Delving into the scope, the study was focused on around 2,500 people who had lived in Japan during the Jomon period – with the population mostly relating to the hunter-gatherer type. And while inspecting for any physical impact on the human remains (like being broken or fractured), the researchers came across only 1.8 percent of all adult bones that bore the mark of violence. The figure further goes down to 0.89 percent if the analysis takes into account the entire population spectrum (i.e., also including children). Now if we take the comparative route, other hunter-gatherer groups residing in the world during the same time accounted for 12-14 percent violent deaths among their population, thus suggesting their brush with incessant conflicts that were far larger in scale.
On the proverbial ‘other side of the coin’, the Jomon culture showcased their penchant for ‘peace’, thus suggesting that few hunter-gatherer groups were not predisposed towards violence and wars. And beyond just the ambit of prehistoric warfare itself, this study also presents a contrasting perspective on how not all communities were formed due to mutual needs of security. In essence, there may been rare cases where humans banded together possibly due to their collective scope of economy (as opposed to fear of external intrusion) – that evolved from hunting to increasing levels of sedentism and cultural affluence.
The study was originally published in Biology Letters.
B)Human sacrifices were possibly part of the ‘power games’ played by the elites of the unequal societies
Beyond the quotients of morality and rights, the study rather takes an objective (and thus precise) angle on how ritual human sacrifices mirrored the stratified aspects of their societies. In fact, from the purely mathematical perspective, the researchers found that such human sacrifices were directly proportional to the hierarchical scope of the society in question. Simply put, the more the social stratification in the cultures, the more the occurrences (or percentage) of sacrifices were evidenced from the studied societies.
Since we did bring up mathematics into the ambit, the research team used advanced computational methods used in evolutionary biology to assess a compilation of historical data. This data pertains to a conglomeration of about ninety three Austronesian cultures. The Austronesian people equate to various populations spread across Oceania, Asia and Africa; and includes ethnic groups in many South-East Asian countries and Polynesian states, along with the aborigines of Taiwan. In this regard, the focus of the study was ideal since it entailed a large spectrum of different languages, religions and even geographical areas.
Now according to the study, around 40 of these 93 cultures exhibited tendencies for ritualistic human sacrifices. The researchers then mixed-and-matched their (the cultures) historical scopes of social stratification with the occurrences of human sacrifices. And intriguingly enough, the cultures with higher degrees of social stratification tended to demonstrate such grisly practices – with figures showing 18 out of 27 such cultures (or 67 percent) accounting for the bloody ritual. Likewise, societies with moderate levels of stratification had lower occurrences of human sacrifice, with 37 percent (17 out of 46) of the cultures opting for the grisly practice. And at last, the most egalitarian societies were least likely to practice human sacrifice with figures pertaining to just 25 percent (5 out of 20).
Unsurprisingly, most of the sacrificial victims tended to come from the lower strata of these societies. As Russell Gray, co-author of the study, and the Director of the Department of Linguistic at the Max Planck Institute, made it clear –
…human sacrifice provided a particularly effective means of social control because it provided a supernatural justification for punishment. Rulers, such as priests and chiefs, were often believed to be descended from gods and ritual human sacrifice was the ultimate demonstration of their power.Lastly, the integration of such seemingly desperate measures created a vicious cycle of more bloody acts that can be directly attributed to ‘power games’ on the part of the political elites. Co-author Quentin Atkinson said –
What we found was that sacrifice was the driving force, making societies more likely to adopt high social status and less likely to revert to egalitarian social structure.Source: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History