Pre Historic Massacre unearthed in Kenya

Posted on January 21, 2016 12:07 am

According to findings published in Nature, evidence of massacre 10,000 years ago found in Kenya is the earliest proof of warfare between Stone Age hunter-gatherers.The area surrounding Lake Turkana in Kenya had fertile land 10,000 years ago, with thousands of animals including elephants, giraffes and zebras roaming around alongside groups of hunter gatherers. However, researchers have also unearthed the dark side.They have discovered the oldest known case of violence between two groups of hunter gatherers took place there, with ten excavated skeletons showing evidence of having been killed with both sharp and blunt weapons.The discoveries were made in 2012 at Nataruk, a site 30km from Lake Turkana in northern Kenya’s Rift Valley, and is the earliest evidence of violent confrontation between nomadic hunter gatherer groups.“The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war,” said Marta Mirazon Lahr, from the Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies at Cambridge, 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.”Researchers journey began in 2012, when Pedro Ebeya, one of the team’s Turkana field assistants, reported seeing fragments of human bones on the surface at Nataruk which is Located just south of Lake Turkana.

Nataruk is a barren desert today, but according to researchers 10,000 years ago was a temporary camp set up by a band of hunter-gatherers next to a lagoon.Researchers excavated the remains of 27 people six young children, one teenager and 20 adults. Twelve of these both men and women were found as they had died, unburied, and later covered by the shallow water of the lagoon.Ten of the 12 skeletons show lesions caused by violence to the parts of the body most commonly involved in cases of violence. These include one where the projectile was still embedded in the side of the skull; two cases of sharp-force trauma to the neck; seven cases of blunt and/or sharp-force trauma to the head; two cases of blunt-force trauma to the knees and one to the ribs. There were also two cases of fractures to the hands, possibly caused while parrying a blow.Researchers believe there must have at least three types of weapons involved in these murders namely projectiles both stoned-tipped as well as sharpened arrows, something similar to a club, and something close to a wooden handle with hafted sharp stone blades that caused deep cuts. Two individuals have no lesions in the preserved parts of the skeleton, but the position of their hands suggests they may have been bound, including a young woman who was heavily pregnant at the time.

One of the skull discovered in Nataruk South of Lake Turkana - Courtsey - Nature Magazine
One of the skull discovered in Nataruk South of Lake Turkana – Courtsey – Nature Magazine

Researchers dated the remains and the site to between 10,500 and 9,500 years ago, making them the earliest scientifically dated case of a conflict between two groups of hunter-gatherers. Stones in the weapons include obsidian, a rare stone in the Nataruk area, suggesting the attackers came from a different place.According to them, prehistoric societies were usually small groups of nomads moving from place to place meaning they didn’t own land or have significant possessions. They typically didn’t have strong social hierarchies either. Therefore, many scholars have argued that warfare must have emerged after farming and more complex political systems arose.Naturuk therefore challenges views about what the causes of conflict are. It is possible that human prehistoric societies simply responded antagonistically to chance encounters with another group. However, thats not what seems to have happened at Nataruk. The group which attacked was carrying weapons that would not normally be carried while hunting and fishing. Also, the lesions show that clubs of at least two sizes were used, making it likely that more than one of the attackers were carrying them.

The fact that the attack combined long-distance weapons such as arrows and close-proximity weaponry such as clubs suggests they planned the attack. Also, there are other, but isolated, examples of violent trauma in this area from this period in time, one discovered in the 1970s about 20km north of Nataruk, and two discovered by our project at a nearby site. All three involved projectiles, one of the hallmarks of inter-group conflict. Two of the projectiles found embedded in the bones at Nataruk and in two of the other cases were made of obsidian. This made researchers believe that such attacks happened multiple times, and were part of the life of the hunter-gatherer communities at the time.Researchers concluded reason why Nataruk was attacked was because they had valuable resources that were worth fighting for like water, meat, fish, nuts and perhaps women and children. This suggests that two of the conditions associated with warfare among settled societies namely territory and resources were probably common among these hunter-gatherers, and that we have underestimated their role so far.

Contador Harrison