Friday, September 21, 2018

Warfare in Neolithic Europe

I'm not sure about the current feminist position on the Neolithic, but 20 years ago, it was feminist orthodoxy that the New Stone Age was a peaceful, matriarchal and egalitarian period in human history. It was brought to a violent end by invading patriarchal Indo-Europeans from the steppes north of the Black Sea. These ideas owed a lot to the work of Lithuanian archeologist Marija Gimbutas. Some daring souls even claimed that the Paleolithic was peaceful.

I used to believe this myself, but as I studied the subject more closely, various anomalies began to creep in. For instance, some Indo-Europeans had gender equality, specifically the Scythians. There was evidence of both hierarchy and human sacrifice in Neolithic Europe. Also, there is ethnographic evidence that egalitarian or “matriarchal” societies aren't necessarily peaceful. The Iroquois Confederacy is often hailed by feminists as an example of egalitarian matriarchy. It was also a political entity waging genocidal wars against other Native groups. And how did patriarchy develop in, say, Africa or New Guinea, never invaded by the Indo-European “Kurgan culture”?

“Warfare in Neolithic Europe” is a book arguing that violent conflicts did exist even in supposedly pacific “Old Europe”. It's not a pretty story. The Neolithic had it all, it seems: indiscriminate slaughter of entire communities, kidnapping of women, burning of settlements, fortifications, archery, head-hunting, perhaps even cannibalism. Archaeologists have for a long time downplayed these elements of our past, arguing that all fortifications were enclosures of a strictly religious nature, or that Neolithic farmers burned their own settlements for ritual reasons. Weapons were only used for hunting or display, evidence for “cannibalism” may have been a peculiar burial practice, etc. The author of this book doesn't deny that these explanations *do* hold water in many cases, but argues persuasively that there are many other cases which imply actual mass killings, defensive fortifications, etc. He also amasses modern ethnographic evidence for endemic warfare in technologically primitive societies.

Sometimes, the author cheats. He often discusses evidence for war during the “Late Neolithic”, actually the Chalcolithic or Copper Age. However, nobody (I think!) denies that there was violence during *this* period, the period of the evil Indo-European invasions of Old Europe. The real scandal is organized violence during the Early and Middle Neolithic. As for the causes of Neolithic warfare, the author mentions climate change and the expansion of Anatolian farmers into Europe, triggering conflicts with the native hunters and gatherers. Places like trade hubs or salt mines may have been tempting targets for attacks, since those who controlled it also controlled considerable wealth. Cattle raiding may have been the primary purpose of attacks on agricultural settlements by bands of hunter-gatherers.

Peaceful cultures have existed. They are not intrinsically impossible. For instance, the Indus Valley Civilization was almost entirely peaceful. However, this book suggests that peace is pretty much the exception to the rule during human history. Perhaps Robert Howard (and Conan the Barbarian) were right, after all. Barbarism is the natural state of man.

I admit I don't like this particular red pill…

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