Skip to main content

Bioarchaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Violence: Use and Misuse in the Popular Media

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Bioarchaeologists Speak Out

Part of the book series: Bioarchaeology and Social Theory ((BST))

Abstract

Bioarchaeologists studying violence have demonstrated that fractures and weaponry can inform about past social, political, and economic structures. Violence therefore has assumed increased visibility in academic venues during recent years. In addition, this “dark side” of humankind has always fascinated the public. As we move into the twenty-first-century digital world, it becomes increasingly important that our research results are accurately and effectively communicated to various audiences, which include our colleagues as well as large and diverse nonspecialist communities. In this chapter, we explore ways in which violence has been used to reinforce stereotypic and prejudged images of past peoples, and we discuss several case studies that demonstrate the importance of clear communication, highlighting missteps as well as providing suggestions for improved dialogue with the public on the topic of violence in the past. We conclude with a discussion of the potential benefits of employing experimental bioarchaeology when “speaking out.”

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Chapter
USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
eBook
USD 129.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 169.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others

Notes

  1. 1.

    This includes cultural and archaeological institutions, professional bodies, and sections of the tourism industry.

  2. 2.

    The authors have observed that in Scandinavian museums, women, children, and the elderly are well-represented (e.g., Stockholm, Sweden, http://historiska.se/home/). This contrasts with many British museums and interpretations (visual/written) (http://www.britishmuseum.org/).

  3. 3.

    For example, words such as suggest or potentially, which for us contain important shades of gray, but are removed because they indicate uncertainty. Technical words such as descriptive terminologies are also replaced or deleted.

  4. 4.

    The highly contested work by Pinker, Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, was recommended in 2018 by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg for the World Economic Forum (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/jan/12/davos-bill-gates-mark-zuckerberg-what-to-read).

References

  • Armit, I. (2011). Violence and society in the deep human past. The British Journal of Criminology, 51(3), 499–517.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bäck, A. (2004). Thinking clearly about violence. Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, 117, 219–230.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Beard, M. (2016). SPQR: A history of ancient Rome. London: Profile Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Beau, A., Rivollat, M., Réveillas, H., Pemonge, M. H., Mendisco, F., Thomas, Y., et al. (2017). Multi-scale ancient DNA analyses confirm the western origin of Michelsberg farmers and document probable practices of human sacrifice. PLoS One, 12(7), e0179742.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bell, B. (2017). Who killed Otzi the Iceman? Italy reopens coldest of cold cases. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-40104139

  • Bello, S. M., Wallduck, R., Dimitrijević, V., Živaljević, I., & Stringer, C. B. (2016). Cannibalism versus funerary defleshing and disarticulation after a period of decay: Comparisons of bone modifications from four prehistoric sites. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 161(4), 722–743. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.23079

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Blok, A. (2001). The enigma of senseless violence. In G. Aijmer & J. Abbink (Eds.), Meanings of violence. A cross cultural perspective (pp. 23–38). Oxford: Berg.

    Google Scholar 

  • Boulestin, B., Zeeb-Lanz, A., Jeunesse, C., Haack, F., Arbogast, R.-M., & Denaire, A. (2009). Mass cannibalism in the Linear Pottery Culture at Herxheim (Palatinate, Germany). Antiquity, 83, 968–982.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Bremma, J. N. (Ed.). (2007). The strange world of human sacrifice. Leuven: Peeters.

    Google Scholar 

  • Brida, J. G., Meleddu, M., & Pulina, M. (2013). Factors influencing length of stay of cultural tourists. Tourism Economics, 19(6), 1273–1292.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Castree, N., Kitchin, R., & Rogers, A. (2013). A dictionary of human geography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Cirillo, P., & Taleb, N. N. (2016). On the statistical properties and tail risk of violent conflicts. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 452, 29–45.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Clack, T., & Brittain, M. (Eds.). (2016). Archaeology and the media. California: West Coast Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Conklin, B. A. (2010). “Thus are our body, thus was our customs”: Mortuary cannibalism in an Amazonian society. In D. Hicks (Ed.), Ritual and belief: Readings in the anthropology of religion (pp. 182–184). Oxford: AltaMira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Cunliffe, B. W. (2001). The Oxford illustrated history of prehistoric Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Curnoe, D. (2017). Where were all the women in the Stone Age? The Conversation, https://theconversation.com/where-were-all-the-women-in-the-stone-age-73374

  • Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (2003). Evolutionary psychology of lethal interpersonal violence. In W. Heitmeyer & J. Hagan (Eds.), International handbook of violence research (pp. 569–588). New York: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • de Groot, J. (2016). Consuming history. Historians and history in contemporary popular culture. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dixon, K. J., Schablistsky, J. M., & Novak, S. e. (2011). An archaeology of desperation: Exploring the Donner Party’s Alder Creek Camp. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Downing, M., & Fibiger, L. (2017). An experimental investigation of sharp force skeletal trauma with replica Bronze Age weapons. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, 11, 546–554.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dyer, M., & Fibiger, L. (2017). Understanding blunt force trauma and violence in Neolithic Europe: The first experiments using a skin-skull-brain model and the Thames Beater. Antiquity, 91(360), 1515–1528. https://doi.org/10.15184/aqy.2017.189

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (1994). War, socialization, and interpersonal violence—A cross-cultural study. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 38, 620–646.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Engel Merry, S. (2009). Gender violence: A cultural perspective. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwells.

    Google Scholar 

  • Estabrook, V. H. (2007). Is trauma at Krapina like all other Neanderthal trauma? A statistical comparison of trauma patterns in Neanderthal skeletal remains. Periodicum Biologorum, 109, 393–400.

    Google Scholar 

  • Falk, D., & Hildebolt, C. (2017). Annual war deaths in small-scale versus state societies scale with population size rather than violence. Current Anthropology, 58, 805–813.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Feder, K. L. (2016). The past in perspective. An introduction to human prehistory. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson, R. B. (1990). Explaining war. In J. Haas (Ed.), The anthropology of war (pp. 26–55). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ferguson, R. B. (2013). The prehistory of war and peace in Europe and the Near East. In D. P. Fry (Ed.), War, peace, and human nature: The convergence of evolutionary and cultural views (pp. 191–240). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Fibiger, L. (in press). The past as a foreign country: Bioarchaeological perspectives on Pinker’s “Prehistoric Anarchy”. Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques

    Google Scholar 

  • Fibiger, L., Ahlström, T., Bennike, P., & Schulting, R. (2013). Patterns of violence-related skull trauma in Neolithic Southern Scandinavia. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 150(2), 190–202.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Foltyn, J. L. (2008). The corpse in contemporary culture: Identifying, transacting, and recording the dead body in the twenty-first century. Mortality, 13(2), 99–104.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Goetz, A. T. (2010). The evolutionary psychology of violence. Psicothema, 22, 15–21.

    Google Scholar 

  • González-Fortes, G., Jones, E. R., Lightfoot, E., Bonsall, C., Lazar, C., Grandal-d’Anglade, A., et al. (2017). Paleogenomic evidence for multi-generational mixing between Neolithic farmers and Mesolithic hunter-gatherers in the Lower Danube Basin. Current Biology, 27(12), 1801–1810.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gore, R. (1996). Neanderthals. National Geographic, 189, 2–35.

    Google Scholar 

  • GOV.UK. (2013). https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study/national-curriculum-in-england-history-programmes-of-study

  • Hager, L. D. (Ed.). (2000). Women in human evolution. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, R. (2013). Heritage: Critical approaches. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Harrison, S. (2002). War. In A. Barnard & J. Spencer (Eds.), Encyclopedia of social and cultural anthropology (pp. 561–562). London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hedenstierna-Jonson, C., Kjellström, A., Zachrisson, T., Krzerzewińska, M., Sobrado, V., Price, N., et al. (2017). A female Viking warrior confirmed by genomics. American Journal of Physical Anthropology. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajpa.23308

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Henare, A. J. M. (2005). Museums, anthropology and imperial exchange. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Hingley, R. (2000). Roman officers and English gentlemen: The imperial origins of Roman archaeology. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jones, S. (2016). Wrestling with the social value of heritage: Problems, dilemmas and opportunities. Journal of Community Archaeology & Heritage, 4(1), 21–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Keegan, J. (1993). A history of warfare. New York: Knopf.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kerin, J. R. (2008). Combat. In L. Kurtz (Ed.), Encyclopedia of violence, peace and conflict (2nd ed., pp. 349–355). San Diego: Academic Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Komar, D. (2014). The CSI effect. National Post.http://nationalpost.com/afterword/debra-komar-the-csi-effect

  • Lennon, J. (2017). Dark tourism. In H. N. Pontell (Ed.), Oxford research encyclopedias: Criminology and criminal justice. https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190264079.013.212

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Levy, J. E. (2006). Prehistory, identity, and archaeological representation in Nordic Museums. American Anthropologist, 108(1), 135–147.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Liddle, J. R., Shakelford, T. K., & Weekes-Shakelford, V. A. (2012). Evolutionary perspectives on violence, homicide, and war. In T. K. Shakelford & V. A. Weekes-Shakelford (Eds.), The oxford handbook of evolutionary perspectives on violence, homicide, and war (pp. 3–22). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Linduff, K. M., & Rubinson, K. S. (Eds.). (2008). Are all warriors male? Gender roles on the ancient Eurasian Steppe. Oxford: Altamira Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Marstine, J. (Ed.). (2011). The Routledge companion to museum ethics: Redefining ethics for the twenty-first century museum. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Martin, D. L., Harrod, R. P., & Pérez, V. R. (2013). Bioarchaeology: An integrated approach to working with human remains. London: Springer.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Mayor, A. (2016). The Amazons: Lives and legends of warrior women across the ancient world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Merriman, N. (2017). Beyond the glass case: The past, the heritage and the public in Britain. Oxford: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Mirazón Lahr, M., Rivera, F., Power, R. K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., et al. (2016a). Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, 529, 394–398.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Mirazón Lahr, M., Rivera, F., Power, R. K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., et al. (2016b). Contesting the massacre at Nataruk Reply. Nature, 539, E10–E11.

    Google Scholar 

  • Muckle, B. (2017). Equipping archaeology for the post-truth, fake news era. Anthropology Newsletter. https://doi.org/10.1111/AN.297

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Münkler, H., & Llanque, M. (2003). The role of elites in legitimizing violence. In W. Heitmeyer & J. Hagan (Eds.), International handbook of violence research (pp. 973–987). New York: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Nakahashi, W. (2017). The effect of trauma on Neanderthal culture: A mathematical analysis. Homo, 68(2), 83–100.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Nichols, T. (2017). The death of expertise. The campaign against established knowledge and why it matters. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Outram, A. K. (2008). Introduction to experimental archaeology. World Archaeology, 40(1), 1–6.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Penfold-Mounce, R. (2016). Corpses, popular culture and forensic science: Public obsession with death. Mortality, 21(1), 19–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature. New York: Viking.

    Google Scholar 

  • Redfern, R. C. (2017). Injury and trauma in bioarchaeology. Interpreting violence in past lives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Relethford, J. H. (2017). 50 Great myths of human evolution: Understanding misconceptions about our origins. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Robb, J. (2009). Towards a critical Öztiography: Inventing prehistoric bodies. In H. Lambert & M. McDonald (Eds.), Social bodies (pp. 100–128). Oxford: Berghahn Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ruddick, N. (2009). Fire in the stone: Prehistoric fiction from Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel. Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sables, D. (2017). Industry, heritage, the media, and the formation of British national cultural memory. International Journal of Historical Archaeology. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10761-017-0396-3

  • Scheufele, D. A. (2013). Communicating science in social settings. PNAS, 110(Suppl 3), 14040–14047. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1213275110

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Scott, M., & Giusti, E. (2006). Designing human evolution exhibitions. Insights from exhibitions and audiences. Museums & Social Issues, 1(1), 49–68.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Sharpley, R., & Stone, P. R. (2009). The darker side of travel: The theory and practice of dark tourism. Great Britain: Short Run Press Ltd.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Snow, D. (2013). Sexual dimorphism in European upper Paleolithic cave art. American Antiquity, 78(4), 746–761.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Spindler, K. (1994). The man in the ice: The discovery of a 5,000 year old body reveals the secrets of the stone age. London: Harmony Books.

    Google Scholar 

  • Stojanowski, C. M., Seidel, A. C., Fulginiti, L. C., Johnson, K. M., & Buikstra, J. E. (2016). Contesting the massacre at Nataruk. Nature, 539, E8–E10.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Stone, P. R. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Turizam: znanstveno-stručni časopis, 54(2), 145–160.

    Google Scholar 

  • Tiesler, V., & Cucina, A. (2006). Procedures in human heart extraction and ritual meaning: A taphonomic assessment of anthropogenic marks in Classic Maya Skeletons. Latin American Antiquity, 17(4), 493–510.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Trinkhaus, E. (2012). Neanderthals, early modern humans, and rodeo riders. Journal of Archaeological Science, 39(12), 3691–3693.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • United Nations. (2001). Year of dialogue among civilizations. https://www.un.org/press/en/2000/20000905.ga9747.doc.html

  • van Gelder, L. (2015). Counting the children: The role of children in the production of finger fluting in four Upper Palaeolithic caves. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 34(2), 119–138.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Vicary, A., & Zaikman, Y. (2017). The CSI effect: An investigation into the relationship between watching crime shows and forensic knowledge. North American Journal of Psychology, 19(1), 51–64.

    Google Scholar 

  • Wall, S. M., Musgrave, J. H., & Warren, P. M. (1986). Human bones from a late Minoan 1B house at Knossos. The Annual of the British School at Athens, 81, 333–388.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Witcomb, A. (2003). Reimagining the museum - beyond the mausoleum. London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Zeeb-Lanz, A., Arbogast, R.-M., Bauer, S., Boulestin, B., Coupey, A.-S., Denaire, A., et al. (2016). Human sacrifices as “crisis management”? The case of the early Neolithic site of Herxheim, Palatinate, Germany. In C. A. Murray (Ed.), Diversity of sacrifice: Form and function of sacrificial practices in the ancient world and beyond, IEMA proceedings (Vol. 5, pp. 171–189). Albany: State University of New York Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • The National Museum of the American Indian. (2004) http://www.nmai.si.edu/

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to R. C. Redfern .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2019 Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Redfern, R.C., Fibiger, L. (2019). Bioarchaeological Evidence for Prehistoric Violence: Use and Misuse in the Popular Media. In: Buikstra, J.E. (eds) Bioarchaeologists Speak Out. Bioarchaeology and Social Theory. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93012-1_3

Download citation

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-93012-1_3

  • Published:

  • Publisher Name: Springer, Cham

  • Print ISBN: 978-3-319-93011-4

  • Online ISBN: 978-3-319-93012-1

  • eBook Packages: Social SciencesSocial Sciences (R0)

Publish with us

Policies and ethics