Anthropology of War in the News


From Anthropology in the News
(Texas A&M Anthropology) a great source for "newsworthy" anthropological research

Chimpanzee Warfare Natural?

  • Summary of Nature article on new findings of chimp warfare here
  • Better summary of the above by Joan Silk here
  • Response by Ferguson here

Oldest War Re-examined  the killings at Jebel Sahaba.  Unfortunately, whoever wrote the title called it a "Race War" even there is not evidence for this.  Aside from that, recommended reading: click here


Second New York Times book review of Noble Savages

Charles Mann's review of Noble Savages in the WSJ

Profile of Napoleon Chagnon in the New York Times Sunday Magazine

Diamond's The World Before Yesterday called wrong about war

The Afghan army and the Taliban

Giant Viking Warship: a troop carrier for 100 warriors

Human Hand Evolved for Punching

Ancient Minoans: not so peaceful

More on the Minoans above


"Killer Instincts": a review of evolutionary theories of homicide and war in the journal Nature

More Evidence of Chimpanzee Infanticide (14 May 2007)

Massacre of Maya Leaders a Collection of Stories

Mass Graves Reveal Massacre of Maya Royalty National Geographic News (11/17/05)

 War on the Decline Around the World (1/15/06)

Yanomamö Ax Fight Interactive: a web page providing elements of The Ax Fight

A series of articles on tribal warfare:

bullet       Revenge motivates tribal warfare

Probably the single most common motive mentioned by tribal warriors when asked why they go to war, is revenge, according to a Penn State anthropologist. "The impulse for revenge is far from being uniquely human," says Dr. Stephen Beckerman, associate professor of anthropology.

"Clutton-Brock and Parker show how widespread in the animal kingdom is the behavior of returning injury for injury. Animals as varied and as far from us as blue-footed boobies, elephant seals, side-striped jackals and European moorhens are called punishers; they regularly respond to injuries by attacking the culprit who has injured them."

Beckerman notes that among some primates, injured individuals may punish one of his or her attacker's relatives rather than punish the attacker or, in other primates, the punishment may be meted out not to a relative, but to a friend or ally of the victim. Presumably, they intend this behavior to be negative reinforcement; training others to act so they do not damage the fitness of the punisher.

"When we come to blood revenge among human beings, it is helpful to remember that we seem to be dealing with something that is not so different from behaviors we already see in primates," Beckerman told attendees today (Feb.14) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver.

Human revenge is concerned with dominance and status as is that of other primates, and often revenge is taken on a relative or ally. Perhaps one difference is that animal punishment as defined by Clutton-Brock and Parker disavows "a conscious decision or a moral sense on the part of the punisher."

Humans add to the widespread, angry animal impulse to punish, a conscious sense of what the reception of punishment will be and achieve, and that consciousness moves the act from animal punishment to human revenge.

"Revenge is a desire to not just punish the culprit, but to change his mind, to make him see, if only in his death throws, that he was wrong," said Beckerman.

This idea of revenge colors the methods and approaches of tribal warfare. After the psychological basis for revenge in providing negative reinforcement there are the social rules developed to carry out this revenge. The idea of blood revenge - a life for a life, an eye for an eye - is of concern to social groups because the injured party is usually already dead.

"The general rule is that you are prohibited from taking blood revenge on those who would be obliged to avenge you, if you were killed," said Beckerman.

So, among the inner circle, or within the social group, revenge is forbidden. However, at a further distance, with those groups a tribe has close contact with, reciprocal exchange and trade, revenge is acceptable, but constrained by rules. At this intermediate social distance, the groups share enough values and beliefs on what injuries need revenge and how that revenge is carried out to have rules as to who is an acceptable target of revenge. These rules, which include who can carry out revenge against whom, where it can occur and for what reason, are attempts to achieve an equal balance of injuries.

"Sometimes feud goes on for centuries, but reciprocal violence at this middle social distance can also be self-limiting," said the Penn State anthropologist.

At the greatest social distance, the people are essentially strangers and evoke the bloodiest revenge without an attempt at balance. Revenge against foreigners is often disproportionate to the initial injury and often deliberately full of atrocities. The aim is not to achieve balance, but to attain total submission or extermination.

While within group revenge episodes are unusual, tribal members cannot always prevent someone who is so angry they inflict revenge on an in-law, brother or cousin, but taking that revenge is outside the rules. On the intermediate level, the value of ritualized revenge, seems to be that any group that is not willing to retaliate blood for blood finds its resources, land and homes plundered, women carried off and men bullied.

Revenge is not always an immediate act. Sometimes a group must wait for adequate manpower, resources and opportunity. During the recent fighting in the former Yugoslavia, some leaders rallied their forces by evoking the defeat at the hands of the Moslems that occurred 900 years before they were born. Revenge has a long memory.

Beckerman notes, however, that currently we do not operate on the tribal level and that a watershed in human history occurred when the decision to go to war was no longer made by those who fight the wars.  Link to article:

bullet      Tribal Warfare is Not Adaptive

Waging war: The curse of human intelligence

ORONO - With America and its allies poised to attack Iraq and the U.S. and North Korea locked in a showdown over nuclear weapons, diplomats and politicians would do well to remember that humans may have nuclear technology but still only possess stone-age brains. This is often a lethal combination, says University of Maine anthropologist Paul Roscoe who will present a paper on tribal warfare in New Guinea today at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver.

Roscoe has extensively studied revenge as a motive for war among tribes in New Guinea and concludes that killing enemies to avenge the death of kin - something only humans do - is probably not a useful evolutionary adaptation. This is because lethal revenge most frequently fuels more killing rather than deterring it, says the professor of anthropology and cooperating professor of Quaternary and Climate Studies at University of Maine.

"I argue that revenge is probably not an adaptive feature because revenge is not good for you," Roscoe says. Evolutionarily speaking, it does not make sense to engage in behavior that may not only kill yourself but also other members of your clan or tribe. Writ large in a thermonuclear exchange, revenge killing could theoretically wipe out your entire species. "It makes evolutionary sense to fight and then back off."

Humans have, in a sense, deviated from the evolutionary path by engaging in revenge killings and warfare. They do so because their technical ability to harm one another has outpaced their social and cultural abilities to deal with behavior that might not be so wise, Roscoe surmises. Only in the last 10,000 years of human existence have people evolved from hunters and gatherers with spears to glorified hunters and gatherers with thermo-nuclear weapons.

"We may have nuclear technology, but we still have stone-age brains," Roscoe says. "Our social and political systems are slow to adapt in comparison to the pace of technological development."

Previous theories on motives for revenge, based on socio-biology, have centered on an escalating tit-for-tat complex. This theory holds that humans have simply taken behavior routinely practiced by other animals to the next step. Many animal species engage in escalating aggressive behavior. Male red deer competing for territory or mates, for example, will first roar at one another. If neither backs away, the animals then walk back and forth side-by-side sizing one another up. If this fails to resolve the conflict, the two animals may fight, but the results are typically not lethal.

Humans, however, are the only animals to seek out enemies and to kill them for past actions. Roscoe argues that this is because humans have a large, highly developed neo-cortex, the region of the brain known for intellectual thought and creativity. The neo-cortex is believed to have evolved for positive purposes such as enabling humans to develop tools, to communicate through language, and to plan cooperative hunting trips. However, it has not always been used for positive purposes.

"Humans developed the ability to model actions before they happen. This means we can plan collective violence. It explains why we have warfare," he says. Research on chimps confirms that, once you can gang up and launch a surprise attack on outnumbered victims, killing becomes a dramatically more attractive option than it is in the one-on-one confrontations typical of other species.

The neo-cortex also allow humans to manipulate their emotional states. Warriors, for example, can whip themselves into an angered frenzy by recalling slain kin and engaging in repetitive, war-mongering chants.

A highly developed neo-cortex also allows people to de-humanize their enemies. Many tribes in New Guinea, for example, refer to their enemies as "our game" and world leaders have equated their enemies with mad dogs and rats. This is how humans circumvent their built-in aversion to killing members of their own species, Roscoe says.

This portion of the brain has also allowed humans to develop sophisticated weapons whereby they can kill one another without face-to-face contact. This not only can make killing more efficient, but also gets around our in-bred aversion to killing other humans.

Roscoe has focused his research on tribes in New Guinea because surprisingly little work has been done on the wars waged by these people, many of whom did not have contact with outsiders until the 1930s. In addition, the island presents a potential treasure trove of information on warfare because, at the time of contact, there were thousands of groups that spoke more than 1,000 languages. These groups were often at war with one another. With funding from the National Science Foundation, Fulbright-Hays Area Studies Program and the American Philosophical Society, Roscoe has traveled to archives around the world to collect data about warfare in contact-era New Guinea. Since anthropologists usually arrived many years after contact, Roscoe often has had to rely on other sources, especially the writings of missionaries who visited the South Pacific island. Much of the writing Roscoe reviewed is in German and Dutch.

He found that much of the warfare in New Guinea was, in fact, precipitated by revenge and that the motive was to weaken the enemy and to forestall further aggression. Some tribes believed they must fight until the number of dead on both sides were equal. Others believed they must inflict lethal revenge to be spared from the ghosts of clansmen who were killed. However the fighting began, it often escalated, sometimes involving groups not party to the initial clash, and continued for generations. This raises problems for theories that revenge stops further aggression.

"My hope is that somewhere down the road, we will use this knowledge to get around killing one another. War is the most costly thing in the world in terms of blood and treasure. We need to figure out why we have war before it wipes us off the planet," Roscoe concludes.

bullet  Miners Killed by Cinta Larga of Brazil
bullet   Frontline Story on Cinta Larga ("Jewel of the Amazon")
THURSDAY April 22, 2004 Chief defends killing of diamond prospectors

A female Cinta Larga warrior aims her arrow at reporters at the Roosevelt Indian Reservation in Rondonia state, Brazil, on Wednesday. (Victor R. Caivano/The Associated Press) Indians of the Amazon

The Associated Press

ON THE ROOSEVELT INDIAN RESERVATION, Brazil -- An Amazonian tribal chief said Wednesday the killing of 29 diamond prospectors on his remote Indian reservation came after they were repeatedly warned to stay away. In his first comments to the media since the April 7 killings, Chief Pio Cinta Larga told The Associated Press that Indians in the area carried out the killings, but he denied ordering the attack or taking part in it. "There are some very angry Indians and not even the leadership can control their actions," he said, adding that members of other tribes have joined the Cinta Larga on the 6.7-million-acre reservation, where prospectors frequently trespass. "We told them we didn't want them here and they kept coming back. The warriors lost patience and this is what happened," said Cinta Larga, who uses the tribe's name as his surname. Federal police have said the 29 miners were killed by the Cinta Larga Indian tribe in a dispute over diamond mining. The reservation is believed to have South American's largest diamond reserves. Investigators indicated most of the miners were lined up and killed at short range with arrows, clubs, spears and firearms. Many of the bodies appeared to have been tortured or mutilated. Though denying links to the attack, he said the Indians have a right to defend their culture. "We are warriors," said Cinta Larga. "Before the white man came, none of the tribes here were friends. We fought and killed each other, that is how we resolved things."

The Roosevelt Indian reservation in Rondonia state, some 2,100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, is cloaked within the dense Amazon rainforest, reachable only over nearly 100 miles of rutted dirt roads. Travel inside the reservation is mainly over jungle footpath or by river. The Cinta Larga Indians were first contacted by outsiders in the late 1960s, but development has been a mixed blessing. Many of the Indians are fairly well-off, dressing in western-style clothing and driving pickup trucks. About two-thirds of the 1,300-strong tribe have learned Portuguese, Brazil's national language, but the remaining Indians maintain the tribe's fierce warrior traditions. The president of Brazil's Federal Indian Bureau has said he considered the Indians to be acting in legitimate self-defense because both mining and trespassing by non-Indians are illegal on Indian reservations. Those comments only served to fuel already high tension between the heavily armed Indians and prospectors. "It's illegal to mine on Indian land, it's also illegal to kill," said Celso Antim of the prospector's union in Espigao d'Oeste, about 60 miles from the reservation. Antim said the killings would not keep prospectors off the reservation for long. "There will be a little pause, but then they'll all go back because they're all going hungry," he said. "This time, though, they'll go back armed." Clashes between Indians and prospectors have claimed at least 70 lives since diamond mining began. Cinta Larga warned that prospectors who returned should know they were taking their lives in their hands. He said the solution is to change the law so Indians can legally mine on their lands. Currently, the Indians mine the diamonds in violation of federal law and sell them on the black market in violation of the international Kimberly protocol, which governs the sale and trade of diamonds. A task force composed of hundreds of state and federal agents has been deployed in and around the reservation and is expected to remain in the region for up to six months. The unit is disarming prospectors and Indians and will try to put an end to mining and prospecting activities in the reservation. But officials here said ending the illegal prospecting will not be easy. Brazil's Mines and Energy Ministry estimated some $2 billion in diamonds have been mined in the area since prospecting began in 1999. "Prospecting isn't something that ends from one day to another. It will be reactivated there is a great desire for diamonds and the diamonds on the reservation are very good," said Amoss de Mello Oliveira, a geologist working with the police.

© Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune. All material found on Utah Online is copyrighted The Salt Lake Tribune and associated news services. No material may be reproduced or reused without explicit permission from The Salt Lake Tribune.


Stressed female chimps kill rivals' young
17:00 14 May 2007 news service
Mairi Macleod

Female chimpanzees can be as ferocious and deadly as males, given the right set of circumstances ? even participating in infanticide, primatologists report.

Males of the species are infamous for their violent behaviour, but now a gang of female chimpanzees have been spotted killing an infant in Budongo forest in Uganda. Simon Townsend at the University of St Andrews, UK, and colleagues, suspect that two other infants met their ends in similar ways.

Infanticide by female chimps has been reported before, notably by Jane Goodall in Gombe, Tanzania. In that case, several infants were killed and eaten by a mother-daughter pair. It was not clear if those killings were the result of pathological behaviour, or if there were other contributory factors.

From long-term observations at Gombe, primatologist Anne Pusey of the Jane Goodall Institute Center for Primate Studies at the University of Minnesota, St Paul, US, suggested that ecological competition may be a factor. Now, Townsend's team support this interpretation

Ecological pressure
They suggest the infanticide in Budongo was adaptive behaviour because females from the resident community attacked immigrant females and their newborns. Adult males, far from instigating the aggression, tried to defend the infants.

The ratio of females to males has risen dramatically in the Budongo chimpanzee community in the past five years due to the arrival of 13 females, bringing the total to 26. Townsend thinks the resulting ecological pressure has led to infanticidal behaviour. "Females are experiencing competition for mates and for food, and they're responding in a violent manner," he says.

Pusey says that there is now evidence that female chimps living in good areas with good quality food have more and healthier offspring. That makes any new female competition. "She's a threat because she might compete for the same areas, so they're very aggressive then," explains Pusey.

Killing the infants removes a competitor when they are very vulnerable, she adds, but says that it takes more than one female to do it. Females often move around with adult males, who protect them and their offspring from female aggression.

Journal reference: Current Biology (vol 17, p R356)



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