Advertisement

Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory

, Volume 26, Issue 4, pp 1556–1590 | Cite as

Vanished Wars of Australia: the Archeological Invisibility of Aboriginal Collective Conflicts

  • Christophe DarmangeatEmail author
Article

Abstract

In the debate concerning the existence of collective armed conflict before the advent of agriculture and the emergence of wealth differentiation, Australia—a continent entirely occupied by economic egalitarian foragers until the end of the eighteenth century—provides key insights. We explore the ethnographic data, striving to build a comprehensive database of the collective fights which were recorded. This survey brings a total of 165 events, among which 32 display a comparatively high level of lethality, with ten killed or more, a proportion far from negligible. An examination of each testimony leads to the conclusion that they are, as a whole, likely reliable. We then briefly discuss the nature of these collective conflicts, which purposes are marked by the lack of wealth in Aboriginal societies: the two main proximate causes, by far, are rights over women and retaliation for real or supposed aggressions—notably, conflicts over territories and resources are almost absent. It is also argued that at least some of these conflicts should be qualified as “wars”. Finally, we show why those conflicts leave so few archeological remains, by dealing with art, bones, and material means of conflicts, with a special attention to the “hunting versus war” weapon question. We conclude that if in such technical and social circumstances, these events are fairly difficult to record ethnologically, they are almost (if not totally) invisible archeologically.

Keywords

Australian aborigines Violence Warfare Feud Hunter-gatherers Art Weapons 

Notes

Acknowledgments

Supportive comments and critical suggestions were offered by Bruno Boulestin, Maurice Fhima, and Jean-Marc Pétillon; shortcomings remain my own.

References

  1. Aiston, G. (1921). Natives of Central Australia: tribal fighting with knives. Melbourne Argus, 5.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, M. W. (2014). Hunter-gatherer violence and warfare in Australia. In Allen, M. W. & Jones, T. L. (Eds.), Violence and warfare among Hunter-Gatherers (pp. 97–111). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  3. Allen, M. W., & Jones, T. L. (Eds.). (2014). Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  4. Anderson, S., Chase, A., & Merland, C. (2009). Pelletier: the forgotten castaway of Cape York. Melbourne: Melbourne Books.Google Scholar
  5. Arden, G. (1840). Latest information with regard to Australia Felix, the finest province of the great territory of New South Wales: including the history, geography, natural resources, government, commerce, and finances of Port Phillip: sketches of the Aboriginal population, and advice to immigrants, Arden and Strode, printers, Australia Felix.Google Scholar
  6. Arthur, W. S., Morphy, F., Macquarie Library (2005). Macquarie atlas of indigenous Australia: culture and society through space and time, Macquarie Library, NSW [New South Wales], Australia.Google Scholar
  7. Basedow, H. (1907). Anthropological notes on the western coastal tribes of the northern territory of South Australia. In Transactions and Proceedings and Report of the Royal Society of South Australia, xxxi (pp. 1–62). Adelaide: W. C. Rigby.Google Scholar
  8. Basedow, H. (1979). The Australian aboriginal, 1st AMS ed. New York: AMS Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bates, D. (1938). The passing of the aborigines a lifetime spent among the natives of Australia. London: Murray.Google Scholar
  10. Bennett, M. M. (1927). Notes on the Dalleburra tribe of Northern Queensland. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, 57, 399–415.Google Scholar
  11. Berndt, R. M., & Berndt, C. H. (1992). The world of the first Australians: Aboriginal traditional life; past and present. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Pr..Google Scholar
  12. Black-Michaud, J. (1975). Cohesive force: feud in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  13. Bluett, W. P. (1954). The Aborigines of the Canberra district at the arrival of the white man. Paper read to the Canberra & District Historical Society 29th may, 1954.Google Scholar
  14. Builth, H. (2006). Gunditjmara environmental management: the development of a fisher-gatherer-hunter society in temperate Australia. In C. Grier J. Kim & J. Uchiyama (Eds.), Beyond Affluent Foragers: Rethinking Hunter-Gatherer Complexity (pp. 4–23). Oxbow Books.Google Scholar
  15. Bungaree, J., O’Rourke, M., Ewing, J. P. (2005). Sung for generations: “Old” joe Bungaree’s tales about Red Kangaroo, an 18th century Gamilaraay “big-man” of the central Namoi River NSW: the “red chief” of ion Idriess: with a synoptic account of the traditional culture and a summary of the ‘white invasion’, 1826–1926, M. O’Rourke. Braddon, A.C.T.Google Scholar
  16. Campbell, C. (1986). Images of war: a problem in San rock art research. World Archaeology, 18(2), 255–268.Google Scholar
  17. Chase, A. (2009). Ethnographic commentary. In S. Anderson, A. Chase, & C. Merland, Pelletier: The Forgotten Castaway of Cape York. Melbourne: Melbourne Books.Google Scholar
  18. Clement, E. (1903). Ethnographical notes on the Western-Australian Aborigines. Leyden: E. G. Brill.Google Scholar
  19. Clottes, J., & Lewis-Williams, D. (2015). Les Chamanes de la préhistoire. Transe et magie dans les grottes ornées. Texte intégral, polémique et réponses. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  20. Curr, E. M. (1883). Recollections of squatting in Victoria, then called the Port Phillip District, from 1841 to 1851, [publisher not identified], Melbourne.Google Scholar
  21. Curr, E. M. (1886). The Australian race: its origin, languages, customs, place of landing in Australia and the routes by which it spread itself over that continent. Melbourne: John Ferres Trübner.Google Scholar
  22. Darmangeat, C. (2018a). La pirogue et le grenier. Artefact, 6, 133–151.Google Scholar
  23. Darmangeat, C. (2018b). Paiements, esclavage et exploitation : éléments d’un triptyque. Cahiers d'Économie Politique / Papers in Political Economy, 75, 227–253.Google Scholar
  24. Darmangeat, C. (2019 forthcoming). Surplus, storage and the emergence of wealth: pits and pitfalls. Cambridge: McDonald Monographs Conversations. Google Scholar
  25. Darmangeat, C., & Pétillon, J.-M. (2015). Structures sociales et blocages techniques dans l’Australie aborigène : quelques éléments critiques. Techniques et Culture, 64, 248–251.Google Scholar
  26. Davidson, D. S. (1934). Australian spear-traits and their derivations. Journal of Polynesian Society, 43, 41–72.Google Scholar
  27. Davidson, D. S. (1936). Australian throwing-sticks, throwing-clubs, and boomerangs. American Anthropologist, 38(1), 76–100.Google Scholar
  28. Davidson, I. (1994). Comment on “Ancient Warriors...”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 4, 234–237.Google Scholar
  29. Dawson, J. (1881). Australian aborigines: the languages and customs of several tribes of aborigines in the Western district of Victoria, Australia. Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide: George Robertson.Google Scholar
  30. Demoule, J.-P. (2017). Les dix millénaires oubliés qui ont fait l’histoire: quand on inventa l’agriculture, la guerre et les chefs. Paris: Fayard.Google Scholar
  31. Edge-Partington. (1903). Notes on the weapons of the Dalleburra tribe, Queensland, Lately Presented to the British Museum by Mr. Robert Christison. Man, 3, 37–38.Google Scholar
  32. Elkin, A. P. (1967). Les Aborigènes australiens. Paris: Gallimard.Google Scholar
  33. Ember, C. (1978). Myths about hunter-gatherers. Ethnology, 17(4), 439–448.Google Scholar
  34. Ember, M. (1982). Statistical evidence for an ecological explanation of warfare. American Anthropologist, 84(3), 645–649.Google Scholar
  35. Eyre, E. J. (2014). An account of the manners and customs of the Aborigines and the state of their relations with Europeans, ebook. The University of Adelaide.Google Scholar
  36. Fison, L. (1890). Aborigines of Victoria. Melbourne: Spectator Publishing Company Limited.Google Scholar
  37. Fison, L. and Howitt, A. W. (1880). Kamilaroi and Kurnai: group-marriage and relationship, and marriage by elopement drawn chiefly from the usage of the Australian Aborigines also the Kurnai tribe, their customs in peace and war. Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane.Google Scholar
  38. Fraser, J. (1892). The Aborigines of New South Wales. Sydney: Charles Potter, government printer.Google Scholar
  39. Fry, D. P. (2009). Beyond war: the human potential for peace. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Gason, S. (1879). The manners and customs of the Dieyerie tribe of Australian Aborigines. In J. D. Woods (Ed.), Native tribes of South Australia (pp. 253–307). Adelaide: E. S. Wigg & Son.Google Scholar
  41. Gat, A. (2008). War in human civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  42. Gat, A. (2015). Proving communal warfare among hunter-gatherers: The quasi-Rousseauan error. Evolutionary Anthropology, 24(3), 111–126.Google Scholar
  43. Gaughwin, D., & Sullivan, H. (1984). Aboriginal boundaries and movements in Western Port, Victoria. Aboriginal History, 8, 80–98.Google Scholar
  44. Gibbs, M. (2002). The enigma of William Jackman. The Great Circle, 24, 3–21.Google Scholar
  45. Gill, S. D. (1998). Storytracking: texts, stories & histories in Central Australia. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Glowczewski, B. (1991). Du rêve a la loi chez les aborigènes : mythes, rites et organisation sociale en Australie. Paris: Presses universitaires de France.Google Scholar
  47. Guilaine, J., & Zammit, J. (2004). The origins of war: violence in prehistory. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar
  48. Gunson, N. (Ed.) (1974). Australian reminiscences & papers of L. E. Threlkeld. Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.Google Scholar
  49. Guy, E. (2017). Ce que l’art préhistorique dit de nos origines. Paris: Flammarion.Google Scholar
  50. Haddon, A. C. (1912). Reports of the Cambridge anthropological expedition to Torres Straits. Volume IV, arts and crafts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Hardman, E. T. (1889). Notes on a collection of native weapons (Kimberley). Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy 1889-1901, 1, 57–69.Google Scholar
  52. Hart, C. W. M., Pilling, A. R., & Goodale, J. C. (1988). The Tiwi of North Australia, Holt. New York: Rinehart and Winston.Google Scholar
  53. Hayden, B. (1995). Pathway to Power. In T. D. Price & G. M. Feinman (Eds.), Foundations of social inequality (pp. 15–82). Boston: Springer US.Google Scholar
  54. Haydon, G. H. (1846). Five years’ experience in Australia Felix. London: Hamilton, Adams & Co.Google Scholar
  55. Helms, R. (1895). Anthropological notes. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales, 20 (Series 2), 387–407.Google Scholar
  56. Hiatt, L. R. (1996). Arguments about Aborigines: Australia and the evolution of social anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Hodgkinson, C. (1845). Australia, from Port Macquarie to Moreton Bay. London: T. and W. Boone.Google Scholar
  58. Howitt, R. (1845). Impressions of Australia Felix during four years’ residence in that colony. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans.Google Scholar
  59. Jones, D. E. (2004). Native North American armor, shields, and fortifications. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  60. Keeley, L. H. (1997). War before civilization: the myth of the peaceful savage. New York: Oxford Univ Press.Google Scholar
  61. Keen, I. (2006). Aboriginal economy & society: Australia at the threshold of colonisation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Kelly, R. C. (2000). Warless societies and the origin of war. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  63. Knauft, B. (1991). Violence and sociality in human evolution. Current Anthropology, 32(4), 391–409.Google Scholar
  64. Lahr, M. M., Rivera, F., Power, R. K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., Edung, J. E., Fernandez, J. M. M., Kiarie, C., Lawrence, J., Leakey, A., Mbua, E., Miller, H., Muigai, A., Mukhongo, D. M., Van Baelen, A., Wood, R., Schwenninger, J.-L., Grün, R., Achyuthan, H., Wilshaw, A., & Foley, R. A. (2016). Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, 529(7586), 394–398.Google Scholar
  65. Lang, J. D. (1861). Queensland, Australia. London: Edward Stanford.Google Scholar
  66. Lang, G. (1865). The Aborigines of Australia. Melbourne: Wilson & McKinnon.Google Scholar
  67. Langley, M. C., Dilkes-Hall, I. E., Balme, J., & O’Connor, S. (2016). A 600-year-old boomerang fragment from Riwi Cave (south Central Kimberley, Western Australia). Australian Archaeology, 82, 106–122.Google Scholar
  68. Lehoërff, A. (2018). Par les armes : le jour où l’homme inventa la guerre. Paris : Belin.Google Scholar
  69. Leroi-Gourhan, A. (2015). Les religions de la préhistoire. Paris: PUF.Google Scholar
  70. Lockwood, D. (1996). I, the Aboriginal. Sydney: Landsdowne.Google Scholar
  71. Loendorf, L. L. (1994). Comment on “Ancient Warriors...”. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 4, 241.Google Scholar
  72. Lombard, M. (2005). Evidence of hunting and hafting during the middle stone age at Sibidu Cave, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: a multianalytical approach. Journal of Human Evolution, 48(3), 279–300.Google Scholar
  73. Lombard, M., & Phillipson, L. (2010). Indications of bow and stone-tipped arrow use 64 000 years ago in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Antiquity, 84(325), 635–648.Google Scholar
  74. Lorblanchet, M., & Bahn, P. G. (2006). Chamanismes et arts préhistoriques: vision critique. Paris: Errance.Google Scholar
  75. Lumholtz, C. (1889). Among cannibals. An account of Four Years’ Travel in Australia and of Camp Life with the Aborigines of Queensland. London: John Murray.Google Scholar
  76. Manson, J. H., & Wrangham, R. W. (1991). Intergroup aggression in chimpanzees and humans. Current Anthropology, 32(4), 369–390.Google Scholar
  77. McDonald, J., Donlon, D., Field J. H., Fullagar, R. L. K.,  Brenner Coltrain J., Mitchell P., & Rawson M. (2007). The first archaeological evidence for death by spearing in Australia. Antiquity, 81(314), 877–885.Google Scholar
  78. Meehan, B. (1971). The form, distribution and antiquity of Australian Aboriginal mortuary practices. Thesis (M.A.) - University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  79. Meggitt, M. J. (1962). Desert people: a study of the Walbiri aborigines of Central Australia. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  80. Otterbein, K. (1968). Internal war: a cross-cultural study. American Anthropologist, 70(2), 277–289.Google Scholar
  81. Otterbein, K. F. (2009). The anthropology of war. Long Grove, Ill: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  82. Pardoe, C. (1988). The cemetery as symbol: The distribution of prehistoric Aboriginal burial grounds. Southeastern Australia. Archaeology in Oceania, 23(1), 1–16.Google Scholar
  83. Pardoe, C. (2014). Conflict and territoriality in Aboriginal Australia: evidence from biology and ethnography. In Allen, M. W. & Jones, T. L. (Eds.), Violence and warfare among Hunter-Gatherers (pp. 112–132). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
  84. Patou-Mathis, M. (2013). Préhistoire de la violence et de la guerre. Paris: Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  85. Pétillon, J.-M. (2008). What are these barbs for? Preliminary reflections on the function of the upper Magdalenian barbed weapon tips / des barbelures pour quoi faire ? Réflexions préliminaires Sur la fonction des pointes barbelées du Magdalénien supérieur. P@lethnologie, 1, 66–97 69-102.Google Scholar
  86. Pétrequin, A.-M., & Pétrequin, P. (1990). Flèches de chasse, flèches de guerre: Le cas des Danis d’Irian Jaya (Indonésie). Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française, 87(10), 484–511.Google Scholar
  87. Petrie, C. C. (1904). Tom Petrie’s reminiscences of early Queensland (dating from 1837). Recorded by his Daughter. Brisbane: Warson, Ferguson & Co.Google Scholar
  88. Picq, P., & Brenot, P. (2009). Le sexe, l’Homme et l’évolution. Paris : Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  89. Porcar Ripolles, J. B. (1945). Iconografía rupestre de la Gasulla y Valltorta (danza de arqueros ante figuras humanas sacrificadas). Boletín de la Sociedad Castellonense de Cultura, 21. Google Scholar
  90. Prosterman, R. L. (1972). Surviving to 3000; an introduction to the study of lethal conflict. Belmont: Duxbury Press.Google Scholar
  91. Rae-Ellis, V. (1996). Black Robinson: protector of aborigines, 1st pbk. ed. Carlton South: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  92. Rodseth, L., Wrangham, R. W., Harrigan, A., & Smuts, B. B. (1991). The human community as a primate society. Current Anthropology, 32(3), 221–255.Google Scholar
  93. Rose, D. B. (1991). Hidden histories: black stories from Victoria River downs, Humbert River and Wave Hill stations. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press.Google Scholar
  94. Roth, W. E. (1897). Ethnological studies among the North-West-Central Queensland Aborigines. Brisbane, London: Edmund Gregory, government printer; Queensland Agent-General’s Office.Google Scholar
  95. Roughsey, D. (1971). Moon and rainbow: autobiography of an Aboriginal. Auckland: Reed.Google Scholar
  96. Rudner, J., & Rudner, I. (1970). The hunter and his art. A Survey of Rock Art in Southern Africa. Cape Town: Struik.Google Scholar
  97. Saura, M. (2000). La guerra en la vida de las comunidades epipaleolíticas del Mediterráneo peninsular. Arqueologia Era, 2, 110–127.Google Scholar
  98. Sharp, L. (1933). The social organization of the Yir-Yoront tribe, Cape York peninsula. Oceania, 4, 404–431.Google Scholar
  99. Shea, J. J. (2006). The origins of lithic projectile point technology: evidence from Africa, the Levant, and Europe. Journal of Archaeological Science, 33(6), 823–846.Google Scholar
  100. Smyth, R. B. (1876). The Aborigines of Victoria: with notes relating to the habits of the natives of other parts of Australia and Tasmania compiled from various sources for the Government of Victoria (vol. I). Melbourne: Trubner and Co.Google Scholar
  101. Spencer, B., & Gillen, F. (1899). Native tribes of Central Australia. London: McMillan & Co.Google Scholar
  102. Stephens, E. (1889). The Aborigines of Australia: being personal recollections of those tribes which inhabited the Adelaide Plains of South Australia. Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Society of New South Wales, 23, 476–503.Google Scholar
  103. Sutton, P. (1990). The pulsating heart: large scale cultural and demographic processes in Aboriginal Australia. In B. Meehan, & N. White (Eds.), Hunter-Gatherer Demography: Past and Present (pp. 71–80). Sydney: University of Sydney.Google Scholar
  104. Sutton, P. (2001). The politics of suffering: indigenous policy in Australia since the seventies. Carlton: Melbourne University Press.Google Scholar
  105. Taçon, P., & Chippindale, C. (1994). Australia’s ancient warriors: changing depictions of fighting in the rock art of Arnhem Land, N. T. Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 4(02), 211–248.Google Scholar
  106. Testart, A. (2005). Eléments de classification des sociétés. Paris: Errance.Google Scholar
  107. Testart, A. (2017). Art et religion de Chauvet à Lascaux, V. Lécrivain (Ed.), Paris : Gallimard.Google Scholar
  108. Tindale, N. B. (1974). Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits, and proper names. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  109. Vinas, R., Rubio, A. (1988). Un nuevo ejemplo de figura humana flechada en el conjunto de la Valltorta (Castellón). Cuadernos de Prehistoria y Arqueología Castellonense. 83–93.Google Scholar
  110. Wallis, L. A., Davidson, I., Burke, H., Mitchell, S., Barker, B., Hatte, E., Cole, N., & Lowe, K. M. (2017). Aboriginal stone huts along the Georgina River, Southwest Queensland. Queensland Archaeological Research, 20, 1–8.Google Scholar
  111. Warner, W. L. (1969). A black civilization, A social study of an Australian tribe. Gloucester: Smith.Google Scholar
  112. Wheeler, G. C. (1910). The tribe, and intertribal relations in Australia. London: J. Murray.Google Scholar
  113. Whitley, D. S. (1994). Comment on “Ancient Warriors...” Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 4, 237–238.Google Scholar
  114. Willcox, A. R. (1956). Rock paintings of the Drakensberg. London: Parish.Google Scholar
  115. Williams, E. (1987). Complex hunter-gatherers: a view from Australia. Antiquity, 61(232), 310–321.Google Scholar
  116. Wilson, M. L., & Wrangham, R. W. (2003). Intergroup relations in chimpanzees. Annual Review of Anthropology, 32(1), 363–392.Google Scholar
  117. Worsnop, T. (1897). The prehistoric arts, manufactures, works, weapons, etc., of the aborigines of Australia. South Australia: C. E. Bristow, government printer.Google Scholar
  118. Wrangham, R. W. (1999). Evolution of coalitionary killing. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 42, 1–30.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LADYSSUniversité de ParisParisFrance

Personalised recommendations