essential material needs can be cheaply supplied by nonviolent means. 

In the late 1960s shock to the materialist interpretation of war was administered by Napoleon Chagnon’s influential and popular ethnography of the Yanomamo.  Fighting between them was apparently motivated only by desires to exact revenge and to capture women; and they experienced difficulty in obtaining sufficient food only as a result of warfare.  Chagnon literally declared that the Yanomamo exemplified the Hobbesian state of “warre


Though many partisans in these debates imply that the warfare of a particular region – or even all warfare – has a single cause, no complex phenomenon can have a single cause.


-------------------------------Prehistoric Peace---------------------------------

The most widely used archaeological textbooks contain no references to warfare until the subject of urban civilization is taken up. 

The possibility that warfare might have been involved with these matters before the rise of urban states is not dismissed; it is simply never mentioned.

Neolithic Britain’s early farmers of 4000bc had palisades around their camps.  Moreover, the total destruction by fire of some of these camps seems to have been contemporaneous with the archery attacks.

These folks lived in a Hobbsian state.  But ethnographers have destroyed the village to save it.  They have said that the violence happened because of contact with Westerners.  Did new weapons never diffuse to modify prehistoric warfare?

-------------------------Resonance of the Pacified Past-----------------------------

An atmosphere of Western self-reproach and neo-Rousseauian nostalgia is prevalent in the views espoused by many postwar anthropologists. 


Chapter Two The Dogs of War: The Prevalence and Importance of War.

-----------------Levels of social Complexity-----------------------

Bands are small, politically autonomous groups of 20 to 50 people with an informal headman. 

Tribes covers a multitude of social set ups.  Tribes generally incorporate a few thousand people into a single social organization via pan-tribal associations.  These associations are usually kin groups that trace descent to a common hypothetical or mythological ancestor.

Chiefdoms are organizations that unite many thousands or tens of thousands of people under formally, full-time political leadership.  This central body may consist of a council of chiefs, but in most cases a single head chief controls a hierarchy of lesser chiefs.  Accession to chiefship is hereditary, permanent, and justified on religious or magical grounds. 

States are tens or hundreds of thousands of people.  They collect taxes, draft labor for public works and war.


--------------------------Is Warfare Universal?----------------------------------

The overwhelming majority of known societies (90 to 95%) have been involved in this activity (war). 

Of 157 groups surveyed only seven were peaceful societies.  Most peaceful groups lived in areas with extremely low population densities, isolated by distance and hard country from other groups. 

War casualties overlooked that small groups just “raid”.  They don’t do real war because they are too small.  In a band of four to 25 people there are no more than a few adult males available.   So even if ethnographers say they are not engaged in war, they have really high homicide rates.  The San (Bushmen) from 1920-1955 had a homicide rate four times that of the US and 20 to 80 times that of major industrial nations during the 1950s and 1960s.

In one Copper Eskimo camp of fifteen families first contacted early in this century every adult male had been involved in a homicide.  “Canoe” nomads of Tierra del Fuego, whose only sovereign political unit was the “biological family,” had a murder rate in the late 19th century “10 times as high as that of the US.” 

Let us undertake such a comparison for one simple society, the Gebusi of New Guinea.  Calculations show that the US military would have had to kill nearly to whole population of South Vietnam during its nine-year involvement there, in addition to its internal homicide rate, to equal the homicide rate of the Gebusi. 


The Polar Eskimo, didn’t know any other people existed until they were contacted in 1819.  They were peaceful, although murder was not unknown. 

Truly peaceful agriculturalists appear to be somewhat less common than pacifistic hunter-gatherers.  In the cross-cultural samples discussed earlier, almost all the peaceful agricultural groups could be characterized as defeated refugees, ethnic minorities long administered by states, or tribes previously pacified by the police or by paramilitary organs of colonial or national states.

But with gather-hunters could afford to run (not much to take)  Farmers had to stay and fight. 

Peaceful societies even exist among industrial states.  For example, neither Sweden nor Switzerland has engaged in warfare for nearly two centuries; their homicide rates are amongst the lowest in the world.  Yet Sweden is one of the world’s leading arms exporters.  But they teach us that there is nothing inherently warlike about states.

Thus pacifistic societies seem to have existed at every level of social organization, but they are extremely rare and seem to require special circumstances.


-------------------The Frequency of Warfare in State and Non-state Societies--------------

In a sample of fifty societies, 66% of the non-states were continuously (meaning every year) at war, whereas only 40 percent of the states were at war with this frequency.


In the sample of US western Indian tribes, which consisted wholly of nonstate societies, 86 percent were raiding or resisting raids undertaken more than once each year. 

The early Roman Republic (510-121bc) initiated a war or was attacked only about once every twenty started about once every six or seven years, most being civil wars and provincial revolts. 


Historic data on the period from 1800 to 1945 suggest that the average modern-nation-state goes to war approximately once in a generation.  Taking into account the duration of these wars, the average modern nation-state was at war only about one year in every five during the 19th century and early 20th centuries.  Compare these with the figures from the ethnographic samples of nonstate societies discussed earlier: 65% at war continuously; 77 percent at war once every five years and 55% every year.  87% fighting more than once a year; 75% at war once every two years.    Wars are actually more frequent in nonstate societies than they are in state societies – especially modern nations. 



In general, tribal military formations are “all-volunteer  In France of World War One less of the population was mobilized than during Tahiti’s wars.  45% vursus 40% more or less.  This disguises the fact that only a fraction of those in France’s venture were in combat.  Only 58-77% of Napoleons soldiers went to war.  During WW II only 40% of servicemen were in combat units.  Males in nonstate societies are far more likely to face combat than is the average male citizen of a modern nation.


-------------------Prehistoric Warfare--------------

Those for whom the use of stone – and bone-tipped weapons (which can survive embedded in or closely associated with human skeletons) was commonplace – It is easy to distinguish accidental traumas from those inflicted by humans.


But it is possible to document prehistoric warfare reliably only within the past 20 – 30,000 years and only in a few areas of the world.   Granting that we look at the evidence.

Neanderthals seem to have been very accident prone.  40% of them had suffered head injuries.  Which was caused by human violence we do not know. 


The human skeletons found in a Late Palaeolithic cemetery at Gebel Sahaba in Egyptian Nubia, from about 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, show that warfare there was very common and particularly brutal.  Over 40% of the fifty nine men, women, and children buried in this cemetery had stone projectile points intimately associated with or embedded in their skeletons.  Several adults had multiple wounds (as many as 20) and the wounds on children were all in the head or neck – that is, execution shots.

Early agricultural tribes and petty chiefdoms of Neolithic Europe were anything but peaceful.  Southwest California, the Pacific Northwest coast, and the Mississippi drainage have had lots of human burials excavated.  Violent deaths are there and in some periods extremely common.

There is simply no proof that warfare in small scale societies was a rarer or less serious undertaking than among civilized societies. 


Chapter Three Policy by other Means:  Tactics and Weapons

Warfare of nonstates differs by various degrees from that conducted by states.  The essential variable features are command and control.  Nonstate’s have lacked military discipline.  Their preparation usually spanned their whole childhood instead of the few weeks or months that civilized warriors train before facing combat.  From an early age, they train and are being inured to deprivation and pain by means of various ordeals and rites of passage.  Yet such training focuses entirely on the individual, not on the group or on teamwork.  It also establishes no sense of subordination to leaders or plans.


Although cowards were often shamed, they, like those who failed to heed the suggestions of their leaders, were not physically punished.

Few primitive societies could sustain active combat or continuous maneuvering of their war parties beyond a few days, simply because ammunition and food were soon exhausted.

In instances where fighting became protracted and the crops suffered from neglect, truces might be arranged so that these could be tended. 

In fact, when civilized units have advanced into this killing zone, commanders have usually posted a line of “file closers” at the rear whose purpose has been to kill any man who ran back or failed to advance as ordered.  The movements that did occur in prestate battles usually involved the back-and-forth skirmishing seen in Dani battles, where the distance between battle lines never substantially closed.  Hand-to-hand  fighting between fighting between groups, rather than between scattered individuals or “champions,” seldom took place in band and village societies; it was more common in chiefdoms. 


All the supposed tactical deficiencies of pre-state warfare have been a direct consequence of the weaker authority of leaders, more egalitarian social structure and values, lower level of surplus production, and smaller populations of nonstates societies.


If competitive selection is the moving force behind military sophistication, then societies that are successful (that is , are expanding their territory) and that go to war most frequently (that is experiencing the most intense competition) should be the most military sophisticated, independent of their political and economic systems.  But this is not the case.  A reanalysis of the same data indicates that political and economic organization, in combination, are excellent predictors of military sophistication, whereas the frequency of war and military success are three times more important than competitive selection in determining military techniques. 



If nonstates could be said to have implemented strategies in war, they were of the attritional and total-war varieties.  Students of military weapons usually divide them into two classes:  fire (or missiles) and shock.  Fire weapons injure with projectiles – such as arrows.  Shock weapons – for example, lances, clubs, axes, and swords – require contact between warriors and injure by blows or cuts.  A very rare third category of weapons might loosely be called chemical. 


No primitive or ancient fire weapon can surpass the accuracy and striking power of shock weapons. 


An Aztec warrior could decapitate a Spanish horse with a single blow of his obsidian – edged sword – club.  Double this reach but only at the expense of accuracy, mobility and impact.  Moreover, these very short ranges create severe psychological and social difficulties that render shock weapons the weapon of choice among only the more severely disciplined armies of high chiefdoms and states. 

And more important, to reach this closure the warrior must pass through the killing zone of the enemy’s fire weapons, with each step forward increasing their accuracy and their impact force.  It is no accident that the use of body armor is highly correlated with the use of shock weapons.


Among fire weapons, arrows can kill at maximum distances of from 50 to 200 meters depending on their weight, their point type, and the power of the bow.  The rate of fire of bows is potentially high, approximately five to ten aimed shots per minute. 


The Roman legions launched their iron-tipped javelins at just that distance when charging, but their purpose was more to distract foes and to immobilize their shields in the few seconds before the Roman charge arrived than to inflict the substantial injury. 


A large number of North and South American groups poisoned their war arrows, as well. 


Septic poisons of this type, unlike the toxic ones, were used exclusively in warfare.  No advantage would be gained from inducing death in a prey days or weeks after it was initially wounded.  This means that they weren’t doing it for food.


In a recent comparison of casualty rates from ancient and modern battles, it has been calculated that an average of 70 percent of men engaged in ancient battles were killed or wounded, whereas only 60 percent of combatants in the bloodiest modern battles have become casualties. 


This is not to argue that muskets had no advantages over bows and slings, but it required less skill, briefer training, and a little strength to use.  But its effective range was no greater than the bow (80 to 100 yards), it had a slower rate of fire, and it was incredibly inaccurate. 


Until the late nineteenth century, civilized soldiers were at a slight disadvantage in fire weaponry when facing primitive bowmen.  For example, during the battle of Verdun, the greatest artillery-dominated World War One, approximately 200 artillery rounds were fired for every casualty inflicted.   

Artillery is ineffective against dispersion and mobility.  Tribes would never stay still for the guns of early times. 


---------------Fortifications -------------------------

Some have claimed that groups that erect fortifications are on the threshold of the state.  This pronouncement is contradicted by the existence of many groups that did employ fortifications and yet were politically organized as small tribes or weak chiefdoms. 


Obviously, fortifications are militarily very advantageous, but their immobility and substantial cost of construction may outweigh these benefits for many small units.

Fortifications are most commonly located on hostile borders or frontiers.  Where the territories of sedentary social units are small, nearly every settlement is only a few hours walk from a hostile frontier, and in such circumstances nearly every village is fortified.


On the Missouri River in South Dakota, between A.D. 1300 and 1500, fortified villages clustered along the fluctuating boundary between Middle Missouri and Coalescent prehistoric cultures, ancestors of the historic Mandan and Arikara tribes, respectively.  In the American Southwest, fortified or defensively situated framing settlements often appeared in pioneering periods or at the limits of major cultural provinces.


Chapter Four Imitating the Tiger:  Forms of Combat

The forms of combat used by nonstates peoples have varied tremendously, but they can be divided roughly into formal battles, small ambush raids, and large raids or massacres. 



Many primitive battles were arranged – that is, a challenge or warning was issued to the enemy, and a battle site was named or understood. 

Africa and several California Indian groups prearranged battles.

The strategy of avoiding battle by yielding space was used by the Romans against Hannibal, the Russians against Napoleon, and by guerillas everywhere.  For any battle to take place the contenders must cooperate with one another. 


Plains warriors would fight furiously to recover fallen comrades and save them from scalping and other mutilations. Merely killing an enemy with a projectile was considered useful, but it was not counted as a coup (a point of pride).

Civilized rituals of submission have a few counterparts in primitive warfare.    Many ethnographers vaguely note that primitive battles tend to be called off after a few casualties but the seldom actually count the number of warriors engaged or lost. 

One Maring clas of 600 people in New Guinea lost 2 percent of its population in the rout that followed its loss of 3 percent of its people in the preceding battle.  This total may not seem very severe, but to produce equivalent figures France (with a population of 42 million) would have had to lose 1.2 million soldiers in its 1940 defeat and some war-related French deaths during the whole war. 


In several ethnographic cases, formal battles with controlled casualties were restricted to fighting within a tribe or linguistic group.  When the adversary was truly “foreign,” warfare was more relentless, ruthless, and uncontrolled. 



-------------------------------Raids and Ambushes-------------------------------------

The most common form of combat employed in primitive warfare but little used in formal civilized warfare has been small raids or ambushes. 


Neither age nor sex was any guarantee of protection during primitive raids. 

Because the victims were unprepared or unarmed and because raids were so frequent, a predictably high cumulative fatality rate resulted.  One Yanomamo village was raided twenty-five times in just fifteen months, losing 5 percent of its population. 


Even when formal battles occurred frequently, more deaths were inflicted by raids.  ALL WESTERN North American Indian groups were raided AT LEAST TWICE EACH A YEAR.


Raids characteristically kill only a few people at a time; they kill a higher proportion of women than do battles or even the routs that follow them; they kill individuals or small groups caught in isolated circumstances away from major population concentrations; and because the victims are outnumbered, surprised, and often unarmed, their wounds are often inflicted as they try to flee.  Archaeologically, this pattern will thus be evidenced by four corresponding characteristics: burials of individuals or small groups of homicide victims; women as a high proportion of the victims; burials sometimes located away from the major habitation zones (although raid victims were recovered and buried in usual cemeteries); and evidence that most wounds, even on adult males were inflicted from behind. 


In each of the cases cited, the proportion of violent death is quite high.  For example, the homicide rate of the prehistoric Illinois villagers would have been 1,400 times that of modern Britain or about 70 times that of the US in 1980.




When the first Spanish explorers reached the coastal Barbareno, Chumash of California, the latter had just had two of their villages surprised, burned, and completely annihilated by raiders by from the interior, representing a minimum loss of 10 percent of their tribal population. 


Contrary to Brian Ferguson’s claim that such slaughters were a consequence of contact with modern European or other civilizations, archeology yields evidence of prehistoric massacres more sever than any recounted in ethnography.  For example, at Crow Creek in South Dakota, archaeologists found a mass grave containing the remains of more than 500 men, women and children who had been slaughtered, scalped, and mutilated - a century and a half before Columbus.  Women were underrepresented in the bone count.  Pre-Columbian warfare, according to George Milner featured “repeated ambushes punctuated by devastating attacks at particularly opportune moments.” 

Similar massacres are also documented for the pre-state peoples of prehistoric Western Europe.  Before any contact with civilizations, the tribesmen of Neolithic Europe, like those of the prehistoric US, were thus wiping out whole settlements. 



Chapter Five A skulking Way of War: Primitive Warriors Versus Civilized Soldiers

The general claim that the difference between civilized and primitive warfare is analogous to that between serious business and a game is invariably bolstered by the observation that civilized soldiers can always defeat primitive warriors. But while it is true that European civilization has steadily and dramatically extended itself to the utmost parts of the earth during the past four centuries, it is by no means clear that this expansion is a consequence of superior weaponry or specialized military technique.  In fact, civilized soldiers have often lost to warriors in combat despite superior weaponry, unit discipline, and military science.  But they have seldom lost campaigns and wars.


Whatever Julius Caesar’s excuses, it is clear that the blue-painted barbarians of Britain defended  their island vigorously and effectively against the cream of the Roman army. 

The battle of the little Bighorn clearly illustrates the character of primitive and civilized clashes. Colonel Custer, with 200 men, was caught in the open by 1,800 Sioux and Cheyenne warriors and destroyed. 


One disadvantage the Indians faced when fortified was that, unlike the whites, they seldom had anyone available to ride to their relief.  Whites only succeeded because they had more supply lines.  During the Zulu War (1879), when caught in the open, the redcoats of the British Army – were soundly defeated. 


In most cases, civilized soldiers have defeated primitive warriors only when they adopted the latter’s tactics.  By attrition, they gradually erode the primitives’ small and inelastic manpower pool; by destruction of food and material, they exhaust the slim economic surpluses of the warriors. 


Even so, we have already seen, not all civilized campaigns against primitives succeeded.  For example, it was the most primitive portions of Celtic Europe that gave the Roman army the most difficulty.  Despite being subjected to repeated military campaigns by one of he finest civilized armies of any era, Scotland was never conquered; Ireland was simply left alone. 


The prolonged resistance of these Stone Age tribes compares very favorably with the swift defeats suffered by the highly civilized Aztecs and Incas at the hands of Spanish invaders a few decades later.  Similarly, the “wild tribes” of tropical South America defeated many Inca, Spanish and Portuguese campaigns of conquest, as often as not, by completely annihilating the armies sent against them.


For example, the highest estimates for the number of Aztecs killed in combat during the Spanish Conquest (mostly by the Spaniards’ Indian allies) are about 100,000 whereas in the decade following, introduced diseases killed at least 4 million and perhaps more than 8 million central Mexicans. 


Crosby concludes that the celebrated victories of the small armies of Cortez and Pizarro over the populous Aztec and Inca civilizations were “in large part the triumphs of the smallpox.” 


What distinguished these resistant regions (the prime example being tropical Africa) from those rapidly subdued by Europeans during the previous four centuries was the natural immunity of their populations to Eurasian diseases. 


In the Persian Gulf War we beat them.  They had a conventional army.  We wiped them out in just three months.  The Apaches survived civilized military pressure for almost 300 years and were defeated only by primitive methods.


Chapter Six The Harvest of Mars


-------------------------------Prisoners and Captives-------------------

It is extremely uncommon to find instances among nonstates groups of recognizing surrender or taking adult male prisoners.

A few cultures occasionally took men captive only to sacrifice them to their gods or torture them to death later.  Among the Iroquoian tribes of the Northeast, captured warriors were often subject to preliminary torture during the returns journey of a war party. 

When the prisoner was dead, some parts of his body were eaten (usually including his heart) by his murderers.  Archaeological finds of human bones in prehistoric Iroquoian kitchen middens indicate that it was also a pre-Columbian practice. 

Most Indian tribes in western Northern America at least occasionally conducted raids to capture women. 

The Chemehuevi of the Southwest and several tribes in California spared no one.  Perhaps the harshest treatment of captives was meted out by Polynesia.  The Tahitians are described as leaving enemy children pinned to their mothers with spears pierced through the head and strung on cords.”  The Maoris sometimes disabled captive women so that they could not escape, permitting the warriors to rape, ill, and eat them when it was more convenient to do so.

In general, nonstates groups preserved the lives of captives only when some material benefit would accrue; this approach generally limited to the persons spared to women and children.  States, by contrast, often have a strong material interest in preserving the lives of defeated enemies – even adult males – because they can become tax – and tribute- paying subjects, serfs or slaves. 


Precisely this weakness of state control over frontier “militias” made massacres of native peoples more common by such agents than by the “regular” forces of the state.  Indeed, the most notorious massacres of North American Indians, such as those at Sand Creek and Camp Grant, and the only actual genocides (that is, complete extinction of a tribe primarily by homicide) during the European conquest were all inflicted by local militias.


The death rates shown for civilized states overestimate the deadlines of combat, since most war deaths were caused by disease until very recently.  For example, two-thirds of the deaths suffered by the Union armed forces during the Civil War were due to disease.


5 percent of Central California prehistory human skeletons contained embedded arrowheads.  The real proportion of war deaths in California and Scandinavia cases probably ranged from about 7 percent to as much as 40 percent of all deaths. 

The burials in coastal British Columbia bearing evidence of violent traumas was actually lower after European contact.

One author has very liberally estimated that more than 100 million people have died from all war-related causes (including famine and disease) on our planet during this century.  Yet this figure is twenty times smaller than the losses that might have resulted if the world’s population were still organized into bands, tribes, and chiefdoms. 


---------------------------------Wounds and Their Treatment---------------------------------

Mohave Indian war party was expected to suffer about 30% casualties in an average battle.  In contrast, in an average Civil War battle, only 12 to 15 percent were killed and wounded;  even at Gettysburg, the Union forces engaged lost only 21 percent and the Confederates 30 percent to death or wounds.


Mae Enga formal battles, which were primarily firefights, only one man was killed for every ten to thirty wounded.  Approximate ratios of killed to wounded for some modern battles are 1/5 at Gettysburg.


The medical care given to wounded tribal warriors was thus no worse, and in some cases better, than that given to civilized soldiers until this century.  It is unlikely, then, that the high warfare death rates of primitives can be explained by their supposedly inferior medical practices. 




Chapter Seven To The Victors: The Profits and Losses of Primitive War

---------------------Mutilation and Trophy Taking---------------------

In Tahiti, a victorious warrior, given the opportunity, would pound his vanquished foe’s corpse flat with his heavy war club, cut a slit through the well-crushed victim, and don him as a trophy poncho.

The gains from such trophies could include elevation to manhood and the right to marry, higher status, greater favor from gods and spirits, increased spiritual power, and general well-being.

By far the most common and widely distributed war trophy was the head or skull of an enemy.  The 7,500-year-old caches of trophy heads found in Ofnet Cave in Germany existed.

Nevertheless, the custom of scalping enemy dead was observed at first contact among tribes ranging from New England to California and from parts of the sub arctic down to northern Mexico.

By contrast, the custom was unknown in ancient, medieval, and early modern Europe, where the preferred trophies were usually whole heads.  Because the skin of the scalp is so thin, removing it from the skull leaves characteristic cut-marks on the cranial bones; such cut-marks have been found frequently on pre-Columbian skulls from many regions of North America. 

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Indian women used marrow-cracking mallets to pound the faces of dead soldiers into pulp. 



The most extreme mutilation inflicted on dead enemies is cannibalism.  Anthropologists usually make a distinction between ritual and culinary cannibalism.  Ritual cannibalism, which is the more common type, involves the consumption of only a portion of a corpse (sometimes after it has been reduced to ashes) for magical purposes. 

Culinary, or gastronomic, cannibalism consists of eating human meat as food.  Some scholars also distinguish starvation cannibalism, which may occur in famine conditions, from the culinary type.

In the American Southwest, 25 sites containing cannibalized human remains have been found.  Almost all these occurrences are dated to between 900-1300 which were periods when droughts appeared to have been frequent.  Cannibalism in prehistoric Southwest involved too thorough a consumption of bodies to be merely ritual; instances seem to be too common to represent simple survival cannibalism. 

“There can be little doubt that the Aztecs annually sacrificed large numbers of war captives in their great temples and that parts of these victims’ bodies were eaten.  There were even special recipes for human stews.  But the number of such victims, even if they had been completely consumed (which they were not), would not have yielded much protein for such a large population.  And if obtaining meat was the object of Aztec warfare, why were only sacrificed captives eaten, and not the bodies of enemies killed on the battlefield?”


While hardly the norm, ritual consumption of some part of enemy corpses was by no means rare in prestate warfare.

Yet, to paraphrase Harris, victorious states may have ruthlessly exploited the vanquished, but, with the exception of the Aztecs, they have never actually consumed them. 

Plunder of food stores and gardens could leave an enemy facing starvation.

Some Indians would even girdle or chop down the not and wild fruit trees in an enemy’s territory to under cut their living.

In the Pacific Northwest Coast and Polynesia would smash each other’s canoes.  In civilized wars years of destruction and blockade may be necessary to reduce one to starvation.


-----------------Territorial Acquisition and Loss ---------------------

Indeed, several cross-cultural surveys of pre-industrial societies found that losses and gains of territory were a very frequent result of warfare.  In another study, almost half of he societies surveyed had gained or lost territory through warfare.  Two wars fought by the Wappo hunter-gatherers of California illustrate both the intentional and the unintentional territorial windfalls resulting from tribal warfare.  In the few years remaining before their decimation by disease and war with Mexican settlers, the Wappo occupied two of the six abandoned Pomo villiages and had begun seasonally exploiting much of the relinquished area near Clearlake, CA.  Usually it was disputes over food that started fighting in CA.


About 5 to 10% land loss and gain per generation amongst many gatherer-hunters was normal.  That would be like the US losing California, Oregon, and half of Washington every 25 years. 




Chapter Eight Crying Havoc: The Question of Causes


-------------------The Motives for and Causes of Non-state Warfare-----------------

How should individual motives be determined?  Public declarations?  Kings statements?   Results of the war?  Specific acts?    Was World War one caused by the Kaiser’s withered arm. 


This is a real New Guinea case, Village A owed VB a pig for helping in a previous war, in which A’s enemies were killed.  And meanwhile, a man from A heard gossip (untrue) that a man from B had seduced his young wife; so he assaulted the seducer.  B reacted with two raids on A, wounding a man and a woman.  The harsh reaction was due to bad feelings caused by the debt. This led to battle in which there were several wounds, but no kills.  There was a truce, but a B avenged a wound that had gotten worse and an A was killed.  Then battle started and war was all out.


The predominant motives for prestate warfare are revenge for homicides and various economic issues.  They don’t have tribute and subjugation, but they have protection schemes and extortion rackets.  Unequal symbiotic relationships did exist.


------------------population density and pressure--------------------

Along with famine and disease, Malthus saw war as a way of reducing population.  There is social algebra, when human numbers increase algebraically the people to be pissed at increased geometrically.  But there is no correlation between frequency of warfare and the density of human populations. 

The 13th century homicide rate of Britain was 30 times greater than now.  That is even though population density is ten times what it was.

Increasing density is correlated with greater social and economic complexity, including labor saving technology which means more folks competing for less and less prestige jobs. 

Industrial war is very complex.  Tribe raids only require a dozen willing recruits.


--------------------------trading and Raiding----------------------

Claude Levi-Strauss said, “war is exchange gone bad, and exchange is a war averted.” WRONG.

Historical research has found that “disputes between trading partners escalate to war more frequently than disputes between nations that do not trade.”  US was Japan’s biggest source of raw materials and China its biggest market before WW II.  The intermarriage of the heads of Europe didn’t stop WW I.

You can participate in annual trade fairs and kill each other in a couple of months.  The reason you kill trading partners is closeness. 

Northern California tribes in the early 19th century had salt wars. Sioux held local villagers in near subjugation.


Intermarriage between social units means that any difficulties in the union could lead to war.  In cultures where young girls were promised to men in other social groups by their fathers, violent disputes often resulted. 

Exotic goods at a sight are almost invariably interpreted as being evidence of prehistoric exchange.  Why not war?  Finds of Norse goods at Thule Inuit sites are common, whereas find of Inuit stuff in Norse sites are extremely rare.  This doesn’t spell trade.  The falsehood that all exotic items means trade is compounded by the error that all trade precludes war.


Chapter Nine Bad Neighborhoods:  The Context for War

What conditions if any promote or intensify conflict?  One especially belligerent party, severe economic difficulties, and a lack of shared resolution institutions?

Yes.  These make bad Neighborhoods.

--------------“Rotten Apples” and raiding clusters-----------------------

Raiding statistics show clusters, not uniform distribution.  One aggressive neighbor can screw all.  But whether the desire for more territory causes aggressiveness or whether expansion is merely an effect of bellicosity is uncertain.  Many expansionist nation-states experienced a higher rate of population growth than their less warlike neighbors.


Mojave population grew during their periods of most intense raiding activity.


In a growing society where the number of possible status slots is limited some will out tough each other.  New technologies shake things up too.  But no one is sure why some cultures are more bellicose than others.

Before Commodore Perry, Japan had been demilitarized for almost two hundred and fifty years.  Then two generations of all out war.  Since 1945 they’ve had the lowest rate of murder in the world (more or less). 



Trade again induces, doesn’t prevent, war.  Intercultural groups lack the social and cultural features that prevent disputes from turning violent.  There is no overarching institution of mediation.  The sixth commandment should be translated, “thou shalt not murder.” Us v. Then is universal.  Slanderous names for others is.

Frontier areas tend to be less peaceful because they are exposed to raids.


Three are three major kinds of cultural frontiers: civilized-tribal; pastoral nomad-village farmer; and farmer-forager.  Because civilizations produce written records, that sort has been the object of most comparative studies.  Settled v. tribal boundaries are in trouble. 


In recent descriptions of these patron-client relationships between farmer-herders and foragers by historians and anthropologists, the arrangement is depicted as benign, voluntary, and mutually beneficial.  But a description of San clientship by a Bantu Chief has a very different tenor.


            “The Masarwa [the San] are slaves.  They can be killed.  It is no crime.  They are like cattle.  If they run away, their masters can bring them back and do what they like in the way of punishment.  They are never paid.”


It is an old story  the Navajo tell themselves.  The first time they ever heard that name it was applied to them when one band was robbing a Tewa Pueblo conrnfield; the victims shouted “Navajo”. 


If any raiders were killed or the victims retaliated by killing a band member, a much larger war party – up to 200 warriors – would depart, surrounding the official settlement. 


While static frontiers were often hostile, moving ones presented an even greater potential for violent conflicts.  Since they added further explosives to an already volatile mix, A moving cultural boundary meant that one human physical type, language, culture, or economic system was expanding at the expense of another.

When the movement of a frontier involves colonization by newcomers on a large scale, conditions favoring warfare reach their peak.  The newcomers are at least intruding, if not trespassing; often complete with the natives for land, water, game, firewood and other limited materials; commonly change the local ecology; are inclined to be cavalier about the property rights of the other but are fastidious about their own. 

This type of moving colonist frontier is documented only for literate civilizations.  The abandonment of some areas in northwestern New Mexico by Anasazi farmers between A.D. 1050 and 1300 was immediately preceded by frequent fortification and destruction of settlements as well as other indications of violence. 


--------------Hard times-----------------

In fact, it is becoming increasingly certain that many prehistoric cases of intensive warfare in various regions corresponded with hard times created by eco and climate changes.  Smaller scale societies are more susceptible to injury from these disasters than large states.


Chapter Ten Naked, Poor, and Mangled Peace: Its Desirability and Fragility

What conditions favor peace?


---------------Attitudes towards War and Peace------------

Although war was often frequent, deadly and destructive, folks didn’t like it.

There were mixed emotions.  Prowess and effective leadership in war gets respect.  But often that respect is tinged with aversion.  A Huli killer of New Guinea could not use his shooting hand for several days; had to stay awake the first night after the killing, chanting spells; drink “bespelled” water; and exchange his bow for another.


Higher honors are often given to those who are proficient in the arts of peace- oratory, wealth acquisition, generosity, negotiation, and ritual knowledge.


Women’s share in war included many of the same risks but fewer benefits.  So women were really against it often.  In some cultures however, the taunts of women incited men to fight and women took an active role in the torture of captives as among the Tupi and Carib of South America.

Additional evidence of the universal preference for peace is the ease and even gratitude with which some of the most warlike of tribal peoples accepted colonial pacification. 


-------------------------Making Peace----------------------------

By far the most common form of settlement concluding a tribal war involves having a leader on one side declare a desire for peace; this overture is then accepted by the opposing leader.  Usually, peace negotiations are not even considered unless the fighting has reached an impasse and losses are approximately equal for both contenders.  And “hawks” or “hotheads” dissenting from the consensus can easily sabotage the negotiations simply by committing further violence.

Unpaid homicide indemnities have been identified as a very common cause of wars.  In addition, any wounded man who dies after the peace is concluded, even years later, can reignite a war.


States enjoy a slight advantage over nonstates with regard to peace making because they exercise a much greater degree of centralized control over their populations and economic resources. 

One of the apologies for imperialism during its heyday was pacification.


------------------Maintaining peace----------------------

Frequent killing of “witches” that start war and bring bad luck  can create a negative peace.  Defeated refugees are also peaceful.

The spread of Euro-Canadians and Euro-Americans amongst the Indians is interesting.  In the south the land grab had lots of conflict.  In the north there wasn’t a single war and only one raid.  Why?

In Canada agricultural settlement occurred only after treaties had “extinguished aboriginal title,” whereas in the United States, settlement usually preceded treaties.  The Canadian government kept promised payments coming and prevented white encroachment on reservations. 

The Spanish and Mexican governments, when they played any role at all, granted large land grants to settlers without paying any attention to native title. 

The reserves granted to Canadian tribes in arable regions were small and scattered but allowed each tribe or band to remain within its traditional territory, if only on tiny fragments of it.  The Canadian government thus divided its potential enemies as it dispossessed them. 

The Mounties were and behaved as policemen, not soldiers, in their dealings with Indians and with others.  As historian Robert Utley puts it the paramilitary Mounted police “could deal with individuals as well as tribes.  It did not have to go to war with a whole people to enforce order.”  As well, the restraint exercised by the Indians of western Canada as they were subjugated and dispossessed is evidence of how much injustice people will tolerate for the sake of peace if they are assured of receiving the means to survive. 

The Canadian government got to the West first – that is before the settlers.  Even decades after the Euro-American colonization, the American West remained in a virtually stateless (or tribal) condition.


Canadian society [parenthetically] was founded by three abjectly defeated groups: resident French Canadians and refugee American Loyalists and Highland Scots.


Interethnic harmony and intercultural appreciation are not preconditions for peace.  A workable peace can be forged and maintained between highly ethnocentric, mutually suspicious and factious groups.  What interethnic peace appears to require is a minimal and practical tolerance by different parties for the harmless differences between them. 

Geographic isolation limits the number of provocations that can lead to war.  The bitter aftertaste of catastrophic defeat and dispossession can foster an aversion to war among the losers that can last for generations.  The existence of a powerful third party that effectively and impartially punishes violence and theft can prevent war. 

Peace is as demanding a state as war.  It is not a natural state to which people and societies revert to. 


--------------The Irrelevance of Biology-------------------------------------

It is persistently advanced that men are “biologically” driven to war by their “nature”. 

Our capacity for and use of violence is neither remarkable nor excessive compared with that of other animal species, whereas our sociability and cooperativeness are unique. 


We create organizations that stop homicide within a country, then between should be possible.  People change from friend to enemy to friend again with remarkable rapidity.


---------------Why War and Why Not Peace?----------------------------

Perhaps peace is too costly.  Sometimes there is little to lose and much to gain.  Better to have some die on their feet than all live on their knees. 

In a Hobbsian world, declaring unilateral peace is declaring suicide.  Gain needn’t be the goal to be the outcome.  Of course, it only results in a gain if you win. 

Bachelors are often the most eager for war.  They have the least to lose and the most to gain. 

But the costs of peace and the benefits of war are not completely sufficient explanations for aggressive behavior.  It is undertaken when the costs are extremely high.  In fact, it is a higher risk for tribes, but they undertake it more!  Cost-benefit is not a good explanation for war.

It is difficult to find a third party mediator.  Then it is hard to stop war. 

Also to stop war, people need an alternative sustainable way of making a living. 


Chapter Eleven Beating Swards into Metaphors: The Roots of the Pacified Past

Why is anthropology so silent or wrong about pre-historic war?


---------------Seeing the elephant------------------------------

The answer is immediately following WW II all hated war.  Unlike, WWI it wasn’t localized.  Since Napoleon, 125 years, war had always happened elsewhere.  War stories of the 19th century featured heroism and heroes ala epics.  The lit of the past 15 have treated it as bedlam.  History professors switched to social and economic matters.  The symbol of this madness is the nuclear Armageddon.  That is why MAD was created.


-------------The End of Imperialism--------------------

By the end of the 19th, Hobbes’s view had gained the upper hand.   This view was convenient to colonial ambition.  What political or territorial rights could be granted to heathens whose lives were one long criminal spree?  Their violence made them unable to engage in industry and get civilized fruits. 

In the second half of the nineteenth century, Social Darwinism and racism were added. 


Nazi’s tried to civilize like imperialists had.  But Europeans discovered the receiving end gave a different perspective.  It just looked like a hate crime.  By the end of the war, decolonization and being second rate powers dependent on the US, made Europeans see themselves as victims.  It was easier to identify with non-Western people.


--------------The Disappearing Primitive---------------------

Cynics noted that the nobility of “savages” was directly proportional to one’s geographic distance from them.  Easterners were very sympathetic to the plight of western Indians.  James Fennimore Cooper for example.  Their grandparents had offered prices for scalps.  Ceasar and Tacitus’ love for German tribes was due to their absence. 

By the sixties, industrialization was nearly everywhere and tribes were pretty much history and safe to love.

--------------The Fading Hope of Progress----------------

The great shock of World War II savagery, atomic fear, the late awakening to the evils of imperialism and ecological sensitivity eroded all that remained of the Western myth of progress.  World uniculturism has increased love of diversity.  Those who have benefited most from progress are those that disdain it loudest.  This disdain is harder to find amongst the real victims (third world style) of progress. 


------------The Creation of a Myth----------------------

We now treat them like caricatures.  Peaceful little lambs.  We want them to be spiritual and happy in a simple way. 


Chapter Twelve A Trout in the Milk:  Discussions and Conclusions

War has always been ugly.  We loathe to accept this.  We are all susceptible to myths (anthropologists included) but science shows war is ugly.  Actually it is civilized warfare that is stylized and, ritualized and relatively less dangerous.  Our victories were when we took on primitive tactics and due to our economy, not our superiority.  Total war is an old thing.  We forgot it when the Romans created specialized armies. 


With states and nonstates, violence masking economic reasons seems to be big in the cause category.  But nonstates don’t often want to subjugate the other group.  Economics and intermarriage increase likely hood of war, population density hasn’t much to do with anything and a bad neighbor can ruin a neighborhood.   Frontiers between folks are especially violent (especially when moving).  Hard times and disasters increase war. 

Despite a universal preference for peace, peace between equals is fraught with pitfalls.  Independent peace brokers that punish offenders helps create peace.  The rarity of such institutions is proven by the prevalence of war. 

But war is a lesser part of social life overall.  Wars take place away from the centers of child birth and rearing usually.  Our child rearing process is slow so we need peace to continue and even pirates have to trade with civilized folk to survive.  But war is extremely devastating of these civilized ways. 

Ignorance helps not.  Going back to tribal times of innocence is a stupid way out of war.  And while we are not the kings of war or life, the West isn’t the worst either. 


Our unity is in accepting that all have had war and been very malleable.  First generation literates get Pulitzer prizes. 

What big lessons for peace can we learn? 

First we should consider trade as an especially productive source of violent conflicts and treat our closest trading partners with special care.  Allowing others to monopolize what we can do for ourselves is not a good idea.  The ‘business is war’ concept is dangerous.  War is war. Business is business. 

Second in the pursuit of military security we should concentrate on economic and peaceful technology development.  Truck development won us WW II. Computer development, the Gulf War.    Don’t feed the parasite at the expense of the host.

Third, We should strive to create the largest social, economic and political units possible.  Tyranny isn’t good but neither is tribal warfare in the ex-USSR. 

Finally, eyewitness testimony is notoriously poor.  Evidence should be treated with reserve.  Ghosts have been seen, electrons not.  At little bighorn, Custer had no repeating rifles and the Sioux and Cheyenne warriors many.  Custer’s command was not suddenly overwhelmed buy superior numbers, but had time to organize a defensive formation.  And the 7th cavalry’s dead were horribly mutilated.  We need to have good historical analysis.  If we distort history we cannot learn from it.  Physical evidence is essential for claims.