Europe’s First Farmers Were Shockingly Violent

Archaeologists working in Germany have uncovered evidence of a violent clash between a pair Early Neolithic farming communities, a grim encounter that resulted in a surprising number of deaths—and may have even involved torture.

Violence on this scale isn’t what immediately comes to mind when we think of Europe’s first farmers, but as a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows, our conceptions of what life was like during this transitional time needs to be seriously reconsidered.

A research team led by Christian Meyer of the University of Mainz analyzed the remains extracted from a mass grave at the Schöneck-Kilianstädten site, an ancient settlement located near Frankfurt, Germany. The grave itself was accidentally discovered back in 2006 by a construction crew. These early farmers, known as the Linear Pottery culture, are known for their distinctive ceramic decorations. A sophisticated people, they typically buried their dead in ritual fashion, adorning graves with ornaments and other offerings.

Composite image of the mass grave (Credit: Christian Meyer/PNAS/University of Basel).

Which makes the discovery of a 7,000-year-old, 23-foot (7-meter) long burial pit all the more disturbing. The mutilated bodies of 26 adults, some of them children (10 under the age of 6), were unceremoniously tossed into the mass grave. Analysis of the skeletons revealed horrific injuries, including skull fractures caused by blunt-force Stone Age weapons. In close-quarter fighting, attackers made use of bow and arrows in an apparent ambush; animal bone arrowheads were found still attached to the buried bones.

Most of the skeletons were male, an indication that girls and women were not involved in the fighting and/or they were abducted by the invading forces.

Skull damage on an 8-year-old child (Credit: Christian Meyer/PNAS/University of Basel).

Disturbingly, the remains also exhibited signs of torture. Evidence shows that the shin bones of the deceased were deliberately smashed, though it’s not obvious if the injuries were sustained before or after death. The archaeologists suspect the former, however.

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Learning Lessons from Invaded Forests

awkward botany

In 1946, North American beavers were introduced to the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America in an attempt to start an industry based on beaver fur. Although this industry has not thrived, beavers have multiplied enormously. By cutting trees and building dams, they have transformed forests into meadows and also fostered the spread of introduced ground cover plants. Now numbering in the tens of thousands in both Chilean and Argentinian parts of the archipelago, beavers are the target of a binational campaign to prevent them from spreading to the mainland of these two nations. — Invasive Species: What Everyone Should Knowby Daniel Simberloff

Beavers in South America are just one example of the series of effects a species can have when it is placed in a new environment. Prior to the arrival of beavers, there were no species in the area that were functionally equivalent. Thus, through their felling of trees and…

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green fire dying

Image result for wolf green eyesWe reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that fewer wolves meant more der, that no wolves would mean hunter’s paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view. Aldo Leopold