Grisly prehistoric massacre shows signs of first known war

New study finds men, women and children were left to rot in brutal Nataruk massacre in Kenya, approximately 10,000 years ago.

20th January 2016
Skeleton of a man with club wounds at the site of Nataruk massacre (© Marta Mirazon Lahr, enhanced by Fabio Lahr)

History is filled with gory battle and epic conquests, but a new study from Cambridge University suggests that we began brutally murdering each other a long time ago, uncovering the site of what is though to be the earliest known war. 

The 10,000-year-old fossilised remains from the Holocene period of 27 barbarically murdered men, women and children have been excavated at the site of Nataruk in Kenya. With broken skulls, crushed hands, knees and ribs, arrows lesions and stone tips lodged deeply into their bones, the losing party clearly took a severe beating. The victorious group did not even bother to bury the dead but left them out to rot, while some of the victims fell into the nearby lagoon. Clearly this was a long time before the rules of war

Often, violence between hunter-gatherers resulted in the slaughtering of the men, while the women and children were included into the group of the winning party. But in the case of the Nataruk massacre, it seems that no one was spared. The researchers even found the remains of a woman in the late stages of her pregnancy brutally beaten and murdered. The position that they found her in even suggests that she may have been bound at the time of her violent execution.

Though the reason for the bloody act is unknown, the lush and fertile land of the prehistoric Nataruk area may hint to what caused the dispute. These days, the area is covered with bushes, but 10,000 years ago, the easy access to water and fishing made it an ideal place to live out a prehistoric life. From this, the researchers speculate that the war may have been over resources.

For the understanding of the history of human violence, the Nataruk discovery is significant as it indicates how long humans have been occupied with the business of war.

"The deaths at Nataruk are testimony to the antiquity of inter-group violence and war," says Dr Marta Mirazon Lahr, who led the Nataruk study. "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,"

You can read even more of the gruesome details that we dare not print here.


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