Professor Mark Allen is a long time anthropology professor at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona. And for a long time he has studied human violence among prehistoric people in California. This week he published his work outlining two views related to violence and warfare. One view suggests humans were once peaceful and living in harmony while the other view holds that humans have always been competitive for resources and that humans have always been warlike and violent creatures.
Professor Allen published his work this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and it is entitled “Resource scarcity drives lethal aggression among prehistoric hunter-gatherers in Central California.” In his work Professor Allen teamed up with other professors from U.C. Davis, the University of Utah, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and archaeologists from the Millennia Archaeological Consulting firm in Sacramento.
Professor Allen points out that archaeologist typically do not get the evidence they ae looking for but you must have good evidence, something significant and that most of the time we are dealing with fragmented evidence.
Allen’s study confirmed the second view, that is, that humans have always been warlike and violent and competed for resources. He used an archaeological database of human burials composed of thousands of such prehistoric burials in California dating back more than 1000 years. He has his colleagues looked at wound marks these ancient people suffered at the hands of other human beings of the time. The team then compared that wound evidence to the environment of the time and looked at the way prehistoric communities were organized.
Allen and his team discovered that California had the largest population density in North America at the time! Further, a lot of small groups were living in close proximity to each other at the time also. And they also discovered that there were about 100 different languages spoken in this area at the time! This fits nicely with what I posted yesterday regarding a recent linguistic study showing the Americas have more languages than anywhere on the planet in ancient times.
Allen and his fellows also show how resource scarcity and human violence correlates. He says that when people are stressed and worried about protecting their group they tend to be more willing to be aggressive. “Violence is about resources in the group,” Professor Allen says.
Approximately 7% of the human remains studied had been killed by an arrow, stabbed, or bludgeoned. For females it was 5% while for males the death rate by violence was 11%. Allen says his study speaks to what we are seeing now in modern society. He says if we hope to stop violence in modern society we must first understand what causes it. He says we need to figure out what to do about “resource stress.”
Professor Mark Allen and his team simply confirmed what many of us have thought for many years now and that is that in human societies there is a competition for resources and that competition also has an element of violence when two opposing groups or individuals compete for the same resources. His study also confirms that ancient humans were not the peace-loving, warm and fuzzy beings some have tried to make them out to be. Violence and competition seem innate in humans. There was no peace and love era in ancient history or prehistory when humans fully got along. There has always been competition for resources and often that competition has led to violence as witnessed by the many more wounds we find on the remains of ancient human ancestors.