“Europe experienced large-scale warfare approximately 1,000 years earlier than originally estimated.”
Researchers have proposed that the first major conflict in Europe may have taken place over 1,000 years earlier than previously believed.
A new examination of over 300 sets of bones found in Spain, which were dated using radiocarbon technology to be between 5,400 and 5,000 years old, reveals that clashes occurred prior to the establishment of dominant governments in the area.
The study, published in Scientific Reports, suggests that the injuries observed, along with the larger proportion of males affected, point to a prolonged period of conflict lasting several months.
The research revisited the bones of 338 people found in a mass grave located in a shallow cave in the Rioja Alavesa area of northern Spain.
The study revealed a significantly increased occurrence of injuries during this period, with 23% of participants displaying signs of skeletal injuries and 10% still recovering from injuries.
The researchers also discovered that 74% of the injuries that did not heal and 70% of the injuries that did heal were found in adolescent or adult males, a considerably higher proportion than in females. This difference was not observed in other mass fatality sites from the European Neolithic period.
At the location, 52 flint arrowheads were found, and 36 of them showed signs of slight damage from hitting a target.
Earlier studies indicated that clashes were brief, with raids lasting only a few days and involving small groups of 20 to 30 individuals. It was believed that ancient societies did not possess the necessary resources to sustain longer and larger conflicts.
It was previously believed that the earliest conflict in Europe took place during the bronze age, around 4,000 to 2,800 years ago.
The authors determined that a significant number of individuals at the burial site likely experienced violence and potentially were casualties of warfare, based on the overall injury rate, the higher rate among males, evidence of healed injuries lasting several months, and previous observations of damage to arrowheads.
According to the authors, the causes of the disagreement are not fully understood. However, they suggest that it may have stemmed from animosity between diverse cultural communities in the area during the late neolithic era.