Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers: study

July 18, 2013 by Kerry Sheridan
A museum exhibit depicting the way of life of hunter-gatherers, on display in Cape Town on March 31, 2001. Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers, and killings among nomadic groups were often due to competition for women or interpersonal disputes, researchers in Finland said Thursday.

Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers, and killings among nomadic groups were often due to competition for women or interpersonal disputes, researchers in Finland said Thursday.

Their study in the US journal Science suggests that the origins of war were not—as some have argued—rooted in roving hunter-gather groups but rather in cultures that held land and livestock and knew how to farm for food.

For clues on what life was like before colonial powers, missionaries and traders entered the scene, anthropologists examined a subset of records from a well-known database that contains information on 186 cultures around the world.

Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg of Abo Akademi University in Vasa, Finland, chose to examine only the earliest existing records on those that had no horses and no permanent settlements, leaving them with 21 mobile foraging societies for analysis.

"To be purists, we took only the oldest high-quality sources for each culture," Fry told the journal Science, adding that these studies would best showcase the people's traditional ways.

The groups included the Montagnais people of Canada, the Andamanese people of India, the Botocudos of Brazil, and the !Kung people who live in isolated areas of Botswana, Angola and Namibia.

These old records contained data on 148 lethal events. Of the 138 killings in which circumstances were "unambiguous," 55 percent were determined to have involved one killer and one victim, the study said.

In most killings (85 percent of the time), the killer and victim came from the same society. Men were most often the killers. Women were the aggressors just four percent of the time.

"Most incidents of lethal aggression can aptly be called , a few others feud, and only a minority warfare," said the study.

Reasons for the killings varied, with 11.5 percent stating revenge as the motive, 9.5 percent saying it was over a particular woman, and 6.1 percent being cases when a husband killed his wife.

Twenty-two percent were linked to miscellaneous interpersonal disputes.

Less common motives included fights over resources such as a fruit tree (1.4 percent).

"In my view, the default for nomadic foragers is non warring," Fry told Science.

Some , however, said his method of winnowing down the societies for analysis and using only the oldest data on them could have skewed his results.

"The problem with the earliest accounts is they may be sketchy on all sorts of things," Raymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska, told AFP.

"In my mind, this is a very restrictive way of doing it, which I think accounts for his much lower estimates."

Other researchers have found greater evidence of war-like behavior among hunter-gatherers.

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2.4 / 5 (7) Jul 18, 2013
Warfare was uncommon among hunter-gatherers
-but common among chimps and gorillas? Weapons facilitated killing off those natural enemies which had kept human populations in check. And so the next tribe over became the principal enemy, and also an important food source, of man. Fighting is not all that different than hunting in the context yes?
The groups included the Montagnais people of Canada, the Andamanese people of India, the Botocudos of Brazil, and the !Kung people who live in isolated areas of Botswana, Angola and Namibia
And perhaps this is why they remained hunter-gatherers until the present? Tribes which could enforce tribal law and maintain a culture of trust and cooperation within its ranks, would be expected to displace those which could not.

-Anthropology is notoriously unscientific.
2.6 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
Okay, so let me just make a few points about the poor scholarship here.
1)Extant hunter-gatherers generally live on land that is the least hospitable in the world, that is why they were not displaced by farmers. Most of our ancestors lived in much more fertile and resource-rich environments that allowed for far greater population densities. Higher population densities make warfare less costly in terms of simply getting to the enemy and more rewarding in terms of exploiting the resources you take from them. If it takes me two weeks to walk to your resources, go ahead and keep them. So the base assumption that this sample roughly replicates the conditions our ancestors encountered is wrong.
2)That humans can go long periods without waging war is known. Visiting a group for six months or even six years and not seeing any wars tells you nothing. The same methodology would have us easily concluding that Europe is filled with peaceful nations if we studied them in the 1920's.
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
3)In any case we can readily point to a large number of human universals that contribute to our willingness and predisposition for war, and which must have done so as long as our species existed. These include territoriality, altruism, positive in-group bias, tendency for dualism, the in-group formation process (which excludes at least one specific out-group and contrasts the in-group with them), predisposition to see patterns even if they do not exist, jealousy, etc. Lacking even an attempted just-so story for why and how the above did not operate in our ancestors to produce war when they do so in us, we have to assume they functioned the same way.
3.4 / 5 (5) Jul 18, 2013
4)With the possible exception of the Bonobos, every group social territorial species I am aware of engages in group level violence against conspecifics. This is what the Theory of Evolution would expect as well; competition for resources. Any attempted assertion that our ancestors were peaceful requires an evolutionary explanation for how/why they became peaceful and then started to wage war again.
5)It is very well known that the preferred style of warfare for hunter-gatherer groups is the guerrilla raid, where most often the objective is to find one person from the other group alone and kill them with minimal risk. To exclude the preferred strategy of waging war from the data set of examples of war is intellectually dishonest.
1 / 5 (4) Jul 19, 2013
hunter-gatherers... land... least hospitable
-Except this is not true of any of the subjects in the study. I didn't read the rest of your posts as I assume you didn't read the article.
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2013
I wouldn't put any weight behind Otto's opinions. He needs humans to be stupid and warlike to maintain his faith in his pet conspiracy theory.

It makes sense that nomadic societies are less warlike than settled societies because the need for exclusive resources is less important for nomadic societies. They can just move to where resources are available, rather than try to displace another group through violence. That's almost always gonna be biologically cheaper than fighting. Only when you can't move do the advantages of fighting outweigh the advantages of moving.

And the definition of war is important. A guerrilla raid is not the same as all-out warfare. Many tribes engaged in ritualistic raids that didn't really have anything to do with acquiring resources and where the killing of some individual or group had no tactical or strategic social purpose. To call a state of mutually tolerated ritualistic raiding between tribes a state of warfare is to rather misunderstand war.
1 / 5 (3) Jul 19, 2013
And tm needs the metaphysical to make any sense whatsoever out of his. Which makes no sense does it? In a world that is full, nomads become marauders because most resources are already spoken for.

And who said anything about ritual? Anthropologists? The other primates do not observe ritual. Ritual is only another word for Plan. Tribes which engage ritually would still be engaging without it.

Greeks fought ritual engagements to solve real problems of conflict over resources. Aztecs ritually slaughtered 1000s of their neighbors for the same reason. Religion facilitates war.
rather misunderstand war
-And your understanding of it us so 1970s.

And tribal war among apes and humans usually consisted of raid and ambush.

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