The partial remains of 27 individuals, including at least eight women and six children, were unearthed at Naturak, a site 30km west of Lake Turkana Kenya by researchers from Cambridge University’s Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies (LCHES).
The skeletons found in a relatively complete state showed clear signs of a violent death, including extreme blunt-force trauma to crania and cheekbones, broken hands, knees and ribs, arrow lesions to the neck, and stone projectile tips lodged in the skull and thorax of two men. Several of the skeletons were found face down and four were discovered in a position indicating their hands had probably been bound, including a woman in the last stages of pregnancy, (foetal bones were uncovered). The bodies were not buried.
“The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war,” said Marta Mirazón Lahr, who led the study. “These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers.”
The findings suggest these hunter-gatherers, perhaps members of an extended family, were attacked and killed by a rival group of prehistoric foragers.
Said Lahr: “The Nataruk massacre may have resulted from an attempt to seize resources – territory, women, children, food stored in pots – whose value was similar to those of later food-producing agricultural societies, among whom violent attacks on settlements became part of life.”
Researchers believe it is the earliest scientifically-dated historical evidence of human conflict – an ancient precursor to what we call warfare.
The study is published in the journal Nature.