Published online by Cambridge University Press: 13 March 2020
In the 1960s African hunter-gatherers in the Kalahari Desert were described as gentle people who used dispute resolution to prevent violence between band members. This ideal was a good fit for those anthropologists on one side of a debate on the nature of human behaviour. The Kalahari San played a role in the debate not only because anthropologists had categorised them as ‘gentle’, but also because they were seen as frozen remnants of our prehistoric ancestors. More recently, researchers have realised that the San of prehistory had very different lives from the ones anthropologists encountered in the ‘ethnographic present’. Evidence from archaeological skeletons from the middle and late Holocene suggests that interpersonal violence was a regular occurrence among the prehistoric foragers of the southern African Later Stone Age. Research has documented a number of antemortem and perimortem injuries on skeletons that can only be signs of interpersonal violence. The injuries have been found on women and children as well as adult males, and evidence suggests that inter-band violence was common in prehistoric times and that forager competition for resources may have been the cause of conflict.