Ancient Violence in Kenya Confirms, and Does Not Refute the 1986 Findings in Saharasia
This above article details a fascinating archaeological find, recently published in Nature magazine. But I would refute any assertions that this provides proof for an inherent or genetic disposition towards human social violence.
There are few such massacre sites of this age, Jebel Sahaba and now Nataruk, plus a few isolated and often far more ambiguous finds dated to around the same early epoch — c.10,000-14,000 BP. As I detail in my Saharasia research and book, 2nd Edition with the "Update on Saharasia" Appendix, this epoch was characterized by intensive dry conditions across North Africa and adjacent regions, in a condition similar to what we have today. In between those two dry epochs was the North African Wet Phase, which was characterized by a general absence of evidence for warfare or violence, in either archaeological remains or cave-paintings.
After c.6000 BP, which marks the start of the most recent dry epoch, social violence and war becomes abundant in archaeology, and remains so all the way down into modern times. My Saharasia study provided the first detailed analysis of this timeline and geographically-correlated association between epochs of desertification with mass migrations, famines, starvation and subsequent serious disturbances in human social behavior which leads to violence and war. This body of work has been around since the 1980s, and secures evidence of a desertification-violence mechanism which appears at work in these very early finds in Jebel Sahaba and Nataruk as well.
Additionally, as detailed in my "Update" Appendix article, there are long stretches of ancient archaeology where skeletal finds and general archaeology shows no evidence of violence at all. But those diverse findings don’t make too much sense until they are plotted on world maps, and then correlated with modern and ancient regions of intense hyperaridity, and migration patterns that bring disturbed violent people from a region of hyperarid conflict into moister areas previously characterized by peaceful conditions. My Saharasia provided that evidence in spades, but because the findings cannot be reconciled with modern academic prejudices towards a genetic causation for human violence, it rarely gets mentioned.
Backing up a bit, the massacre site at Jebel Sahaba in the Upper Nile region of Southern Sudan, is close to this new one at Nataruk, which I note in Saharasia has an oldest date estimate at around 14,000 BP (Before the Present — subtract 2000 years to correct to BC). The Nature article referenced above puts Jebel Sahaba at an even older date, farther back into a very early epoch of hyperaridity, than those at Nataruk (c.10,000 BP). Dating methods for archaeological finds in the hard-pan desert regions are largely approximations, given how blowing winds or rare torrential rains tend to wash away sediments and leave artifacts and skeletons sitting close to the bare surface.
Significantly, however, in both these cases of Nataruk and Jebel Sahaba, those early dates place them towards the end of a very early North African Dry phase, and near the start of the well-documented North African Wet phase. The climate cycled between wet and dry several times over Africa, and Lake Turkana underwent many fluctuation in its depth, as part of the climate-affected Rift Valley and Nile River system. For example:
~20,000 BP to ~10,000 BP ==>> hyperarid conditions across North and East Africa, dry hardpan, rocky and sand dunes deserts, punctuated by rare oases or exotic rivers flowing in from the moister tropics or mountain ranges only.
~10,000 BP to ~6,000 BP ==>> North African Wet Phase, abundant rains, streams, rivers, giant lakes, with bones of big browsers such as elephant, giraffe, hippo, crocodile, fish, and some human settlement remains.
~6000BP (or 4000 BCE) to Present ==>> Dry North Africa, hyperarid, similar to the same condition of pre-10,000 BP. Hardpan, rocky desert & sand dunes predominates.
On pages 221-222 of my Saharasia, there are several graphics detailing the periodicity of the North African Wet Phase (c.10,000-6000 BP) and an even drier period before then, lasting from around 20,000 BP through c.10,000 BP. Both Nataruk and Jebel Sahaba, and the outliers mentioned in the video accompanying the above weblink, fall within a period of change from severe aridity to wet conditions. Whatever was the condition of the human character structure in the centuries or millennia prior to either Nataruk or Jebel Sahaba, it would have gone through a similar desert-famine-migration-starvation-violence transformation, though not at the same levels of human population as existed in the period after c.6000 BP (or 4000 BCE), where extensive and explosive evidence for human violence is found across North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia (Saharasia) and spreading out into the borderlands.
Confirmation on that much earlier arid phase, with more discussion on Jebel Sahaba can be found on pages 433-434 of the 2nd edition of my Saharasia book, in the Appendix article "Update on Saharasia". I reproduce two climate maps from J. Adams at Oak Ridge Nat. Lab, showing African conditions during the earliest dry phase of c.21,000 – 8,000 BC (or 23-10,000 BP), followed by the North African Wet Phase of c.8000-4000 BC (10-6000 BP). The current dry period came after c.6000 BP or 4000 BC and is of course associated with the appearance of developing city-states, and very widespread social violence that developed in the wake of that serious and devastating, and basically permanent (over millennia) climate change.
It is logical to assume the same desert-famine-migration-starvation-violence mechanism was at work in those areas of very early dry conditions, to create a similar violence, though of more greatly limited geographical extent, as what happened after the c.6000 BP drying event.
James DeMeo, PhD
Author of Saharasia: The 4000 BCE Origins of Child Abuse, Sex-Repression, Warfare and Social Violence, In the Deserts of the Old World
I just came across another author who has criticized the Nature article, arguing as I do that it does not affirm any genetic basis to human social violence and war. See:
10,000-Year-Old Massacre Does Not Bolster Claim That War Is Innate, by John Horgan