(CNN) – The 61 human skeletons that were unearthed in the Nile Valley in the 1960s, in what is now Sudan, have long been considered the oldest evidence of an organized war between humans.
The remains discovered at Jebel Sahaba, which are more than 13,000 years old, show injuries sustained as a result of brutal and intense violence, mainly puncture wounds from weapons such as spears and arrows.
However, a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports that he re-examined the remains with the newest scientific methods suggests that the group did not die in a single massacre as previously believed. It is now believed that they are more likely to have been killed during episodes of sporadic and recurring violence that took place over several years, and were likely triggered by major climate and environmental changes during that period.
Researchers from France and the United Kingdom found healed wounds on the skeletons that had not been documented in previous studies, suggesting that there were multiple raids, ambushes and skirmishes throughout the lives of these people.
Scientists discover more than 100 wounds
All members of what would have been a community of hunters, fishermen and gatherers were possible targets of violence. Men, women and children were indiscriminately affected, explained Isabelle Crevecoeur, a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the University of Bordeaux.
“The only difference is related to what hand-to-hand combat could be. Women have more forearm fractures and men more hand fractures. In close combat, more instinctively women might try to protect themselves (with their arms) while men might fight more with their hands.
In the case of children, they were more likely to have suffered brute force trauma to the skull.
The nature of the projectiles from the wounds suggests that the violence was not domestic or between members of the same community, he added.
The researchers revealed more than 100 new wounds, some healed and some not. Some of the skeletons still had stone weapon scales embedded in the bones.
In almost all the skeletons there was evidence of trauma, either from broken bones or wounds from projectile weapons. About 40% had both healed and unhealed wounds, suggesting that violence was part of the fabric of life at the time.
Drastic weather changes, possible triggers for war
Through radiocarbon dating, the researchers were also able to accurately establish that the skeletons are at least 13,400 years old. This makes the find the oldest known cemetery and example of interpersonal violence.
The researcher explained that there was no way to be sure why people were fighting since there are no written documents.
That said, the researchers believe that the conflict arose when rival groups living in the area competed for food and other limited resources due to drastic changes in the climate. Those changes happened between 11,000 and 20,000 years ago, towards the end of a period known as the last glacial maximum, in which ice sheets covered much of the northern hemisphere, altering the Earth’s climate.
Crevecoeur said that the Nile Valley may have been a refuge for different groups that once lived in a wider area and that a very arid climate led to the river, where it would have been easier to find animals to hunt and fish. There was also evidence of very severe flooding from the Nile at the time, he added.
These changes were not gradual at all. They had to survive these brutal changes, ”said Crevecoeur.