Study of ancient Japanese hunter-gatherers suggests warfare not inherent in human nature

March 30, 2016 by Bob Yirka report
Credit: Tonny Watanebe

(Phys.org)—A team of Japanese researchers (and one from the U.K.) has found evidence in the remains of ancient Japanese people that suggests that people are not necessarily predisposed to living a violent existence or even to engaging in warfare. In their paper published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, the team describes their analysis of the remains of people that lived during the Jomon period (from 13,000 – 800 BC) in what is now Japan, which showed very little evidence of violent behavior or death.

In recent years, scientists have found of many that behaved in a violent manner, sometimes even banding together to wage war on other people or groups. That has led to more evidence of the common assumption that humans are inherently violent and that war has generally been the result when two or more groups have different ideas of how things should be done. In this new effort, the researchers suggest such findings might be premature as they have found an example of an early hunter-gatherer culture that did not appear to wage war or even behave in a violent manner.

The teams' study consisted of analyzing the remains of approximately 2,500 people that lived in Japan during the Jomon period, looking for examples of violence, e.g. broken or damaged bones. The team reports that they found evidence of violence in just 1.8 percent of all the adult bones represented and in just 0.89 percent of the population as a whole. A very low number compared to the 12 to 14 percent seen in other hunter-gatherer populations of around the same time period (which strongly suggested a violent existence). This, the researchers claim, suggests that the people of that time lived peacefully among themselves and did not conduct war against others that might have lived nearby. And that, they add, suggests that humans may not be quite as predisposed to violence as others have suggested, which counters other arguments that it was warfare that led to band together into groups forming communities that allowed for the promotion of intra-group altruism and even more advanced warfare against other such groups—a selective from of evolutionary behavior.

Explore further: Hunter-gatherer massacre suggests groups of humans waged war earlier than we thought

More information: Hisashi Nakao et al. Violence in the prehistoric period of Japan: the spatio-temporal pattern of skeletal evidence for violence in the Jomon period, Biology Letters (2016). DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2016.0028

Abstract
Whether man is predisposed to lethal violence, ranging from homicide to warfare, and how that may have impacted human evolution, are among the most controversial topics of debate on human evolution. Although recent studies on the evolution of warfare have been based on various archaeological and ethnographic data, they have reported mixed results: it is unclear whether or not warfare among prehistoric hunter–gatherers was common enough to be a component of human nature and a selective pressure for the evolution of human behaviour. This paper reports the mortality attributable to violence, and the spatio-temporal pattern of violence thus shown among ancient hunter–gatherers using skeletal evidence in prehistoric Japan (the Jomon period: 13 000 cal BC–800 cal BC). Our results suggest that the mortality due to violence was low and spatio-temporally highly restricted in the Jomon period, which implies that violence including warfare in prehistoric Japan was not common.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Mammal long thought extinct in Australia resurfaces

December 15, 2017

A crest-tailed mulgara, a small carnivorous marsupial known only from fossilised bone fragments and presumed extinct in NSW for more than century, has been discovered in Sturt National Park north-west of Tibooburra.

Finding a lethal parasite's vulnerabilities

December 15, 2017

An estimated 100 million people around the world are infected with Strongyloides stercoralis, a parasitic nematode, yet it's likely that many don't know it. The infection can persist for years, usually only causing mild symptoms. ...

34 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

TheGhostofOtto1923
2.4 / 5 (12) Mar 30, 2016
Humans are animals. Like any animal when left to themselves they can be expected to be peaceful. But when they are threatened they can be expected to fight like hell.

It appears that these researchers fail to appreciate this.

They also fail to appreciate the fact that when humans became able to hunt the animals which had been hunting them, overpopulation became the main determinant of human behavior. This should be especially true for island dwellers.

Conflict over resources became the norm and the tribe became the social structure best able to resolve conflict.

Also like many species with similar problems, humans developed cultural and biological methods of reducing growth and avoiding conflict. These researchers should look for signs of infanticide and euthanasia. There may also be ways of detecting homosexuality and anorexia which serve primarily to reduce growth and may thus be epigenetic responses to perceived overcrowding.
rgw
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2016
War deaths from WWI and WW2 were less than 1/3 of one percent for US population, and much less today.
Total War Deaths, including the losing sides, for both 'World' wars never exceeded 3% of the involved population. This includes less than 1% death for the Victors.

The stats in this article confirm that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

Overt interpersonal and fatal violence only surfaces in a tiny portion of the population. In the old days, one huge brute killing a couple of adversaries was (still is) significant deterrence for the rest of the population to not test that power. The introduction of weapons of increasing distance/death dealing capacity changed the physical requirements of violent victory.

If the article wants to convince me that basic human motivation and emotions have changed, NO chance.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1.5 / 5 (8) Mar 30, 2016
Warfare casualties in primitive societies can exceed 25%.
http://ourworldin...-deaths/

-Your conclusions are wrong because you don't know what you're talking about. Violence and war is the inevitable result of overpopulation.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (9) Mar 30, 2016
"-Your conclusions are wrong because you don't know what you're talking about. "
-------------------------------

No, otto, it is you who are the ignorant sniper here, hiding behind a phony name to criticize others. You are sick, otto, . . sick. Your continual references to the alleged psychopathy of everyone else is just you screaming to us to help you.

You may be beyond help, otto. Your need to hurt others seems to be deeply seated.

Please get some help.
Uncle Ira
3.1 / 5 (8) Mar 30, 2016
War deaths from WWI and WW2 were less than 1/3 of one percent for US population, and much less today.
Total War Deaths, including the losing sides, for both 'World' wars never exceeded 3% of the involved population. This includes less than 1% death for the Victors.


Where you get that from Skippy? It just ain't so non. The total world population at the time of WW2 was about 2 billions, the deaths for WW2 was about 5% of that, as many as 100 millions. If you subtract out the countries where there was not much fighting going on, then you are over 10 to 15% for the countries involved. More than a few countries it starts to go as high as 20%. Especially the weak countries that the NAZI's occupied.
Pooua
2.3 / 5 (6) Mar 30, 2016
Violence and war is the inevitable result of overpopulation.


Few places have ever been overpopulated by humans, but warfare is endemic. Overpopulation never has been the cause of war. Overpopulation is a baseless myth, promoted by people trying to justify the social changes they want to force on the world.
kochevnik
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 30, 2016
Organized religion causes war. When competition/overpopulation is negligible catholics go about their pagan rituals. When vital resources inevitably become scarce catholics become NAZIs

Self-domestication of humans favors increasingly disorderly distribution of knowledge and shrinking brains, making human intellect non-selective and favoring insect politics
BartV
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2016
Some people are trying to deduce something from a few remains of 3000 years ago.
But you can just look at the Japanese and how they lived for the well-documented past 1500 years. And you will find that internal warfare was constantly happening. For a 100 year span the wars were so bad Japanese now call this the "Sengoku" (national warring) period. Even in those worst years it is estimated that only 4% of the population died.

gkam
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2016
I want to know why so many Americans let themselves get fooled,suckered into the Bush Mass Killings for Corporate Profit. Most of us who served before marched wrote letters, argued against it, but many folk wanted to feel powerful, to vent their spleens, like Trump supporters, another Group Tantrum.

Yeah, it was wrong, a War Crime, even, . . . but didn't it feel GOOD??

It is the American Character.
koitsu
5 / 5 (4) Mar 30, 2016
Hmm... that's not exactly what the article or discussion is about.
Captain Stumpy
3.3 / 5 (7) Mar 30, 2016
Hmm... that's not exactly what the article or discussion is about.
@koitsu
don't worry, it doesn't matter to him. he just wants to denigrate anyone who was a soldier during that time period
it makes him feel better about killing children in Viet Nam

.

.

But you can just look at the Japanese and how they lived for the well-documented past 1500 years
@bart
ok, so take that 1500 year history and tell us about the prehistoric period of Japan, you know, because the study actually states
prehistoric period of Japan
you can't do it, or didn't you figure it out?

what you are not understanding, due to your xtian failures or illiteracy problems, is that prehistory actually means "before written history"

and there is a lot you can learn about the past by observing the evidence from the bones and more
this is one of the techniques of forensics, AKA - trying to deduce what happened from a few remains
Captain Stumpy
3.4 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2016
@barf cont'd
Some people are trying to deduce something from a few remains
yeah, just like forensics

perhaps you can refute the evidence in the study?
In this study, we analysed archaeological data from Japan to examine whether or not warfare was common among ancestral hunter–gatherers. Our results suggest that violence and thus warfare were not common in prehistoric Japan: the values of mortality attributable to violence both over the entire Jomon period (1.82%) and in each phase (0–3.45%) are much lower than the ones in previous studies (12–14%) [5,7,13]. Mortality attributable to warfare could not have exceeded these rates, and indeed should be lower because some injuries were likely due to homicide or accident rather than warfare.
so far you've given opinion, which can be dismissed as irrelevant due to it's lack of evidence

what about the study is wrong?
be specific
gkam
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 30, 2016
"it makes him feel better about killing children in Viet Nam"
-------------------------------

You are SICK!!

Go tell your mother what you said.
tblakely1357
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2016
Another 'Noble Savage' myth that will in time be shot down.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2016
Another 'Noble Savage' myth that will in time be shot down
@tblakely1357
maybe... in fact, they even say in the study
Whether man is predisposed to lethal violence, ranging from homicide to warfare, and how that may have impacted human evolution, are among the most controversial topics of debate on human evolution. Although recent studies on the evolution of warfare have been based on various archaeological and ethnographic data, they have reported mixed results: it is unclear whether or not warfare among prehistoric hunter–gatherers was common enough to be a component of human nature and a selective pressure for the evolution of human behaviour.
i can wait for more evidence

we may never have the whole pic, but we will eventually have a really good pic about the past

.

gkam
2 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
Stumpy and otto are examples of the hostility in those with limited prospects for the future, and the frustration of finding others who have actually done things. They went from nice to nasty to disgusting. If we were together, it could escalate to them using their "Second Amendment Solutions",. which is why we do not trust those goobers with guns.

The possibility of irrational actions by these emotionally-unstable folk is serious. See how many corporations are stepping away from their Republican convention?

http://www.nytime...amp;_r=0
Captain Stumpy
2.6 / 5 (5) Mar 31, 2016
their Republican
@Liar-kam
i'm not a republican
and no, i'm not a democrat either
irrational
: not thinking clearly : not able to use reason or good judgment
: not based on reason, good judgment, or clear thinking
http://www.merria...rational

so if we take above with
... What is the real cost of nuclear power?
see page 1
http://physics.ke...re15.pdf

& it is safer to use Nuke than walk, drive, fly... and it causes less deaths, even with Fukushima and Chernobyl than even solar or wind

then rational people would think: nuke is safe

irrational people would spread misinformation and hate like here: http://phys.org/n...ons.html

or ask for science conversation about their field, but when caught lying about their knowledge by Da Schneib, retaliate like liar-kam does here:
http://phys.org/n...age.html

gkam
2 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
"i'm not a republican"
---------------------------
I did not say you were. You made the connection when I stated they are irrational.

Not all irrational folk are Republicans. Some are Tories. Others, Fascists.

And you assertion that nukes are safer than wind power needs to be proven. Got proof? And not from nuke companies.

Look up how many have died or had lost years of their productive lives from Chernobyl, knowing it takes many years to see many effects. They will continue to suffer for generations with genetic changes to be passed down to their kids.

Show me how wind power is worse than this. Prove it.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
Got proof?
@liar-kam
yep. already linked it to you

got literacy problems?
Look up how many have died or had lost years of their productive lives from Chernobyl,
and again, if you see the stats, you can see that even with the included deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima, it is safer than even solar panels, which produce far less energy and more Death Rate (deaths per TWh)
Prove it
already did. just because you can't read doesn't mean i gotta keep linking the evidence

BTW - last post on this because you're irrational hate speech and fearmongering is simply redirecting threads for your own attention

since i can lead you to knowledge but i can't make you think, just consider each additional post you make without evidence, and every claim you make without evidence, reported for pseudoscience, ok?

thanks
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
The "death rate" from solar PV is due to their installation, not the technology. The technology is not dangerous. Nuclear technology is a hazard to all life.

There will be no Chernobyl at Altamont windfarms, no Fukushima at Altamont, either.

You got snookered by using Wiki. The NRC and the others know you are insufficiently versed in the technology to know the difference.
tribalypredisposed
5 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2016
Warfare casualties in primitive societies can exceed 25%.
http://ourworldin...-deaths/

-Your conclusions are wrong because you don't know what you're talking about. Violence and war is the inevitable result of overpopulation.


The scientific illiteracy of the people who claim that war did not evolve but is caused by overpopulation or resource scarcity or environmental stressors instead is astonishing. These are the forces that generate selection in evolution, and they are givens that every species faces repeatedly. The argument that the behavior of war only occurs because humans face one of the key drivers of selection in evolution but is not an evolved behavior is hilarious and profoundly ignorant despite its popularity.
Captain Stumpy
3 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
The "death rate" from solar PV is due to their installation, not the technology
@liar-kam
1- you didn't link any evidence
2- the overall death rate due to installation, maintenance and use is included in the stat's i linked - the only exclusion in that link is the effects of global warming caused by natural fuels
The technology is not dangerous
still no evidence
Nuclear technology is a hazard to all life
still no evidence
There will be no Chernobyl at Altamont windfarms, no Fukushima at Altamont, either
irrelevant strawman redirection

your post is unsubstantiated conjecture based upon your irrational fear and failure in life
reported

if you would have read the stats and the link Ira gave you to DOT and DOE, you would not be looking like a moron right now

https://www.youtu...yv9arXqU

https://www.youtu...xY-wOrI8

https://www.youtu...rcdMiIGs

https://www.youtu...Zm8XO7Zc
tribalypredisposed
5 / 5 (2) Mar 31, 2016
"what about the study is wrong?
be specific"

Well, birds flying in formation use only about 1% less energy than if they flew alone. So I guess there is insufficient selective pressure for them to evolve the behavior of flying?

What the study is doing is very hand-wavy "look how low that number looks" researcher bias of concluding what they wanted to conclude at the start. Chimpanzee mortality rates from fighting between groups appears to be about the same as these groups had. Yet adaptations and behavior patterns persist. A 1.8% mortality rate from any given cause over multiple generations can easily drive the evolution of adaptations.

Beyond that, this is yet another example of academics completely failing to understand evolution. Behavioral flexibility is the norm in mammals, especially so in humans and especially when injury or death might result. A society not engaging in war for a thousand years proves nothing about the evolution of warfare as a behavior in humans.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2016
Well, birds flying in formation use only about 1% less energy than if they flew alone. So I guess there is insufficient selective pressure for them to evolve the behavior of flying?
@tribalypre
since you are quoting me, i am guessing i need to respond? even though i was talking to someone else entirely?

oh, and FYI- there are exactly zero mentions of "bird", "Flight" & only one mention of the word "formation" in the study, which is:
reference 15 "Matsugi T. 2007 [Warfare in the Japanese islands and the formation of initial states]. [In Japanese.] Tokyo, Japan: University of Tokyo Press."

so we can skip that part

so, in all honesty - this is your opinion, it can be dismissed by simply stating it is your opinion, because you're not linking evidence to support your conjecture at all, right?

i mean, the study uses references to support their conjecture, so where is your counter evidence?

no offense meant but... that is how science discusses evidence
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2016
@Stumpy ...and again, if you see the stats, you can see that even with the included deaths from Chernobyl and Fukushima, it is safer than even solar panels, which produce far less energy and more Death Rate (deaths per TWh)
You need to kludge your statistics with illegal immigrants and tweekers too brazen to employ ropes while working on roofs to make that assertion. These casualties are candidates for the Darwin awards. If they were allowed at nuclear facilities they would swim in the reactor core pool. I doubt many casualties would occur in solar installations if the same degree of precautions were undertaken as a nuclear facility
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 31, 2016
I doubt many casualties would occur in solar installations if the same degree of precautions were undertaken as a nuclear facility
@kochevnik
absolutely true... which is a good argument for education over belief, right?
LOL
statistics with illegal immigrants and tweekers too brazen to employ ropes while working on roofs to make that assertion
those are included. only unreported cases are not included because there is no method to track unreported injuries

i can't remember specifically, but i think there was a great deal of info on the IRA link too

i know the OSHA, MedlinePlus (medical stats), LIstserv U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, DOE, and certain other GOV statistic update pages tracks these kinds of things

anyone can keep track, but it takes time to sift through the raw data
check it out for yourself... i will try to find the IRA link and post it here
compose
Mar 31, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
meestaman
5 / 5 (1) Mar 31, 2016
I'd like to believe that humans aren't inherently violent, but given the level of militarization and crime worldwide this would seem to be statistically unsound. We don't need to study prehistoric Japan to see evidence of peaceful societies. There are a handful that exist today. Take the Semai, Tristan Islanders and Lepchas for example where violence is almost unheard of. Even current-day Japan enjoys very low crime rates and social aggression. But their behaviour is a product of their cultural environment and is susceptible to change when influenced. As such, I think debating our inherent tendency for violence is an almost futile endeavor, especially if it is in the context of changing such patterns. Our ability, on the other hand, to adapt and respond to social environments is probably a more worthwhile study. Reflection on the effects of our own social environments and our contribution to such an environment on others is likely to be more meaningful. But that's just my own two-cents
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
You may be beyond help, otto. Your need to hurt others seems to be deeply seated
Awww poor georgie does it hurt when so many people go out of their way to demonstrate time and again what a lying fucking imbecile you are?

You should be able to pretend to be whatever you want, and post whatever made-up bullshit you want, without people giving you such a hard time about it, right?

"...psychopaths are good imposters. They have absolutely no hesitation about forging and brazenly using impressive credentials to adopt professional roles that bring prestige and power"

"Manipulation is the key to the psychopath's conquests. Initially, the psychopath will feign false emotions to create empathy, and many of them study the tricks that can be employed by the empathy technique. Psychopaths are often able to incite pity from people..."

-Yah it's pitiful how typical you are.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
The fight accelerates the speed of selection and therefore evolution
-Except that its not evolution its domestication. Evolution is the response to environmental conditions. Chihuahuas and great danes are not responses to natural conditions. Humans were unnaturally selected for their ability to live within the tribe, which involved surrender of repro rights, acceptance of irrational dogmae, and following orders without question.
we could replace it by nonviolent competition, but it would consider the following of artificial intersubjectively accepted rules (which may result from nonviolent religion or phillosophy)
The religions we are left with today survived because they were better at outgrowing and overrunning their less prolific counterparts.

Nonviolent credos are a way of enabling greater density whide maintaining stability. It must be emphasized that NONE of these religions are nonviolent toward their adversaries. This includes Buddhists and Jains.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Mar 31, 2016
@kochevnik
absolutely true... which is a good argument for education over belief, right?
LOL
Yeah really. Faith is the suspension of common sense. Some people are much better at it than others.
Tri-ring
5 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2016
The Jomon people were not in true sense hunter gathers since there is biological evidence that they had selectively bred and cultivated chestnut trees and ate the nuts as staples. They also did trade some traveling 200Km finding jade and other artifacts for the nuts.
Cadar
not rated yet Apr 04, 2016
There's a great deal of irony inherent in the subject of this article if the ancient ancestors of the Japanese culture - which is extremely proud of its relatively recent thousand-year history of warfare - were peace-loving hunter-gatherers. It occurs to me that the competition for resources as well as the overall population size were probably considerably less in the prehistorical era than in modern times, and those two factors alone are likely to make a big difference.
Captain Stumpy
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2016
The Jomon people were not in true sense hunter gathers since there is biological evidence that they had selectively bred and cultivated chestnut trees and ate the nuts as staples
@Tri-ring
then how would you classify most of the US plains tribes?

the Lakota (Teton), for instance, were hunter gatherers who followed the Buffalo heard for their primary sustenance as it not only fed the tribe, but also gave them resources for the Teepee, shield, warm blankets, tools, armor, holy ritual items, weapons and more...

they also cultivated crops in various places (not just gathering wild crop like onion or tubers) ... they were planting and harvesting as they moved around the plains, always sowing to insure the harvest next time they returned

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.