War has not existed for the majority of human history New research based on the few remaining hunter-gatherer societies examines how humans have lived for at least ninety percent of their existence, until agriculture was invented around 10,000 years ago
Children play under an enormous peace flag in Italy. Photo by www.stefanocosta.it
by Edward Lander
The findings conclude that these societies are largely peaceful, implying that war is a relatively recent concept and not, as some academics had previously suggested, an integral part of the human condition that has driven human evolution since pre-history.
Douglas Fry and Patrik Söderberg at Åbo Akademi University in Vasa, Finland, report in the July 19 issue of the journal Science that people living in hunter-gatherer societies today rarely engage in war. Their definition of war covered group acts of aggression against other societies over resources or political disputes, and not incidents sparked by personal motives. They studied a record of 148 incidents of lethal aggression across 21 such societies, including the Semang of the Malay Peninsula and the !Kung of southern Africa.
The researchers found that 85 percent of cases were between people of the same society and 55 percent of incidents involved a sole perpetrator and lone victim. Furthermore, females were the perpetrators of violence for only 4 percent of the events. Almost two-thirds of the total deaths resulted from accidents, interfamilial disputes, or interpersonal motives such as fighting over women.
Most of the cases that could be defined as acts of war involved just one of the groups in the study, the Tiwi society of Australia.
“These findings imply that warfare was probably not very common before the advent of agriculture, when most if not all humans lived as nomadic foragers,” cultural anthropologist Kirk Endicott of Dartmouth College, who was not part of the study, told Science magazine.
Professor Fry said that the foraging societies studied are too small to wage wars and groups seldom fight each other as membership of groups is flexible and blurred by intermarriage. “In my view the default for nomadic foragers is non-warring,” he said. Also, he pointed out that there were very few instances of violence caused by scarce resources, one of the arguments often made by advocates of the warlike-humanity school of thought.
The findings point to the conclusion “that group killing is an exceptional event in human societies…” This is a profound study of an issue that is quite important for understanding our humanness.