What is war good for? Sparking civilization, suggest archaeology findings from Peru

Jul 25, 2011

Warfare, triggered by political conflict between the fifth century B.C. and the first century A.D., likely shaped the development of the first settlement that would classify as a civilization in the Titicaca basin of southern Peru, a new UCLA study suggests.

Charles Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of , and Abigail Levine, a UCLA graduate student in , used from the basin, home to a number of thriving and complex early societies during the first millennium B.C., to trace the evolution of two larger, dominant states in the region: Taraco, along the Ramis River, and Pukara, in the pampas.

"This study is part of a larger, worldwide comparative research effort to define the factors that gave rise to the first societies that developed public buildings, widespread religions and regional political systems — or basically characteristics associated with ancient states or what is colloquially known as 'civilization,'" said Stanish, who is also a professor of anthropology at UCLA. "War, regional trade and specialized labor are the three factors that keep coming up as predecessors to civilization."

The findings appear online in the latest edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Conducted between 2004 and 2006, the authors' excavations in Taraco unearthed signs of a massive fire that raged sometime during the first century A.D., reducing much of the state to ash and architectural rubble. The authors compared artifacts dating from before and after the fire and concluded that agriculture, pottery and the obsidian industry, all of which had flourished in the state, greatly declined after the fire.

Based on the range and extent of the destruction and the lack of evidence supporting reconstruction efforts, the authors suggest that the fire was a result of war, not of an accident or a ritual.

Iconographic evidence of conflict in regional stone-work, textiles and pottery suggests that the destruction of Taraco had been preceded by several centuries of raids. This includes depictions of trophy heads and people dressed in feline pelts cutting off heads, among other evidence.

Because the downfall of Taraco, which was home to roughly 5,000 people, coincided with the rise of neighboring Pukara as a dominant political force in the region, the authors suggest that warfare between the states may have led to the raids, shaping the early political landscape of the northern Titicaca basin.

Inhabited between 500 B.C. and 200 A.D., Pukara was the first regional population center in the Andes highlands. During its peak, it covered more than 2 square kilometer and housed approximately 10,000 residents, including bureaucrats, priests, artisans, farmers, herders and possibly warriors.

The civilization's ruins include impressive monolithic sculptures with a variety of geometric, zoomorphic and anthropomorphic images, plus intricate, multi-colored pottery in a variety of ritual and domestic forms.

War appears to have played a similar civilizing role in Mesoamerica, as well as Mesopotamia, Stanish said. To further test his theories on the origins of civilization, Stanish will begin a new project next year at a Neolithic site in Armenia.

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Provided by University of California - Los Angeles

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User comments : 8

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Isaacsname
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2011
War. What is it good for ?

Absolutely nothin'....say it again ya'll.
emsquared
5 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2011
"War, regional trade and specialized labor are the three factors that keep coming up as predecessors to civilization."

This topic has already been explored (as applied to Eurasia) in the book "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Diamond. A good read if you're into anthropology.
xznofile
not rated yet Jul 25, 2011
This sophisticated concept is self-justifying. The structure that allowed it's study is it's self a product of the process it supports.
ziphead
1 / 5 (1) Jul 25, 2011
... The structure that allowed it's study is it's self a product of the process it supports.


Isn't this close to the definition of pretty much any living/self-perpetuating entity?

If so, since when has the very concept of self-perpetuation become evil by definition?

I understand that some can have problem with what actually gets self-perpetuated in here, but thats different argument altogether.
Snickeringshadow
not rated yet Jul 26, 2011
This topic has already been explored (as applied to Eurasia) in the book "Guns, Germs and Steel" by Diamond. A good read if you're into anthropology.


Jared Diamond isn't very popular in anthropology. His approaches tend to be environmentally deterministic and over-simplified. If you read it, I'd take it with a grain of salt. The real explanations for the rise and fall of civilizations are more complicated.
frajo
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2011
Anyone alluding that war "is good" for something or plays a "civilizing role" ought to be fired immediately. War is the planned killing of innocent people.

Apart from ethical considerations the notion of war playing a "civilizing role" is not scientifically sound as long as it's not falsifiably formulated.

The task of a true scientist (as opposed to a mere legitimizer of war) is then to show that absence of war necessarily would lead to civilizational disadvantages in a given real (as opposed to some artificial, simulated) society.

War is a defect in the rise of civilizations, not a cause.
pres68y
not rated yet Jul 26, 2011
I also agree with 'frajo'.
But some mind sets (at all levels) seem to think war is a necessity to change for social improvement.
Unfortunate.
emsquared
not rated yet Jul 26, 2011
His approaches tend to be environmentally deterministic and over-simplified.

Diamond isn't a "classical" anthropologist (which may be why I like him), to be sure, and approaches the subject from a biological point of view, so I can see where anthropologists don't find him appealing. However, beyond core social units (family) you can't really explain civilization without environment, certainly not to a national level, plus what's wrong with applying Occam's Razor?

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