Oldest Evidence of Warfare Found in Kenya


A new fossil discovery near Lake Turkana, Kenya indicates that humans have been murdering each other for at least 10,000 years. Cambridge University researchers dug up the remains of 27 people, including women and children, who appear to have been massacred at a site called Nataruk—the earliest evidence of organized violence ever discovered. The finding, detailed in the journal Nature, indicates that inter-group violence existed among hunter-gatherers as early as the late Pleistocene era. 

The remains found in Kenya, dated to 9500 to 10,500 years ago, were not buried. Some of the bodies fell into the lagoon and were preserved in sediment. At least 10 of the skeletons show injuries that would have killed the person immediately. Cracked skulls are evidence that some suffered blunt-force trauma to the head, possibly from a wooden club. Some were wounded by arrows and other sharp objects (one bladelet was found lodged in a skull), and some have fractured limbs. Those who weren’t killed immediately in the fighting appear to have been bound before they died. One was heavily pregnant. 

The position of these bones indicates the person's hands were bound.

Previously, the oldest discovered remains of people who died in violent altercations came from a more settled society (the bodies were buried in a cemetery), making the Nataruk massacre a unique discovery of a nomadic attack. As Nataruk was a fertile lagoon 10,000 years ago, the massacre could have been the result of a fight over resource-rich territory.

“These human remains record the intentional killing of a small band of foragers with no deliberate burial, and provide unique evidence that warfare was part of the repertoire of inter-group relations among some prehistoric hunter-gatherers,” lead study author Marta Mirazón Lahr explained in a press release.

In the video below, she shares details about the find—some of them quite gruesome. Study co-author Robert Foley notes, "We live in a world greatly affected by warfare. It's not surprising that archaeologists and anthropologists have taken a great interest in what might be the history of war."

All images by Marta Mirazón Lahr.