There is a well-entrenched schism on the frequency (how often), intensity (deaths per 100,000/year), and evolutionary significance of warfare among hunter-gatherers compared with large-scale societies. To simplify, Rousseauians argue that warfare among prehistoric and contemporary hunter-gatherers was nearly absent and, if present, was a late cultural invention. In contrast, so-called Hobbesians argue that violence was relatively common but variable among hunter-gatherers. To defend their views, Rousseauians resort to a variety of tactics to diminish the apparent frequency and intensity of hunter-gatherer warfare. These tactics include redefining war, censoring ethnographic accounts of warfare in comparative analyses, misconstruing archaeological evidence, and claiming that outside contact inflates the intensity of warfare among hunter-gatherers. These tactics are subject to critical analysis and are mostly found to be wanting. Furthermore, Hobbesians with empirical data have already established that the frequency and intensity of hunter-gatherer warfare is greater compared with large-scale societies even though horticultural societies engage in warfare more intensively than hunter-gatherers. In the end I argue that although war is a primitive trait we may share with chimpanzees and/or our last common ancestor, the ability of hunter-gatherer bands to live peaceably with their neighbors, even though war may occur, is a derived trait that fundamentally distinguishes us socially and politically from chimpanzee societies. It is a point often lost in these debates.
KeywordsHunter-gatherers War Chimpanzees Peace Comparative research
I thank Phil Geib, Azar Gat, Bernard Chapais, three anonymous reviewers and especially Michael Wilson for their careful reading and useful comments on the manuscript. I also would like to thank my research assistant Victoria Salinas for her tabulations of the SOI data in Fry and Söderberg (2013).
- Allen, M. W. (2014a). Hunter-gatherer conflict: The last bastion of the pacified past. In M. W. Allen & T. L. Jones (Eds.), Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers (pp. 15–25). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Allen, M. W. (2014b). Hunter-gatherer violence and warfare in Australia. In M. W. Allen & T. L. Jones (Eds.), Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers (pp. 97–111). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Allen, M. W., & Jones, T. L. (Eds.). (2014). Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Bamforth, D. (2018). What do we know about warfare on the Great Plains? In A. P. Clark & D. Bamforth (Eds.), Archaeological perspectives on warfare on the Great Plains. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.Google Scholar
- Beckerman, S., & Valentine, P. (2008). Revenge in the cultures of lowland South America. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.Google Scholar
- Binford, L. (2002). Constructing frames of reference: An analytical method for archaeological theory building using ethnographic and environmental data sets. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Burch, E. S. (1974). Eskimo warfare in Northwest Alaska. Anchorage: University of Alaska.Google Scholar
- Chagnon, N. (1997). Yanomamö. Wadsworth Cengage Learning.Google Scholar
- Chapais, B. (2009). Primeval kinship: How pair-bonding gave birth to human society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Damas, D. (1969). Characteristics of central Eskimo band structure. Contributions to Anthropology: Band Societies. National Museums of Canada Bulletin, 228, 116-134. Toronto.Google Scholar
- De Waal, F. (2010). The age of empathy: Nature's lessons for a kinder society. New York: Broadway Books.Google Scholar
- Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (1997). Violence in the ethnographic record: Results of cross-cultural research on war and aggression. In D. Martin & D. Frayer (Eds.), Troubled times: Violence and warfare in the past (Vol. 3, pp. 1–20). Longhorne: Gordon and Breach.Google Scholar
- Ember, M., & Ember, C. R. (2001). Myths about preindustrial war: Possible lessons for peace from worldwide cross-cultural research. In J. Ramirez & D. Richardson (Eds.), Cross-cultural approaches to aggression and reconciliation (pp. 149–166). Hauppauge: Nova Science Publishers.Google Scholar
- Ferguson, R. B. (2014). Anthropologist Brian Ferguson challenges claim that chimp violence is adaptive. http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2014/09/18/anthropologist-brian-ferguson-challenges-claim-that-chimp-violence-is-adaptive/. Retrieved 1/20/2018.
- Ferguson, R. B., & Whitehead, N. L. (Eds.). (1991). War in the tribal zone. Santa Fe: SAR Press.Google Scholar
- Fox, R. (1969). Professional primitives: Hunters and gatherers of nuclear South Asia. Man in India, 49(2).Google Scholar
- Fry, D. P. (2006). The human potential for peace: An anthropological challenge to assumptions about war and violence. New York: Oxford University Press, USA.Google Scholar
- Fry, D. P. (2007). Beyond war: The human potential for peace. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Gabbatiss, J. (2017) Is violence embedded in our DNA? https://www.sapiens.org/evolution/human-violence-evolution/. Retrieved 1 July, 2017.
- Gat, A. (2000). The human motivational complex: Evolutionary theory and the causes of hunter-gatherer fighting, part I: Primary somatic and reproductive causes. Anthropological Quarterly, 73(2), 20–34.Google Scholar
- Goodall, J. (1986). The chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of behavior. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Hames, R. (1989). Time, efficiency, and fitness in the Amazonian protein quest. Research in Economic Anthropology, 11, 43–85.Google Scholar
- Horgan, J (2016) 10,000-year-old massacre does not bolster claim that war is innate. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/10-000-year-old-massacre-does-not-bolster-claim-that-war-is-innate/ [Retrieved 1/22/2018].
- Joiris, D. V. (2003). The framework of central African hunter-gatherers and neighbouring societies. African Studies Monographs, 28, 57–79.Google Scholar
- Keeley, L. (1997). War before civilization: The myth of the peaceful savage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kelly, R. C. (2002). Warless societies and the origin of war. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
- Kelly, R. L. (2013). From the peaceful to the warlike: Ethnographic and archaeological insights into hunter-gatherer warfare and homicide. In D. P. Fry (Ed.), War, peace, and human nature: The convergence of evolutionary and cultural views (pp. 151–167). Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lee, R. B. (1979). The !Kung San: Men, women and work in a foraging society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Lorenz, K. (1963). On aggression. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Mead, M. (1940). Warfare is only an invention — not a biological necessity. Asia, XL, 402–405.Google Scholar
- Mirazón Lahr, M., Rivera, F., Power, R. K., Mounier, A., Copsey, B., Crivellaro, F., Edung, J. E., Maillo Fernandez, J. 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.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Otterbein, K. F. (2004). How war began. College Station: Texas A&M University Press.Google Scholar
- Pardoe, C. (2014). Conflict and territoriality in aboriginal Australia: Evidence from biology and ethnography. In M. Allen & T. L. Jones (Eds.), Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers (pp. 112–132). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Pilloud, M. A., Schwitalla, A. W., & Jones, T. L. (2014). The bioarchaeological record of craniofacial trauma in Central California. In M. Allen & T. L. Jones (Eds.), Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers (pp. 257–272). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Pisor, A. C., & Surbeck, M. (2017). Tolerance in intergroup encounters: Payoffs and plasticity in non-human primates and humans. PeerJ Preprints, 5, e3400v3401.Google Scholar
- Portman, M. V. (1899). A history of our relations with the Andamanese (Vol. 1). London: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing.Google Scholar
- Power, M. (2005). The egalitarians—Human and chimpanzee: An anthropological view of social organization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Prosterman, R. L. (1972). Surviving to 3000: An introduction to the study of lethal conflict. London: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
- Rambo, A. T. (1988). Why are the Semang? Ecology and ethnogenesis of aboriginal groups in peninsular Malaysia. In A. T. Rambo, K. Gillogly, & K. Hutterer (Eds.), Ethnic diversity and the control of natural resources in Southeast Asia (pp. 19–36). Ann Arbor: Center for South East Asian Studies.Google Scholar
- Rodseth, L., & Wrangham, R. (2004). Human kinship: A continuation of politics by other means. In B. Chapais & C. M. Berman (Eds.), Kinship and behavior in primates (pp. 389–419). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Rodseth, L., Wrangham, R. W., Harrigan, A. M., Smuts, B. B., Dare, R., Fox, R., King, B. J., Lee, P. C., Foley, R. A., Muller, J. C., Otterbein, K. F., Strier, K. B., Turke, P. W., & Wolpoff, M. H. (1991). The human community as a primate society. Current Anthropology, 32(3), 221–254.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Roscoe, P. (2014). Foragers and war in contact-era New Guinea. In M. W. Allen & T. L. Jones (Eds.), Violence and warfare among hunter-gatherers (pp. 223–240). Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.Google Scholar
- Roser, Max. (2018). Ethnographic and archaeological evidence on violent deaths. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/ethnographic-and-archaeological-evidence-on-violent-deaths [Online Resource].
- Ryan, C., & Jetha, C. (2012). Sex at dawn: How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
- Schebesta, P. (1929). Among the forest dwarfs of Malaya. London: Hutchinson & Company.Google Scholar
- Secoy, F. (1953). Changing military patterns on the Great Plains. Seattle: American Ethnological Society.Google Scholar
- Silberbauer, G. B. (1972). The G/wi bushmen. In M. G. Bicchieri (Ed.), Hunters and gatherers today (pp. 271–325). New York: Holt Rinehart & Winston.Google Scholar
- Sussman, R. W., & Marshack, J. (2010). Are humans inherently killers? Global Non-Killing Working Papers, 1, 7–28. Honolulu: Center for Global Non-Killing. http://nonkilling.org/pdf/wp1.pdf
- Wendorf, F. (1968). Site 117: A Nubian Final Paleolithic graveyard near Jebel Sahaba, Sudan. In F. Wendorf (Ed.), The prehistory of Nubia (Vol. 2, pp. 954–995). Dallas: Southern Methodist University.Google Scholar
- Wilson, M. (2014). Human impacts. http://blog.michael-lawrence-wilson.com/2014/09/30/human-impacts/. Retrieved 1/22/2018 2018.
- Wilson, M. L., Boesch, C., Fruth, B., Furuichi, T., Gilby, I. C., Hashimoto, C., Hobaiter, C. L., Hohmann, G., Itoh, N., Koops, K., Lloyd, J. N., Matsuzawa, T., Mitani, J. C., Mjungu, D. C., Morgan, D., Muller, M. N., Mundry, R., Nakamura, M., Pruetz, J., Pusey, A. E., Riedel, J., Sanz, C., Schel, A. M., Simmons, N., Waller, M., Watts, D. P., White, F., Wittig, R. M., Zuberbühler, K., & Wrangham, R. W. (2014). Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts. Nature, 513(7518), 414–417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Wrangham, R. (2013a). Why evolution matters for war. Presented at “Evolution, The Human Sciences, and Liberty,” Mont Pelerin Society Special Meeting, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Galapagos Campus, San Cristobal Island, June 22–29.Google Scholar
- Wrangham, R. (2013b). Chimpanzee violence is a serious topic: A response to Sussman and Marshack’s critique of Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence. Global Non-Killing Working Papers, 1(1), 29–45. Honolulu: Center for Global Non-Killing.Google Scholar