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‘In this Chambered Tumulus were Found Cleft Skulls …’: an Assessment of the Evidence for Cranial Trauma in the British Neolithic

  • Rick J. Schulting (a1) and Michael Wysocki (a2)

Abstract

Interpersonal violence is a powerful expression of human social interaction. Yet a consideration of violence in the past has done relatively little to inform our discussions of the British Neolithic. Here, we present the results of an examination of some 350 earlier Neolithic crania from mainly southern Britain. Of these, 31 show healed or unhealed injuries suggestive of interpersonal violence. We suggest a conservative estimate of 2% fatal cranial injuries, and 4 or 5% healed injuries. These data are used as a platform to discuss possible contexts for, and consequences of, violence. We argue that, regardless of its actual prevalance, the reality or the threat of interpersonal violence can have an important affect on both the behaviour of individuals and the structure of society.

La violence entre personnes est une puissante expression de l'interaction sociale humaine. Pourtant une étude de la violence dans le passé n'a apporté que relativement peu d'informations pour nourrir nos discussions du néolithique britannique. Nous présentons ici les résultats d'un examen de quelques 350 crânes du néolithique ancien provenant essentiellement du sud de la Grande-Bretagne. Parmi ceuxci, 31 portent des traces de blessures, cicatrisées ou non, suggérant un acte de violence entre personnes. Nous proposons une estimation prudente de 1% de blessures crâniennes mortelles, et 4 à 5% de blessures cicatrisées. Ces données sont utilisées comme point de départ afin d'examiner les contextes possibles, et les conséquences de la violence. Nous argumentons que, sans faire aucun cas de sa prédominence véritable, la violence entre les personnes, qu'elle soit réelle ou simple menace, peut avoir un effet important à la fois sur le comportement des individus et la structure de la société.

Zwischenmenschliche Gewalt ist Ausdruck menschlicher sozialer Interaktion. Dennoch hat eine Betrachtung von Gewalt in der Vergangenheit relativ wenig zu den Diskussionen zum Britischen Neolithikum beigetragen. In diesem Artikel präsentieren wir die Ergebnisse einer Untersuchung von c. 350 frühneolithischen Schädeln überwiegend aus dem südlichen Großbritannien. Von diesen zeigen 31 verheilte oder unverheilte Verletzungen, die auf zwischenmenschliche Gewalt hinweisen. Wir gehen in einer konservativen Schätzung von 2% fatalen Schädelverletzungen, und von 4 oder 5% verheilter Verletzungen aus. Diese Daten werden als Grundlage zur Diskussion über mögliche Kontexte für und als Konsequenz von Gewalt benützt. Wir argumentieren, dass ungeachtet ihrer tatsächlichen Verbreitung, die Bedrohung durch zwischenmenschliche Gewalt einen wichtigen Affekt sowohl auf das Verhalten von Individuen als auch auf die Struktur einer Gesellschaft haben kann.

La violencia interpersonal es una poderosa expresión de interacción social humana. Pero hasta ahora una consideración de la violencia en el pasado ha conseguido relativamente poco a la hora de informar nuestras discusiones sobre el Neolítico británico. Aquí presentamos los resultados de un examen de unos 350 cráneos del primer neolítico procedentes en su mayoría del sur de Inglaterra. De estos, 31 evidencian heridas curadas o no curadas, que parecen indicar violencia interpersonal. Sugerimos un cálculo prudente de un 2% de heridas craneales fatales, y un 4 o 5% de heridas curadas. Esta información sirve como plataforma para la discusión de los posibles contextos para, y las consecuencias de, la violencia. Sostenemos que, independientemente de su prevalencia real, la realidad o la amenaza de violencia interpersonal puede tener un efecto importante sobre el comportamiento de los individuos y sobre la estructura de la sociedad.

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‘In this Chambered Tumulus were Found Cleft Skulls …’: an Assessment of the Evidence for Cranial Trauma in the British Neolithic

  • Rick J. Schulting (a1) and Michael Wysocki (a2)

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