Truth of 7300-Year-Old Violence Uncovered in the Spanish Pyrenees
An examination of human remains found in a cave in the Spanish Pyrenees, that date to almost 7300 years ago has provided proof of the brutality of life in the Stone Age. It is believed that the remains are those of adults and children who were massacred. This Stone Age massacre is helping researchers to understand the nature of human violence and they believe it shows that we are ‘hardwired’ to be violent.
The remains were found in the Els Trocs cave in the Spanish mountain range, which is set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. Archaeologists have uncovered 13 skeletons, from three burials, and also evidence of material culture in the cave. Els Trocs was inhabited in three phases during the Neolithic period. Researchers focused on nine individuals “five adults and four children from the earliest occupation,” according to Real Clear Science. They are some 1000 years older than the other skeletons found in the cave.
Location of the site and the two neighboring northeastern Spanish provinces of Huesca and Lérida (Lleida) on a topographic map of the Spanish Pyrenees. (University of Valladolid / Scientific Reports)
Neolithic Massacre in Spanish Pyrenees
The remains were examined by a multidisciplinary team of experts, who also carbon-dated the skeletons. They made the gruesome discovery that it appears the “five adults and four children between the ages of three and seven were brutally murdered around 5300 BC,” reports Real Clear Science. They were the victims of a massacre.
The team stated that “the violent events in Els Trocs are without parallel either in Spain or in the rest of Europe at that time,” according to Scientific Reports. It appears that they were shot with arrows, apart from one skeleton found in a perpendicular position. The researchers also stated in Scientific Reports, “the children and adults furthermore show traces of similar blunt violence to the skull and entire skeleton.” The victims of the massacre had been shot by arrows and hacked to death showing evidence of overkill.
Part of the skeletons damaged by blunt objects/arrows during the massacre, which were found in the Spanish Pyrenees. (T. Schuerch / G. Schulz / Scientific Reports)
Stone Age Warfare
Support for the view that these individuals were the victims of violence and even warfare comes from previous archaeological finds in the Iberian Peninsula. At another Stone Age settlement in Spain, a number of arrows were found, and at Les Dogues rock shelter a battle scene depicts acts of often horrifying violence and conflict.
According to the Scientific Reports, the evidence of a massacre at Els Trocs “raises two fundamental questions: on the one hand about the assailants and the other hand the motive for such a seemingly uninhibited excess of violence.” There is little physical evidence indicating who were the perpetrators of the massacre. However, genetic testing has established that the dead were related to the first Neolithic farmers in the Iberian Peninsula. Based on the remote location, they were probably herders who engaged in transhumance.
More images of the skeletons found in the cave in the Spanish Pyrenees, showing damage by blunt objects/arrows during the massacre. (T. Schuerch / G. Schulz / Scientific Reports)
Motives for the Massacre
It has been speculated that the killers of the individuals were either new migrants to the area or possibly a group that had maintained a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle. A motive for the attack was “the terrain on which the violent events took place is a plateau offering manifold resources,” according to Scientific Reports. Quite simply the victims were killed by a group for control of the resources of the area by a new or previously settled group.
However, the brutality of the killings would indicate that there was another motive. Scientific Reports states that, “Els Trocs probably documents an early escalation of inter-group violence between people of conceivably different origins and worldviews, between natives and migrants or between economic or social rivals.” This massacre was possibly also prompted by tribal or xenophobic beliefs elated to a long-standing conflict between two groups.
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Origin of Human Violence
The research may offer a new view of the origin of violence and even human nature. The traditional view is that humans evolved to be violent in order to secure the resources that they needed. Based on the findings it would appear that “ethnic nepotism is believed to be one of the main causes of inter-group violence,” the researchers reported in Scientific Reports. Essentially, ideas about tribal loyalty and ethnicity contributed to prehistoric conflicts.
This study suggests that while we evolved to be violent in the struggle for survival, this does not mean that we are always fated to be violent. We can overcome our evolutionary inheritance, especially if we cease dividing people into different groups, based on ethnicity or religion and see each other as simply humans. This is particularly relevant to modern societies, which are very diverse and multicultural.
Top image: Main: view of the Els Trocs cave entrance in the Spanish Pyrenees located on the southern slope of a karst hill on the high plateau of Selvaplana; seen from the pass of the Puerto de las Aras. Source: H. Arcusa Magallón / Scientific Reports. Inset: Images of part of the skeletons damaged by blunt objects/arrows during the massacre. Source: T. Schuerch / G. Schulz / Scientific Reports
By Ed Whelan