Spring 2016

Latest Revision 1/28/16

Class time: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 9:30-10:45, Room 102 Burnett Hall


Office Hours: M&F 8:00-9:15; Tuesday & Thursday 1:00-2:00; or by appointment

    This course is a survey of human warfare from an anthropological perspective. We will largely focus on small scale societies (bands and tribes) where we have spent nearly all of our evolutionary history.  As a consequence, we will barely cover war in nation states.  There are a number of courses in History and Political Science that already cover war in historic and current nation states.  The major exception to this will come in the form of an analysis of how traditional ethnic social structure affects the conduct of war in some contemporary situations (Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, & Somalia). Because this course takes a comparative, evolutionary, and historical perspective we will also review the primate literature (especially  chimpanzees) and the archaeological record.  Therefore, the scope is broad and includes the following topics: the behavioral ecology and evolutionary psychology of aggression, dispute settlement, territoriality, demographic impact of war, warfare ideology, tactics and organization, game theoretic models of cooperation and aggression, the adaptive utility of aggression and warfare, and the effects of warfare on social organization, and xenophobia.    Students are expected to come prepared by having read the current week's readings (both text and web), engage in classroom discussion, and attend all class meetings.

Required Texts:

Raymond Kelly, Warless Societies and the Origin of War

Mervyn Meggitt, Blood is their Argument (No longer in press from the publisher.  Can be ordered from Amazon,  AbeBooks, Barnes & Noble, etc.)

Lawrence Keeley, War before Civilization

Required On-Line Readings:

All hyperlinked articles in the "Readings" column are required.  They are in a "pdf" format and can be read on-line or downloaded and printed.  

Sixty percent of your grade will be derived from the three mid-term exams (20% each) and 40% will be from a term paper due on 27 April.

Course Schedule






Jan 11

Introduction to course & discussion of coalitionary aggression, dominance and violence

In class film The New Chimpanzees
Monk's Review of Kelly and Keeley


Jan 18

Primate Aggression: coalitionary violence in chimpanzees.


In class Film: Dead Birds I

Meggitt Chapter 1;

Wrangham Coalitionary Killing"

Quicktime video of chimpanzee killing (violent). Requires Quicktime Player (free download here)


Jan 25

Peaceful societies, hunter-gatherers, capital punishment, social substitutability, and the EEA

In class film Dead Birds II

Kelly (PNAS)

Kelly Introduction and Chapter 1; Meggitt Chapter 2;


Feb 1

Goals and kinds of Mae Enga warfare

In class film Dead Birds III

Keeley Chapters 1-2; 11; Meggitt Chapter 3;



Feb 8

Exam 1: 11 February

New Findings on chipanzee warfare
Review for exam


Feb 15

Archaeological and Biological Evidence of Warfare

Keeley Chapter 3

Walker: "A bioarchaeological perspective on the history of violence?" 

Dr. Peter Bleed: special lecture "Levels of War in the 1865 North Platte Campaign".  Read a short news piece on one of Dr. Bleed's battle field archaeology in Nebraska at Rush Creek project here
Battle Space model of Rush Creek Battlespace: Archaeological Applications..."  (This reading is optional)

In class video Less Violence Today (Steve Pinker)


Feb 22

The Psychology of warfare & collective action

McDonald, Navarrete, and Van Vugt

Dr. Phil Gieb: special lecture on warfare archaeology.  Read a news release on his work here

Keeley Chapters 4-5


Feb 29

Warless and Warlike Hunter Gatherers

Kelly Chapter 2; Meggitt Chapters 4-5;

Killer Instincts


Mar 7

Costs and Benefits of War and Collective Action


Keeley Chapters 6-7; Meggitt Chapter 6


Mar 14

History of the Anthropological Study of Warfare

Exam 2: 17 March

Keeley Chapters 8, 9;


Mar 21

Figure out your research paper topic


Mar 28

Female aggression
A close study of Andaman warfare: compassion and peace through non-zero relationship

Kelly Chapters 3-4 (end)
Robert Wright TED video "Compassion and the Golden Rule"
Anthropology and Counter-Insurgency Today
: three short articles.


Apr 4

Warfare debates in Amazonia

In class video "The Ax Fight"
Keeley Chapters 10-11
Still pacifying the past - a controversial publication


Apr 11

War in the Tribal Zone and the Fourth World War 



Apr 18

Conciliation & Peacemaking 

Term paper rough drafts due 20 April by midnight

Meggitt Chapter 7;

The Anthropology of Tribal Engagement in Iraq

Mae Enga Power Point lecture in PDF format

Mae Enga war and peace reading


Apr 25

The Fourth World & Warfare and the Evolution of the State.  Term paper  due midnight, 27 April.

Keeley Chapter 12; Meggitt Chapters 8-10;


May 2 Finals Week

Exam 3: May 5th , from 10-12



First Segment Review Questions
Second Segment Review Questions

Third Segment Review Questions


Honesty, Term Papers, and Exams

Honesty: I do not wish to impugn anyone's integrity by raising this issue.  I will not tolerate cheating on exams or term papers.  So, DON'T DO IT! If you cheat and I discover it, then standard University procedures will be executed to deal with the matter. In the event these procedures find a student guilty of cheating, then in addition to whatever penalties the University exacts, the student will receive a failing grade in the course. Please read the student code of conduct for details at

Exams: There will be three exam of 40 multiple-choice questions each.  Each exam is counts 20% of your final grade.  Make-up exams will only be given to students who have a medical excuse documented by a note from a doctor, or a bereavement (e.g., funeral), official university activity,  or some other unavoidable extenuating circumstance (e.g., court date).  There are no extra-credit options if you peform poorly.  The best remedy for poor performance is to meet with me so we can devise a plan for improvement.  

                                                                                                           First Exam Results

Term Paper: For your research paper, plagiarism will be dealt with in the same manner as cheating on an exam. Plagiarism is "the submission of another's work as one's own, without adequate attribution." In scholarly work, it is common practice to exetnsively describe other people's research. So long as you properly cite their work - in other words, so long as you make it clear that it is their work and not yours - this is not plagiarism. It is also a common practice to quote other people's writings directly. So long as you enclose their words in quotation marks and properly cite their work - in other words, so long as you make it clear it is their words and not yours - this, too, is not plagiarism. Note, however, that such quotes should normally run to no more than three lines.  So, please do not fill your work with long block quotes.

The term paper is worth 80 points or 40% of your final grade.

Term papers should be at least 10 pages in length (at about 300 words per page), double-spaced, and with one inch margins all around.   (Title page and references are not part of the page count.) Each paper should have a minimum of seven references from the scholarly literature on the topic.  Scholarly references are those found in scholarly books and professional journals and are not blogs or Wikipedia entries (see below "A Note On Sources").  If you have questions about references, please ask.

Do not attempt to pad the paper length by including block quotes of more than two lines.

All term paper topics must be cleared with me well in advanced of the due date.  I suggest that this be done as soon as possible, or no later than 15 March.  You ought to select a topic in which you have a genuine interest.  If you so desire you, can submit a complete rough draft by 20 April of your paper.  This is an option and not a requrement.  I will give you a preliminary grade and detailed comments on what you can do to improve it.  I will return your manuscript and my comments to you by 24 April.  The final version of the paper is due 27 April. Guidance for writing a term paper can be found in the following link: term paper link  When you arrive at the link, click on "literature review" or "research paper" to learn how to structure your research and writing. The directions in both are very useful and general and will serve you well in other courses where research writing is required.

For those of you who need help in writing a term paper, I would suggest registering at UNL's Writing Center.  

A Note on Sources: Academic or professional sources have gatekeepers known as editorial boards who review research to ensure it meets accepted standards of accuracy, logic, originality, and recognition of previous scholarship.  Many web sites commonly lack such safeguards unless, of course, they are on-line mirrors of hard-copy publications or scholarly organizations.  Anyone with web site can set himself or herself up as an authoritative source and "blog-on".  If you are unsure about a source, check with me.  Google Scholar is an excellent starting place for research.  Queries in Google Scholar normally yield primary scholarly research.  Frequently, query results point to journals requiring subscription to access.  When confronted with this problem use our library's electronic journal finder (or TDNet under E-Resources) at to determine whether we electronically subscribe to the journal.  If so, you can download the article you need.  Alternatively, if we don't have an electronic subscription check to see if we have a hard copy in the library by using "Catalog".  In addition, we have other on-line resources such as "E-Resources" or "Electronic Database Trials" that may prove helpful.  For Anthropology, go to click on "Anthropology and Archaeology".  The best single source is "Anthropological Literature".  As far as I know, it is the most comprehensive compendium of anthropological sources in the world.  Its search tools are very refined.  Finally, Wikipedia is a wonderful source of information.  In fact, I donate to it yearly to keep it going.  However, only use it as a starting point to uncover authorative sources.

Possible Paper Topics

Primate Aggression

Bride capture and warfare

Women and warfare

Feud and vendetta

Hominin violence

Economics, resources, & environment in warfare

Warfare, conquest and the evolution of states

Popular culture and images of warfare

Peace Making and Compensation

Colonial intervention and warfare

History of anthropological theories of warfare

Oral history/personal experience in conflict and warfare

Restorative Justice

Particular episodes and case studies of conflict/war from an anthropological perspective

Particular episodes of conflict/war from an anthropological perspective

Prehistoric warfare

Warfare technology

Modern ethnic conflicts and wars

The social organization of warfare

The psychology of warfare: ethnocentrism & xenophobia 

in-groups & out-group social psychology, & motivation

Religion and warfare

Warfare technology

Keeping up to Date

Current Research on the Anthropology of War in the News

Local Events

Web Sites and Articles Related to Warfare and Aggression