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61 Skeletons Reveal What History’s First Armed Conflict Was Like 13,000 Years Ago

first war in history

The scars of 61 prehistoric human beings revive the oldest violent scene we’ve known so far.

In Sudan, a wave of violence broke out some 13,400 years ago. The human groups armed themselves with what they could. Among the most lethal weapons were stones and arrows. It is likely that the first war strategies were designed at this time, according to the remains of 61 fallen from the Jebel Sahaba cemetery. Since its discovery in the 1960s, it had been identified as the first prehistoric war. Today, the evidence shows a different narrative.

The Stroke of Open and Healed Scars

first prehistoric war
Projectile impact puncture with a lithic fragment embedded in the back face of the left hip bone of individual JS 21. Photo: Isabelle Crevecoeur/Marie-Héléne Dias-Meirinho

A recent study by the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in France in collaboration with jean Jaurés University in Toulouse re-analyzed the skeletons of prehistoric humans in Jebel Sahaba Cemetery. Originally, the 1961s had been understood as sufficient evidence of the first armed conflict in history.

However, according to the paleontologists involved in the study, this was not a cemetery built from the same war. On the contrary, the CNRS suggests that it was the result of one (or several) wave of violence in prehistory. The key is, according to the experts in charge of the investigation, in the scars that can be seen in the bones.

Some of them are perfectly healed. Others, however, were still injured at the time of the fight, or were carried out at that time. Most of them were the product of projectiles. For scientists, this is a sign that the bones had time to recover between different encounters of this type, even years apart.

An armed conflict driven by climate change?

Photo: Isabelle Crevecoeur / Marie-Hélène Dias-Meirinho

Based on this new analysis of human remains, the scientists involved point out the possibility that the wave of violence may have been unfeded by the climate change that tied with the time. Men, women and children participated in hostilities indiscriminately, as indicated by the remains available.

Some shards of sharp lyrical pieces are still embedded in the bones. According to scientists, the position of the arrow pieces indicates that the intention was to bleed the person in question. The remains were found in the Nile Valley, Sudan, and it is estimated that they are the product of ambushes between hunter-fisher-gatherers, as a result of a natural climate crisis.

As a result of a lack of resources and changes in the environment, human groups are likely to have faced each other. However, it is clear to the team of French scientists that it was not part of the same armed conflict. Instead, these were hostile episodes separated during Prehistory, without the complexity of a war as such.

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