This is an edited version of the post I made on my sci-fi blog.
Much of Traveller focuses on war stories of the far future. But something can be gained by remembering the war stories of the distant past.
Here, we’re going civilian, small-scale, long ago, and far away rather than the larger scales, clearly military operations of the more recent past, a la World War II.
A new analysis on a set of human remains dating back 13,000 years, which were found on the east bank of the Nile in northern Sudan, suggests the individuals were victims of a race war, according to a report in The Independent . The finding provides evidence for the oldest known, relatively large-scale human armed conflict.
The remains of nearly 60 men, women, and children were recovered and sent to the British Museum for safekeeping. Now a team of French scientists from Bordeaux University working in collaboration with the British Museum have been examining dozens of the skeletons. Their analysis has revealed numerous arrow impact marks and flint arrow head fragments on the bones of the victims, suggesting that the majority of the victims were killed by enemy archers. Furthermore, the new research demonstrates that the attacks took place over many months or years.
Parallel research conducted by John Moore’s University, the University of Alaska and New Orleans’ Tulane University, suggests that the victims were part of the general sub-Saharan populations, the ancestors of modern black Africans, while remains of another race, the North African/Levantine/European population group, have been found close to Jebel Sahaba.
During the period in which the sub-Saharans violently perished, northern Sudan was a major ethnic interface between the two racial groups. At the same time, there was a huge competition for resources due to a severe climatic downturn in which many water sources dried up, and people of all ethnic groups were forced to migrate to the banks of the Nile. Researchers suggest that the different racial groups would have inevitably clashed under these circumstances, resulting in the violent ending of a group of sub-Saharans more than 13,000 years ago.
“From her daughter, the free-woman Miwnay, to her dear mother Chatis. I am very anxious to see you.”
History rarely remembers the little people. Our history books are full of stories of kings, queens, and conquerors; of influential men and wealthy people who lived in gilded castles. But the rest of us are forgotten.
The lives of countless ordinary people — people who loved and lost and struggled and died – have been completely forgotten. To them, their lives were the most important thing in the world; but today, no one even remembers their names.
That’s what makes a box full of 1,700-year-old letters found in the Chinese town of Dunhuang so incredible. Because in that box are two letters written by an ordinary woman named Miwnay.
They’re a rare glimpse into the life of the Sogdian people who, in 313 AD, were living under Chinese rule. But more than that, they’re a glimpse into the love and pain that filled the life of an ordinary woman – one of only a few who will never be forgotten.
Sogdian women, like Miwnay, were second-class citizens in Dunhuang. Their homeland, Sogdia, had once been a province in the Persian Empire; now, though, Miwnay was living in China’s Gansu province, just outside the frontier wall that divided China from the rest of Asia. And there, the Chinese made the rules.
Many of them ended up being a sold into sexual slavery . It was a common fate for Sogdian women, especially the poor. They would be bound up and sold off to the wealthiest Chinese, who had the legal right to beat them, tie them up, and do anything they wanted to do them.
Miwnay, in a way, had been lucky. She’d married a Sogdian man named Nanai-dhat, a merchant who’d placed his home on the Silk Road. There was a good chance that he was a wealthy man – the Sogdians, it’s said , were experts at making a fortune through trade.
By law, if she couldn’t get her husband’s consent, she would have to get the consent of his closest relative, a man named Artivan. But Artivan had refused, and no one would help her. Everyone she turned to told her the same thing: “Wait. … Perhaps Nanai-dhat would come.”
But Nanai-dhat wasn’t coming. Nobody knew where he was – and if Miwnay couldn’t get out of Dunhuang, there was a chance she’d end up like those other poor women, left with no choice but to sell their daughters as slaves.
…there is also strong evidence that warfare is a very recent invention from the evolutionary standpoint. I quote below from the article, 10,000-Year-Old Massacre Does Not Bolster Claim That War Is Innate
- The theory [of warfare being innate to humanity] holds that lethal group conflict evolved not ten thousand or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands but millions of years ago. Critics of the theory have long accepted that some humans, including hunter-gatherers, engaged in group violence 10,000 years ago and even earlier. As I note in a 2010 blog post, the oldest clear-cut relic of group violence is a 13,000-year-old grave in the Jebel Sahaba region of Sudan. The grave contains 59 skeletons, 24 of which bear marks of violence, such as embedded projectile points.
- Other than the Jebel Sahaba site, evidence of war or even homicide dating back more than 10,000 years is extremely rare. As I reported in 2013, anthropologists Jonathan Haas and Matthew Piscitelli have carried out an exhaustive review of hominid remains over 10,000 years old, including more than 2,900 skeletons from over 400 different sites. Excluding the Jebel Sahaba skeletons, Haas and Piscitelli found only four skeletons bearing signs of violence.
- The West Turkana massacre victims might not have been nomadic hunter-gatherers, as our ancestors were throughout most of the Paleolithic era (which began just over two millions years ago and lasted until the dawn of agriculture). Instead, the victims might have been making the transition to a more settled mode of existence, as were other societies in northern Africa, Mesopotamia and elsewhere. According to the Nature authors, 10,000 years ago West Turkana was “a fertile lakeshore landscape sustaining a substantial population of hunter-gatherers; the presence of pottery may be indicative of some storage and so reduced mobility.”
- Research by anthropologist Brian Ferguson shows that even after humans began settling down, war emerged slowly and sporadically. As I wrote in a post on Ferguson’s work, hunter-gatherers started settling in the Southern Levant 15,000 years ago, and populations surged after the emergence of agriculture there 11,000 years ago. But there is no significant evidence of warfare in the Southern Levant until about 5,500 years ago, when the region increasingly came under the influence of the emerging military empire of Egypt.
- A study by anthropologists Douglas Fry and Patrik Soderberg found scant evidence of warfare among 21 modern-era hunter-gatherer societies on five continents. As I reported in 2013, three of the societies had no observed killings of any kind, and 10 had no killings carried out by more than one perpetrator. In only six societies did ethnographers record killings that involved two or more perpetrators and two or more victims. A single society, the Tiwi of Australia, accounted for almost all of these group killings. Their findings, Fry and Soderberg concluded, “contradict recent assertions that [mobile foragers] regularly engage in coalitionary war against other groups.”
- Finally, there is little evidence that inter-group violence among chimpanzees is innate. As I reported in 2014, researchers tracking 18 chimp communities for an average total of 23 years per community have observed only 15 inter-group killings of adults and adolescents. That comes to one inter-group killing every 28 years in a typical community. Even Wrangham has acknowledged that such killings are “certainly rare.” Moreover, researchers have not observed a single deadly attack by the chimp species Pan paniscus, or bonobos, who are as closely related to humans as the more common species, Pan troglodytes.
Of course, as a Christian who takes the Biblical record as true, I disagree with the dates given: but I do agree with the basic message of the article. There is nothing innate or natural or inevitable about violent communal warfare. Warfare exists because we choose to make it so; we kill because we consciously will it, not because of ‘evolutionary pressures’ or ‘our environment/scarcity/our genes made us do it.’
The snake whispers his poison: but we can fling the lies aside, if we choose to.
Mass murder is just like any other sin, be it theft or rape or lying.
We merely hide behind a leader and his court intellectuals/priests to
justify it, instead of using our own tongues and fists to silence
The debate over the deep-roots theory matters. As a New York Times editorial on the Kenyan dig points out, President Barack Obama seems to favor the notion that war has “deep biological roots.” During his 2009 Nobel Prize speech, Obama stated that war “appeared with the first man” and that “we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes.” This sort of fatalism could undermine efforts to achieve permanent peace.
The evidence is overwhelming that war, far from being an innate behavior that evolved millions of years ago, was a cultural innovation—an “invention,” as Margaret Mead put it–that emerged relatively recently in our prehistory, toward the end of the Paleolithic era. We should take responsibility for our wars instead of blaming them on our genes.
“Taking responsibility.” Now, that’s Christian language I can back to the full!
Swords into Plowshares
(or O’Neil Stations, as the case may be)
I strongly endorse technological advancement, widespread
wealth generation, the free flow of information, and the widespread
protection of life, liberty, and property. China has had made the
greatest advances here in recent decades, and reaped the rewards of
doing so: but many nations are far better off than when I was born, about five decades ago.
AND the threat of nuclear was has declined sharply, too.
(But a moment of silence for the IMMENSE opportunity cost that Marxism inflicted on the world. And absolutely unnecessary, too!)
My greatest hope, though, remains in the Holy Spirit changing the hearts of men (as opposed to properly rational Vilani methods of peace creation). That means not only Christian preaching and Christian conversions, but Christian behaviour as well, on individual and group levels. Not so easy, but progress is steady on a global basis.
(Not so much in Europe: but sin equals sterility and death, so their apostasy is a temporary setback by its very nature. “Christ is necessary for survival, integrity and growth… but European Civilization? Not so much.”)