The origin of human violence and warfare is controversial, and some scholars contend that intergroup conflict was rare until the emergence of sedentary foraging and complex sociopolitical organization, whereas others assert that violence was common and of considerable antiquity among small-scale societies. Here we consider two alternative explanations for the evolution of human violence: (i) individuals resort to violence when benefits outweigh potential costs, which is likely in resource poor environments, or (ii) participation in violence increases when there is coercion from leaders in complex societies leading to group level benefits. To test these hypotheses, we evaluate the relative importance of resource scarcity vs. sociopolitical complexity by evaluating spatial variation in three macro datasets from central California: (i) an extensive bioarchaeological record dating from 1,530 to 230 cal BP recording rates of blunt and sharp force skeletal trauma on thousands of burials, (ii) quantitative scores of sociopolitical complexity recorded ethnographically, and (iii) mean net primary productivity (NPP) from a remotely sensed global dataset. Results reveal that sharp force trauma, the most common form of violence in the record, is better predicted by resource scarcity than relative sociopolitical complexity. Blunt force cranial trauma shows no correlation with NPP or political complexity and may reflect a different form of close contact violence. This study provides no support for the position that violence originated with the development of more complex hunter-gatherer adaptations in the fairly recent past. Instead, findings show that individuals are prone to violence in times and places of resource scarcity.


Archaeological Anthropology | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social and Cultural Anthropology

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URL: https://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/ssci_fac/103