A History of Violence

The skulls of people from Peru’s Nasca Highlands roughly 1,000 to 550 years ago showed ugly signs of violent trauma. Weston McCool(link is external) and his colleagues wondered if they could establish what types of violence were responsible for the wounds.

For McCool, a postdoctoral scholar in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Anthropology, the question wasn’t one of morbid curiosity, but a step toward understanding the causes and consequences of human conflict.

“It is vital that we first distinguish between the types of violence a population experienced,” he said. “After all, different forms of violence have different causes – warfare vs. resource raids for example. Our article is intended to provide a toolkit for establishing the character of violence, which is a vital first step towards creating and testing appropriate causal hypotheses.”

In their article (link is external)in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, McCool and his co-authors examine 267 crania from the Late Intermittent Period (LIP) for trauma: lethal, non-lethal, overkill and critical injuries. They found, from several lines of evidence, that internecine warfare was endemic in the LIP.