Warfare in the Late Stone Age: Nataruk, Kenya

The origin point and reasoning for human warfare is widely debated. Yet, an answer would provide valuable information that could help humans cease or prevent wars. Warfare is said to be common after state societies emerged 5,000 years ago. This does not mean that there aren’t accounts outside of those descriptors, though. At one sight in Kenya, evidence of warfare was dated to 10,000 years ago. This site combats the generalization of warfare’s origin story.

(Figure 1. The Nataruk site during excavation, Photo from Wikipedia)

In 2012, at a site in Nataruk, west of Kenya’s lake Turkana, researchers discovered a large number of battered skeletons. The skeletons were widely spread out. The remains seem to be of a small hunter-gatherer band who lived approximately 9,500 to 10,500 years ago. The remains and surrounding sources were dated using radiocarbon dating, optically stimulated luminescence, and uranium series.

There were 27 skeletons at a minimum. All 27 of them were not buried. The remains comprised of six children and 21 adults. Trauma was found on the crania, cheekbones, hands, knees, ribs, and neck, to name a few (Handwerk 2016). There is also evidence of bound wrists on four skeletons. These locations of trauma are the most commonly targeted in violence cases. The weapons used to create all of these lesions were projectile points, a club-like weapon, and another weapon to be held at close proximity. This knowledge implies that the people had undergone violent deaths.

(Figure 2. Distribution of finds at Nataruk. Graphic by Esri, DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, i-cubed, USDA, USGS, AEX, Getmapping, Aerogrid, IGN, IGP, swisstopo, and the GIS User Community)

Usually conflict arises in sedentary societies. Since sedentary societies control land and resources, is believed that the “root causes for most warfare was control of resources… Including food, labor, and raw materials” (Sabloff 67). This, however, is not true at the site in Nataruk. The projectile points show inter-group conflict (Lahr 2016) and the rest of the weapons show that the hunter-gatherer group was victim to a premeditated attack. This shows that the group had valuable resources, even though it wasn’t a state society.

This begs the question, “what valuable resources did they have?” Evidence shows that West Turkana was a fertile landscape. The hunter-gatherer group found could have been raided for this fertile territory. They also could have raided for their women or children (Lahr 2016). There was some political complexity between the attackers and the attacked that led to this act of aggression. This exemplifies that raiding for resources is not only inherent in state societies, but foraging societies as well.

Since the Nataruk site shows us that warfare was evident in prehistory, we can conclude that warfare has existed for much longer than we assumed. Warfare seems to be a recurring phenomenon in human history and prehistory. If we study the past examples of warfare like the one at Nataruk, we may gain knowledge helpful in preventing or stopping war.


Further Reading:

http://www.pnas.org/content/112/36/11217 (Another study showing prehistoric warfare, in Central Europe)


http://science.sciencemag.org/content/341/6143/270 (Warfare in mobile hunter-gatherer bands and the implications on warfare origins)


Reference List:

Handwerk, Brian

2016, An Ancient, Brutal Massacre May Be the Earliest Evidence of War. Smithsonian.com. D.C., Washington. Accessed 10 November 2018.


Lahr, Mirazon M.

2016, Inter-group violence among early Holocene hunter-gatherers of West Turkana, Kenya. Nature, International Journal of Science. 529, pages 394–398. Accessed 10 November 2018.


Sabloff, Jeremy A.

2008 Archaeology Matters: Action Archaeology in the Modern World. Left Coast Press. Walnut Creek, California.





Deep Sea Excavation and Sample Collection of Plastic Debris

Recent research has shown that deep sea sediments are a likely sink for microplastics. Studies in the Arctic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Southwest Indian Ocean show an abundance of plastic debris. Deep-sea coring was used as a method of sampling.

Plastic waste samples taken from the North Pacific

Since plastic is extremely durable, there is difficulty in disposing of the matter, which is why it accumulates in the natural environment. The plastic in the deep sea could have come from a multitude of origins; humans use plastic religiously. We have plastic in our computers, to carry our groceries, and in many other daily objects. Other sources could be fishing waste, shipyards, or municipal drainage systems.

The plastics could have travelled north by way of the ice floes in the Thermohaline Circulation, ocean circulation that is controlled by density differences. Microplastics have a smaller surface area than other plastic debris, so they are less buoyant, which makes them sink faster. Then, the plastics are deposited on the seafloor.

The generation and deposition of plastics in the oceans

Multiple research expeditions collected deep-sea sediment cores from basins, submarine canyons, seamounts (a submarine mountain), and continental slopes (the sea floor before the break of the waves). According to the article, The Deep Sea is a Major Sink for Microplastic Debris, “ten centimetre diameter cores were obtained from megacorers or boxcores that were subsequently subsampled.” Megacorers take wide samples in plastic tubes with a weight and suction system. Boxcorers take 600 millimeter square samples. In another study, scientists took samples by video guided multiple corers, which took eight cores. Multiple corers can take up to twelve undisturbed cores in plastic tubes. Coral specimens from different seamounts were also taken and observed.

The different sampling methods proved to be most explanatory. According to Royal Society Open Science, “275 million metric tons (MT) of plastic waste was generated in 192 coastal countries in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million MT entering the ocean” (Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean.) The Royal Society Open Science also “confirmed that microplastics were abundant in all 12 sediment samples and all coral samples” and found that microplastics were found on every strata level ranging down to a depth of 3,500 meters. This prevalence of microplastic in all levels of their sampling and in all of the coral types sampled spanning many seas reveals that there is a great deal of plastic in the deep sea.

The increase of plastics in the deeps sea negatively impacts shipping, tourism, and majorly affects wildlife. It affects many marine organisms by being taken in at the lowest level on the food chain. Microplastic “is of particular concern because it can be taken up by a wider range of biota (>172 species) and can be propagated in food webs” (High Quantities of Microplastic in Arctic Deep-Sea Sediments.) One of the most remote places on the earth, the deep Arctic sea, is being polluted by plastic waste. This is important to know and understand so that we can make reparations. Action must be taken to reduce our plastic production.







Woodall LC et al. 2014 The deep sea is a major sink for microplastic debris.R. Soc. open sci. 1:http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsos.140317


High Quantities of Microplastic in Arctic Deep-Sea Sediments from the HAUSGARTEN

Observatory Melanie Bergmann, Vanessa Wirzberger, Thomas Krumpen, Claudia

Lorenz, Sebastian Primpke, Mine B. Tekman, and Gunnar Gerdts. Environmental

Science & Technology 2017 51 (19), 11000-11010 DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b03331


Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean J. R. Jambeck, R. Geyer, C. Wilcox, T. R. Siegler, Perryman, A. Andrady, R. Narayan, K. L. Law, Science (Washington, DC, U. S.)(2015), 347 (6223) 347 768-771 CODEN: SCIEAS ISSN: 0036-8075


Renfrew, Colin, and Paul Bahn 2010 Archaeology Essentials. 2nd ed. Thames & Hudson,

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Getty Images. “Samples of plastic waste level in ocean water taken in the North Pacific.” The

Guardian, Adam Vaughan 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited



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