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Prehistoric warfare

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Title: Prehistoric warfare  
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Subject: Military history, War, Endemic warfare, Prehistory, Outline of prehistoric technology
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Prehistoric warfare

Prehistoric warfare refers to war conducted by stateless societies without recorded history.

The existence — and even definition — of war in humanity's hypothetical

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  • Guilaine, Jean. Jean Zammit. The Origins of War: Violence in Prehistory. London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005 (Paris, 2001). ISBN 978-1405112604
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  • Keeley, Lawrence. War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, Oxford University Press, 1996. ISBN 0-19-509112-4
  • Kelly, Raymond C. Warless societies and the origin of war. Ann Arbor : University of Michigan Press, 2000.
  • Lambert, Patricia M. The Archaeology of War: A North American Perspective. Journal of Archaeological Research. 10:3 (September 2002), pp. 207–241. JSTOR
  • LeBlanc, Steven A.. Prehistoric Warfare in the American Southwest, University of Utah Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0874805819
  • LeBlanc, Steven A. and Katherine E. Register. Constant Battles: The Myth of the Peaceful, Noble Savage, NY: St. Martin's Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0312310905
  • Otterbein, Keith F.. How war began. College Station : Texas A&M University Press, 2004
  • Randsborg, Klavs. Hjortspring : warfare and sacrifice in early Europe. Aarhus, Denmark; Oakville, Connecticut. : Aarhus University Press, 1995.
  • Rafael Karsten, Blood revenge, war, and victory feasts among the Jibaro Indians of eastern Ecuador, 1923.
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  • Wade, Nicholas. Before the Dawn, Penguin: New York 2006.
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  2. ^  
  3. ^ Thorpe, I.J.N. (April 2003). "Anthropology, archaeology, and the origin of warfare" (PDF). World Archaeology 35 (1): 145–165.   JSTOR
  4. ^ Lambert, Patricia M. (September 2002). "The Archaeology of war: A North American perspective" (PDF). Journal of Archaeological Research 10 (3): 207–241.  JSTOR
  5. ^  
  6. ^ Kelly, Raymond (October 2005). "The evolution of lethal inter-group violence". PNAS 102: 24–29.
  7. ^ Guthrie, R. Dale (2005). The Nature of Paleolithic Art. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. p. 422.  
  8. ^ a b c d e Haas, Jonathan and Matthew Piscitelli (2013) "The Prehistory of Warfare: Misled by Ethnography" In War, Peace, and Human Nature edited by Douglas P. Fry, pp. 168-190. New York: Oxford University Press.
  9. ^  
  10. ^ Horgan, John. "New Study of Prehistoric Skeletons Undermines Claim That War Has Deep Evolutionary Roots". Scientific American. 
  11. ^ Keeley, pg.45, Fig. 3.1
  12. ^ "Neolithic Warfare"
  13. ^ The Perfect Gift: Prehistoric Massacres. The twin vices of women and cattle in prehistoric Europe
  14. ^ Zimmerman 1981. The Crow Creek Site Massacre: Preliminary Report.
  15. ^ "Archaeologists Unearth a War Zone 5,500 Years Old"
  16. ^ [2], Clemens D. Reichel, Excavations at Hamoukar Syria, in Oriental Institute Fall 2011 News and Notes, no. 211, pp. 1-9, 2011

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See also

In warlike cultures, war is often ritualized with a number of taboos and practices that limit the number of casualties and the duration of the conflict. This type of situation is known as endemic warfare. Among tribal societies engaging in endemic warfare, conflict may escalate to actual warfare occasionally for reasons such as conflict over resources or for no readily understandable reason.

Endemic warfare

Early Iron Age events like the Dorian invasion, Greek colonialism and their interaction with Phoenician and Etruscan forces lie within the prehistoric period. Germanic warrior societies of the Migration period engaged in endemic warfare (see also Thorsberg moor). Anglo-Saxon warfare lies on the edge of historicity, its study relying primarily on archaeology with the help of only fragmentary written accounts.

Iron Age

The Bronze Age in China traverses the protohistoric and historic periods. Battles utilizing foot and chariot infantry took place regularly between powers in the North China Plain.

Military conquests expanded city states under Egyptian control. Babylonia and later Assyria built empires in Mesopotamia while the Hittite Empire ruled much of Anatolia. Chariots appear in the 20th century BC, and become central to warfare in the Ancient Near East from the 17th century BC. The Hyksos and Kassite invasions mark the transition to the Late Bronze Age. Ahmose I defeated the Hyksos and re-established Egyptian control of Nubia and Canaan, territories again defended by Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh, the greatest chariot battle in history. The raids of the Sea Peoples and the renewed disintegration of Egypt in the Third Intermediate Period marks the end of the Bronze Age.

Excavation work undertaken in 2005 and 2006 has shown that Hamoukar was destroyed by warfare by around 3500 BC-—probably the earliest urban warfare attested so far in the archaeological record of the Near East.[15] Continued excavations in 2008 and 2010 expand on that. [16]

The onset of the Chalcolithic (Copper Age) saw the introduction of copper daggers, axes, and other items. For the most part, these were far too expensive and malleable to be efficient weapons. They are considered by many scholars to have been largely ceremonial implements. It was with the development of bronze that edged metal weapons became commonplace.

Bronze swords from the Museum of Scotland.

Bronze Age

The Māori of New Zealand are notable for the thousands of fortifications constructed to enhance a group's standing in the near-continuous fighting on their islands in the South Pacific. In an era before siege weapons had been developed to a high level of technological complexity and when attackers had limited supplies and time to spend in battle, fortifications were a successful method of securing people and livestock from invasion, though the fields and homes would likely be pillaged by the attackers. These substantial fortifications show that there was considerable social organization in the societies of prehistoric peoples. This is indirect corollary evidence for them also having been capable of conducting organized warfare.

A Neolithic society is defined as a society that cultivates domesticated plants and manufactures tools only from natural materials. Evidence indicates that warfare was present in many Neolithic societies.[12] For example, the Talheim Death Pit and Crow Creek Site are sites of Neolithic massacres.[13][14]


Early war was influenced by the development of tactics like flankings and envelopments.[11]

The first archaeological record of what could be a prehistoric battle is at the 14,340- to 13,140-year old Mesolithic site known as Cemetery 117, located on the Nile near the Egypt-Sudan border. It contains a large number of bodies, many with arrowheads embedded in their skeletons, which indicates that they may have been the casualties of a battle. Some question this conclusion by arguing that the bodies may have accumulated over many decades, and may even be evidence of the murder of trespassers rather than actual battles. Nearly half of the bodies are female, and this fact also causes some to question the argument for large-scale warfare.


Of the many cave paintings of the Upper Paleolithic, none depict people attacking other people.[7][8] The only rock art that depicts violence between hunter-gatherers comes from a unique Northern Australian sequence that began approximately 10,000 years ago.[9] Skeletal and artifactual evidence of Paleolithic intergroup violence is absent as well.[8][10]

[6][5] According to cultural anthropologist and ethnographer

Quartzite hand axe



  • Paleolithic 1
  • Mesolithic 2
  • Neolithic 3
  • Bronze Age 4
  • Iron Age 5
  • Endemic warfare 6
  • See also 7
  • Notes 8
  • References 9


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