Jebel Sahaba Shines Light on Horrors of Earliest Human Warfare

Jebel Sahaba Shines Light on Horrors of Earliest Human Warfare


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13,400 years ago individuals were engaged in armed conflict on the east bank of the Nile in what is now northern Sudan. A fresh analysis of human remains from the prehistoric cemetery of Jebel Sahaba reveals the sporadic and recurrent nature of violence at one of the earliest sites linked to human warfare.

Research just published in Scientific Reports casts new light on the conflicts in which those hunter-fisher-gatherers engaged so long ago. Several of the discoveries dispute the original findings and interpretations of the site. One of the most surprising finds is that the individuals buried in the cemetery apparently fought and survived several violent conflicts, rather than dying in one major battle, as was previously believed.

Why Jebel Sahaba is Such an Important Site

In 1964, American archaeologist Fred Wendorf first identified the prehistoric cemetery located in what is now Jebel Sahaba , Sudan. Since then, the 13,400-year-old cemetery has been recognized as one of the oldest sites in the world to demonstrate prehistoric human interpersonal violence. It’s often provided as an example of early human violence and organized warfare caused by conflict for valued territory.

Excavations at Jebel Sahaba cemetery in Sudan. (Wendorf Archive, British Museum/ CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 )

While the new paper states that although it’s not the oldest case of interpersonal violence in the Nile valley - that’s a partial male skeleton from roughly 20,000 years ago from Wadi Kubbaniya - the Jebel Sahaba cemetery is “the most emblematic and widely cited example of early widespread violence.” The researchers also note that with radiocarbon dates ranging from 13,400-18,200 years old, the cemetery is “the earliest funerary complex from the Nile Valley.”

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Signs of Repeated Violence at Jebel Sahaba

New research led by Isabelle Crevecoeur of the Université de Bordeaux, Pessac, France and Daniel Antoine of The British Museum, London, UK has painted in important details on the nature of human warfare at Jebel Sahaba. By using the latest anthropological and forensic methods the team has shown that there was repeated, brutal armed conflict taking place at the site 13,400 years ago.

Study of the Jebel Sahaba human remains in the Egypt and Sudan Department of the British Museum. Microscopic analysis of bone lesions and anthropological characterization. Dr. M.H. Dias-Meirinho (left), Dr. I. Crevecoeur (right). (Credit Isabelle Crevecoeur and colleagues/ Scientific Reports )

The research team reanalyzed the skeletons of 61 individuals whose remains were originally excavated in the 1960s. Evidence for the recurring violence at Jebel Sahaba primarily comes in the form of healed trauma found on the remains of several of the skeletons excavated at the site. The researchers write in their paper that they completed a “full reanalysis of the timing, nature and extent of the violence” by using new microscopy techniques. Here’s a summary of what they found:

  • 106 previously undocumented lesions and traumas on various individuals, regardless of their age or sex – including signs of injuries on children as young as 4 years old
  • different injury types - injuries created by projectiles from arrows and spears, wounds caused by close combat, and damage to the remains that were caused by natural decay
  • several lithic artifacts which were located “where the soft tissues would have once been, or directly embedded in the bones ”
  • 41 of the 61 people (67% of the individuals) buried at Jebel Sahaba died with at least one type of healed or unhealed injury
  • of those 41 individuals, 92% had been harmed by projectiles and close combat trauma

The researchers write that their findings “confirm for the first time the repetitive nature of the interpersonal acts of violence” at Jebel Sahaba and suggest that such conflicts “could occur several times during the life of an individual.”

Projectile impact mark with lithic flake embedded in the puncture in the posterior surface of the left hip bone of individual JS 21. (Credit Isabelle Crevecoeur and colleagues/ Scientific Reports )

Why Were They Fighting?

The study authors also write in their paper that the discovery of healed wounds in the remains of people buried at the Jebel Sahaba cemetery suggests that there were recurrent, but not always lethal, conflicts occurring between Nile valley groups who lived near the end of the Late Pleistocene period (126,000 to 11,700 years ago).

They think that different groups were likely raiding each other’s lands, ambushing each other, and skirmishing. The high number of puncture wounds, likely caused by spears and arrows, also suggests that the attacks came from a distance and were not domestic conflicts.

So what caused so much conflict?

  • Scant Evidence that Early Prehistoric People were Warlike, Anthropologist claims
  • Are Skeletal Wounds On Hunter-Gatherer Women Battle Scars Or Execution Marks?

According to the researchers the violence was “probably triggered by major climatic and environmental changes .” They believe that the people living in the area may have faced significant “environmental pressures and geographical constraints,” which incited the repeated conflicts against the people around them. As they write in their paper:

“During the Late Pleistocene, few human remains are recorded in the Nile valley […] During this time period, the survival of small groups in the fewer sustainable areas in Upper Egypt and Lower Nubia is supported by the unusual phenotypic diversity, probably related to population fragmentation and isolation, found in the Late Pleistocene fossils of this region. With variation of lithic industries indicating different cultural traditions and the co-occurrence of large cemetery spaces suggesting some level of sedentism severe territorial competition between the region’s hunter-fisher-gatherer groups is likely to have occurred when forced to adapt to the drastic environmental changes recorded at the end of the Last Glacial Maximum and the beginning of the African Humid Period. Climate change is most likely to have been a driver towards a violent competition for resources over time as documented in the ethno-archaeological record.”

Previous research by John Moore’s University, the University of Alaska, and New Orleans’ Tulane University has suggested that many of the victims of violence at Jebel Sahaba were phenotypically part of sub-Saharan populations, the ancestors of modern black Africans. Those researchers also found evidence of a group with a North African/ Levantine/European population phenotype nearby.

The new research has shed important light on what happened at a site so significantly linked to early widespread violence, but the researchers still can’t say for certain if this is a burial ground for a specific set of people who were victims of violence or anyone who died in the community. They think that funerary rituals were also involved, at least in some cases. For example, while the team could identify cutmarks resulting from projectiles penetrating bone, they couldn’t say for certain if some cuts may have been deliberate acts taken after death – as some sort of “mortuary treatments.”

Burials 13 and 14, 20 and 21, and the distribution of artifacts located in them, none embedded in the skeletons. Re-elaborated from Wendorf 1968a. (Donatella Usai/ CC BY 4.0 )

The paper, ‘New insights on interpersonal violence in the Late Pleistocene based on the Nile valley cemetery of Jebel Sahaba’ is published in Scientific Reports.


About

Petros Koutoupis analyzing the Sennacherib Prism at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago.

I am a software developer, hardware engineer and an inventor. I am also an entrepreneur, a researcher and freelance author. An ordained minister. A husband and a father. I am many things but at the end of the day, both history and in turn, archaeology are where some of my strongest passions lay.

I see myself as a “literary archaeologist.” No field work is required. The purpose of this self appointed and non-existent discipline is to marry two fields which do not cooperate very well with each other: archaeology and literary studies. The texts are historical artifacts and must be treated as such.

I enjoy immersing myself into topics of ancient history and theology. My research focuses specifically on the Iron Age of both Mesopotamian and Levantine history and in the recent decade, Late Bronze Age Greece, leading to a quest to find the origins of our history. For instance, in my published research, Biblical Origins: An Adopted Legacy (2008), I wrote of the already known Documentary Hypothesis and made a courageous attempt to place a clearer date to the writings under the author we refer to as the Yahwist (J). Confirmed by archaeology, the author referred to as J dates to the timeframe surrounding the reign of Hezekiah specifically between 701 BCE to possibly the end of Hezekiah’s reign in 687 BCE. This was during the reign of Sennacherib, king of Assyria and the Neo-Assyrian Empire that controlled the Near East during this period.

I would like to give a special thanks to Graham Hancock and the entire staff over at Ancient Origins and Classical Wisdom for giving not only me but also everyone else the opportunity to share their research and ideas on their websites and message boards. Without their help, my ideas would not have had the chance to reach a wider audience.


Massive Roman-era site used by barbarians more than 1,800 years ago to make pottery found in Poland

To date, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of only two furnaces. But the fact is that the fieldwork was preceded by a radar survey, so archaeologists should have an easy task excavating the remaining artefacts.

It was this that showed that about 1500 years ago there was a real ceramics factory here, which consisted of at least 130 kilns. In general, an area of ​​about five hectares was investigated using a magnetometer.

Remains of ancient furnaces. The archaeological work is only beginning as you can see from the section that was already excavated. Who knows what will be found when the whole place is uncovered.

The research results showed that this ancient pottery production centre produced only vessels with characteristic thicker sprouts.

These containers were about 70 centimetres high and 50 centimetres in diameter. Scientists believe they were used for food storage.

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As the expert explains, the containers were originally made using a potter’s wheel, which gained wide popularity during the Roman period. Then these vessels were fired in open ovens.

Scientists have previously established that in this area the furnaces worked at full capacity for two time periods – at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD and in the 5th century.

Remains of a chair that was likely used to start a fire in one of the furnaces of the Roman era pottery production center in Poland.

At that time, these areas were inhabited by Germanic tribes, probably by Vandals.

At the moment, a larger “manufacturing” centre of the Roman period has been found only in Romania. But even there, the scale of production is still determined using magnetic scanning.

According to experts, a similar plant in Romania consisted of more than 200 ovens. But the work is not over yet, so it is premature to talk about which of these two “factories” was larger.

The expert also says that large metallurgical centers also operated on the territory of today’s Poland in the Roman period. The largest of them was located in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains.

Fragment of a well-decorated vessel from the pottery production center in Poland.

In addition, similar “factories” were located in modern Mazovia and Silesia. To date, these are considered to be among the largest metallurgical centers in so-called barbarian Europe.

Both iron and pottery production are signals of thriving economic growth.

The main problem for archaeologists now is that the site is in danger of vandalism.

Excavations have been planned for next year. Until then, scientists will research the artefacts they discovered.

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One of the main questions is the longevity of the pottery production center. Whether it operated for a short period of time or whether it was used for centuries.

Earlier this year, archaeologists revealed the discovery of a colossal 5,500-year-old megalithic complex in Poland. You can read about this groundbreaking discovery in our separate article here.


The Ancient buried City of Akrotiri

Akrotiri, also known as Greece’s Pompeii, is the ruined city of Santorini. The biggest similarity between Pompeii and Akrotiri is that they were both buried by volcanic eruptions, which resulted in them being perfectly preserved.

However, there are also some major differences between the two. As reported in On The Luce, Pompeii (an archaeological site in Southern Italy) was destroyed by a gigantic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD and was completely covered over in volcanic debris.

The settlement was all but obliterated in the middle of the second millennium BC, when the volcano it sat upon, Thera, erupted

Akrotiri is much older than Pompeii and was destroyed by the Theran eruption in 1628 BC.

The eruption completely destroyed the Minoan settlement (the Minoan civilization was a Bronze Age civilization on the island of Crete and its surrounding Islands) and covered it in volcanic ash.

It has been described as the most destructive natural disaster to have ever been recorded.

It has been said that the people of Akrotiri were extremely advanced for their time. The buildings that people lived in were often up to three stories high.

Santorini, Greece – April, 2018: Ancient ruins at Akrotiri archaeological site in the Santorini Island which is believed to have inspired the story told about Atlantis by Plato

They also had toilets, baths, hot and cold running water, and an underfloor heating system. It was a highly evolved and incredibly cultured settlement.

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Akrotiri wasn’t always rich but it became a wealthy city over time due to being on a trade route that ran between Europe and Western Asia.

The people of Akrotiri were mainly known for their farming and fishing. The city had no palaces as there was no royalty, they were a democratic society governed by a parliament.

Ruins of the ancient buildings and decorated pottery from the Minoan Bronze Age at the archaeological site in Akrotiri, Greece.

It is interesting that the Minoans were so advanced during the Bronze Age, painting beautiful frescoes, crafting pottery and making wine. Especially since the people of Britain at that same time were living in huts.

Scholars and historians have speculated that Akrotiri was Plato’s inspiration for the city of Atlantis. This is because Plato wrote about an Island that he described as ‘a great and wonderful empire’ which was suddenly destroyed by earthquakes and floods.

It has been said that Akrotiri could potentially have been named Atlantis originally. This is because the city was only named ‘Akrotiri’ in recent years after a neighbouring village of the same name.

The Theran eruption was so enormous it managed to create a caldera that was four miles wide. The ash cloud that resulted was over 20 miles high and the explosion encouraged a 100-metre tsunami.

This resulted in Akrotiri being forgotten about until the 1860’s when workers who were digging came across some buried artefacts. However, archaeological excavations didn’t take place until much later in 1967.

These excavations uncovered over 40 buildings from the ancient city of Akrotiri and there are still many more to be discovered. It is said that so far only a third of Akrotiri has been uncovered and it could take another 100 years to uncover the rest.

Unlike Pompeii, no human remains have been found at Akrotiri, and only one gold object was found on the site

Visitors are welcome to go to the archaeological site and walk around on structures that have been built above the ruins. Some of the walkways lead down to the houses so that visitors can see what a Minoan home would have looked like.

The city has been completely preserved, but unlike Pompeii there are no remains of human beings.

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It seems all the people who lived there must have had time to evacuate before the damage was done, taking with them their livestock and precious belongings. The strange thing is that nobody ever returned to Akrotiri.

A lot of the furniture seen at the site has been recreated for the purpose of visitors since the actual artifacts have been moved to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.


Remains Of A Pyramid Foundation Discovered In Tlalmanalco, Mexico State

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) uncovered traces of a pyramidal basement in Tlalmanalco, State of Mexico, a community surrounded by contemporary constructions and surrounded by urban advance, after a landowner found a mound and contacted the Institute.

Detail of some spindle whorls found between levelling walls

According to the INAH, this find was part of the urban centre of the capital of Tlacochcalco, the altépetl or main manor of the league of Chalca peoples: the Chalcayotl, during the period of Mexica occupation.

Preliminary reports suggest that it is an elite housing type structure, a palatial parea, because the ceramic material found in the place is fine, but a more in-depth analysis is lacking.

The remains of this building, which are part of the totehuacan, the central neighborhood of Tlalmanalco, was located in the central streets of El Naranjo and Guerrero, crossing with Avenida de La Rosa, reported Hervé Víctor Monterrosa Desruelles, archaeologist of the state representation of the INAH.

View of the north wall of the third section, in the process of clearance

Monterrosa Desruelles explained that the pyramidal basement is a set of platforms and levels, a reflection of a pre-Hispanic occupation, “but unfortunately houses have been raised on them, although in this case, the owner of the property where they located the remains, when wanting to build, resorted to the institute in order to examine a mound detected on their land, which, when analyzed, revealed the structure, “he explained.

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According to the specialist, the elements of the discovered basement are only a third of the volume of the construction, the rest was devastated by the urban area.

An architectural body of three levels was detected, whose base measures approximately 12 by 18 meters, and about 9 meters in height, from the height of the walls to the top.

After the discovery, a second phase will consist of giving volume and solidity to the structure, which is deteriorated, especially in its northwestern part, through consolidation and restoration works.

View of the northwest corner of the pyramidal base

For his part, the archaeologist and architect Ricardo Arredondo Rojas, reported that in the first body a few quarters were found with remains of stucco floors, with which the height of the walls was determined.

Arredondo Rojas indicated that architecturally the structure presents two phases of occupation: the first, from 1350 to 1465 – during the hegemonic period of Chalco -, which shows a clear Chalca influence, with a construction system that uses mortars based on lime and crushed tezontle , as well as lake mud as a binder, highlighting, due to his technique, the quarry work of the stone.

Detail of the tripod plate found in front of the wall of the third section on the north facade

The second stage – the archaeologist deepened – with an occupation of the Mexica Empire in that region (from 1465 and until the moment of contact with the Spanish), corresponds to the phase of expansion of the basement, which is verified with the series of drawers for constructive fillings built in that area.

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“However, the quality of the work declines completely, it becomes rougher, which indicates changes in the occupation and the sense of urban space,” he said.

If it were restored to its original volume, the pyramidal basement would have dimensions of between 35 and 45 meters per side in its first body, said Arredondo Rojas.


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Giants were here. In using the term giants, I am referring to persons at least 7 feet (2.1m) and up to 13 feet (4m) in height. Given that pre-modern man was significantly shorter on the average than we are today

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Humans and Neanderthals Met and Mated 50,000 Years Ago in Negev Desert

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San Juan de Gaztelugatxe: Take a Pilgrimage to the Basque Dragonstone

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Gaztelugatxe, meaning “castle rock” in Basque, is not an easy place to visit. After hiking through breathtaking scenery, visitors have to traverse a double-arched stone bridge before climbing the 241 steps of a winding staircase up to a small shrine dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. Once there, the views of the surrounding area are stunning.

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“Those of us who work with textiles are happy if we find a piece of fabric that’s one cm by one cm. In this case we have an almost 11 cm textile remnant. Unearthing embroidery in addition is completely unique. Embroidered textiles from the Viking Age are something we know only from a few opulent graves, like Oseberg and Mammengraven in Denmark,” said archaeologist Ruth Iren Øien.

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Hannibal Barca was a Carthaginian general who lived between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. He is perhaps best remembered for his military campaign against the Romans in the Second Punic War. Thanks to Hannibal’s capable leadership, the Carthaginians won several significant victories against the Romans, and succeeded in seizing parts of southern Italy.

The Carthaginians, however, were unable to score a decisive victory against the Romans. Moreover, the Romans changed their strategy in dealing with Hannibal, and eventually launched a counter-attack against Carthage, which led to their victory.

After the war, Hannibal remained an important leader in Carthage, but was later forced into exile by his enemies. He found refuge amongst Rome’s enemies in the east, though the Romans ultimately caught up with him. Instead of allowing himself to be taken to Rome as a prisoner, Hannibal committed suicide before he could be captured.

Hannibal was born in 247 BC in North Africa. His name, which is “Hanba’al” in his native Punic, means “Mercy of Ba’al”, Ba’al being a major Punic deity. Hannibal was the eldest son of Hamilcar Barca, a Carthaginian general.


The Mysterious Shamgar

When it comes to guerrilla warfare, the first person mentioned in the Bible who fits the narrative was a man by the name of Shamgar. But who was Shamgar? The Bible mentions little about him. What is known is that he was the son of Anath. However, the name Shamgar is not exactly Hebrew. Anath is possibly his mother’s name another possibility is that he worshipped the Canaanite war goddess known as Anath. This would explain his being a professional soldier. Another clue that provides further support is his weapon of choice, an ox goad. Historian Raphael Patai mentions that the “ox-goad Shamgar used as a weapon reminds us of the two bludgeons, Ayamur (“Driver”) and Yagrush (“Chaser”), which Baal, Anath’s brother and lover, used to defeat his arch-enemy Yamm.” With his weapon measuring roughly eight feet in length with a metal tip, he took the Philistines head on and slew “six hundred men.” But a question remains. Why did Shamgar attack the Philistines?

There are many possible explanations to this Biblical figure. When reading the passage in Judges 3:31, one could say Shamgar was nothing more than a disgruntled Canaanite farmer who took on the Philistines alone. While this is possible, the likelihood is that Shamgar was a Canaanite mercenary hired by an Israelite tribe to take care of the Philistine problem. Military Historian Richard Gabriel points this out as “the inability of the Israelite tribes during the period of the Judges to manage their own military affairs effectively.” However, the other possibility is that he was a mercenary leader hired by the Egyptians to lead his band of warriors to combat the Philistine invasion. Another theory is that he was not a mercenary, but a Canaanite captain leading his band of troops in an attempt to take advantage of the aftermath the Sea Peoples left behind in southern Canaan and retake former possessions from the Egyptians.

While it is doubtful that Shamgar fought the Philistines alone, the other theories mentioned make sense from a military perspective. What is important to the story is that he did engage an adversary of Israel, which the Israelites obviously could not engage. Because of his limited success against the Philistines, which physically did little to deter them, the effect it had on the Israelites, at least the author of the book of Judges, saw to it that Shamgar, a non-Israelite, would be listed as a judge of Israel.

Bromiley, Geoffrey W. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. Volume 4 – Q-Z . Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1988.

Clendenen, E. Ray and Jeremy Royal Howard. The Holman Illustrated Bible Commentary. Nashville: TN: Holman Reference, 2015.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel. Westport: Praeger, 2003.

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament . Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess . Detroit, MI: Wayne State Univ. Press, 1998.

Sasson, Jack M. Judges 1-12: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014.

Smith, William. Smith’s Bible Dictionary. Westwood, NJ: Revell, 1967.


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