Beyond the Southwest: Is There a Relationship Between Climate and Violence?

  • Ryan P. Harrod
  • Debra L. Martin
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Anthropology book series (BRIEFSANTHRO)


There are case studies from places such as China, the Canary Islands, Europe, and Southern California that appear to show increased levels of violence in the form of intergroup conflict, warfare, and, in extreme cases, cannibalism and genocide. These are explored in detail to demonstrate that even though there appears to have been an increase in the use of violence, often that increase was the result of a complexity of cultural and political factors, and not solely related to climate change per se. Thus, even when violence is recorded during periods of climate change, it is crucial that they be carefully looked at before using them to generate policies. There have been politically generated announcements that wealthy industrial countries will need to fortify their borders and redirect their attention to improving technological innovations that can increase the yield of agricultural crops on nonproductive land. An alternative to this, as history has shown, could be that nation states could cooperate (e.g., share resources, prevent further environmental degradation, and limit consumption) and avoid the need for closing borders and increasing conflicts. While we must be careful not to project modern ideals on to past peoples, these case studies provide alternative ways to think about the role of violence in any situation where groups feel threatened and fearful for their future. Violence certainly is used by groups throughout the past and present, but the underlying causes for that are complex, multiple, and rarely every tied to one variable such as climate or weather.


Case studies Climate change Violence Worldwide Bioarchaeology 


  1. Ames, Kenneth M., and Herbert D. G. Maschner. 1999. Peoples of the Northwest Coast: Their archaeology and prehistory. London: Thames and Hudson, Ltd.Google Scholar
  2. Behringer, Wolfgang. 1997. Witchcraft persecutions in Bavaria: Popular magic, religious zealotry and reason of state in early modern Europe, translated by J. C. Grayson and D. Lederer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Behringer, Wolfgang. 2010. A cultural history of climate. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  4. Deudney, Daniel. 1990. The case against linking environmental degradation and national security. Millennium—Journal of International Studies 19:461–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Durrant, Jonathan Bryan. 2007. Witchcraft, gender and society in early Modern Germany. Leiden: Brill.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Earle, Timothy. 1997. How chiefs come to power: The political economy in prehistory. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Eerkens, J. W. 1999. Common pool resources, buffer zones and the jointly owned territories: Hunter-gatherer land and resource tenure in Fort Irwin, southeastern California. Human Ecology 27 (2): 297–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Erlandson, Jon M., Torben C. Rick, Douglas J. Kennett, and Phillip L. Walker. 2001. Dates, demography, and disease: Cultural contacts and possible evidence for Old World epidemics among the protohistoric Island Chumash. Pacific Coast Archaeological Society Quarterly 37 (3): 11–26.Google Scholar
  9. Ferguson, R. Brian, and Neil L. Whitehead. 1992. War in the tribal zone. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press Advanced Seminar Series.Google Scholar
  10. Gordón, Florencia. 2013. Bioarchaeological patterns of violence in North Patagonia (Argentina) during the late Holocene. Implications for the study of population dynamics. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. doi:10.1002/oa.2325 (article first published online: 1 July 2013).Google Scholar
  11. Harner, Michael. 1977. The ecological basis for Aztec sacrifice. American Ethnologist 4 (1): 117–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hulme, Mike. 2009. Book review: A cultural history of climate. Reviews in history no. 925. Accessed: 11 May 2013.
  13. Johnson, John. 2007. Ethnographic descriptions of Chumash warfare. In North American indigenous warfare and ritual violence, eds. Richard J. Chacon and Ruben G. Mendoza, 74–113. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  14. Johnson, Allen W., and Timothy Earle. 2000. The Evolution of Human Societies: From foraging group to agrarian state, second edition. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Lambert, Patricia M. 1993. Health in Prehistoric Populations of the Santa Barbara Channel Islands. American Antiquity 58 (3): 509–521.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Lambert, Patricia M. 1997. Patterns of Violence in Prehistoric Hunter-Gatherer Societies of Coastal Southern California. In Troubled times: Violence and warfare in the past, ed. Debra L. Martin, 77–109. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.Google Scholar
  17. Lambert, Patricia M. 2002. The archaeology of war: A North American perspective. Journal of Archaeological Research 10 (3): 207–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lambert, Patricia M., and Phillip L. Walker. 1991. Physical anthropological evidence for the evolution of social complexity in coastal Southern California. American Antiquity 65:963–973.Google Scholar
  19. Owen, Bruce D., and Marilyn A. Norconk. 1987. Archaeological field research in the upper Mantaro, Peru, 1982–1983. Los Angeles: Monographs of the Institute of Archaeology, No. 28, University of California, Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  20. Owens, L.S. 2007. Craniofacial trauma in the Prehispanic Canary Islands. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 17:465–478.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Prieto, Alfredo, and Rodrigo Cárdenas. 2007. The struggle for social life in Fuego-Patagonia. In Latin American indigenous warfare and ritual violence, eds. Richard J. Chacon and Ruben G. Mendoza, 212–233. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.Google Scholar
  22. Salehyan, Idean. 2008. From Climate Change to Conflict? No Consensus Yet. Journal of Peace Research 45 (3): 315–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tol, Richard S.J., and Sebastian Wagner. 2010. Climate Change and Violent Conflict in Europe over the Last Millennium. Climate Change 99:65–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Torres-Rouff, Christina, and Maríe Antonietta Costa Junqueira. 2006. Interpersonal Violence in Prehistoric San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Behavioral implications of environmental stress. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 130:60–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Walker, Phillip L. 1989. Cranial Injuries as Evidence of Violence in Prehistoric Southern California. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 80 (3): 313–323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Walker, Phillip L. 1997. Wife Beating, Boxing, and Broken Noses: Skeletal evidence for the cultural patterning of violence. In Troubled times: Violence and warfare in the past, eds. Debra L. Martin and David W. Frayer, 145–180. Amsterdam: Gordon and Breach.Google Scholar
  27. Walker, Lawrence R., and Peter Bellingham. 2011. Island environments in a changing world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Walker, Phillip L., and John R. Johnson. 1992. The effects of European contact on the Chumash Indians. In Disease and demography in the Americas, eds. John W. Verano and Douglas H. Ubelaker, 127–139. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.Google Scholar
  29. Winkelman, Michael. 1998. Human Sacrifice: Cross-cultural assessments of the ecological hypothesis. Ethnology 37 (3): 285–298.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wossink, Arne. 2009. Challenging climate change: Competition and co-operation among pastoralists and agriculturalists in Northern Mesopotamia (C. 3000–1600 BC). Leiden: Sidestone Press.Google Scholar
  31. Zhang, David D., Peter Brecke, Harry F. Lee, He Yuan-Qing, and Jane Zhang. 2007. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104 (49): 19214–19219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ryan P. Harrod
    • 1
  • Debra L. Martin
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Alaska AnchorageAnchorageUSA
  2. 2.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of Nevada Las VegasLas VegasUSA

Personalised recommendations