Lethal violence among humans

Periodic increases in human violence may be linked with resource scarcity, a study suggests. The origin of lethal violence in human society remains unclear. Some anthropologists hold that violence among small groups was common throughout prehistoric times, whereas others maintain that violence became prevalent with complex sociopolitical organizations. Mark Allen and colleagues examined the relationship between lethal trauma, resource shortages, and political complexity. Resource shortages are intervals when violent actions may result in high personal gain, whereas political complexity refers to periods when leaders may have the power to force cooperative participation in conflict. Drawing on a large sample of hunter-gatherer skeletons buried in central California 1,530-230 years ago, the authors compared the pattern of blunt- and sharp-force skeletal trauma to sociopolitical measures and environmental productivity estimates. The authors found that sharp-force trauma, the most common form of violence recorded, was more closely tied to resource scarcity than political complexity, and that sharp-force trauma increased as productivity declined. Blunt-force cranial trauma was not associated with resource availability and may represent another form of close contact violence. According to the authors, the study may explain why violence can increase in specific times and locations throughout human history and help predict when and where violence might arise in the future. - Read at PNAS.org

Resource scarcity drives lethal aggression among prehistoric hunter-gatherers in central California,” by Mark W. Allen, Robert L. Bettinger, Brian F. Codding, Terry L. Jones, and Al W. Schwitalla