38 bodies. A ditch with 38 bodies. 37 of which (all except one small child) were decapitated. That was the surprise that a group of archaeologists working at the Vráble-Ve`lke Lehemby site in present-day Slovakia discovered in 2022: a perfectly preserved Neolithic slaughterhouse. It is the latest discovery of a terrible conflict that broke out in Central Europe 7,000 years ago and that for four decades He has confronted us in a brutal way to the true essential of the human being.
As explained a few days ago Alfredo González-Ruibal, one of the leading experts in the archeology of the country’s conflict, “the first grave (of this type) discovered was that of Talheim (Germany) in 1983. And it was a shock. Because it ended the idea of the Neolithic as a peaceful period” . It is not that in the Neolithic there was no violence, of course. But the traditional consensus conceptualized the Neolithic as a kind of happy arcadia where cooperative work, mutual support and horizontal relationships reigned. It wasn’t like that.
arcadia does not exist
Imagen | Neanderthal Apocalypse)
Always according to this traditional consensus, it would be with the jump from Neolithic communities to metal societies when “the patriarchal family, the state and private property” were born as we understand them now. In other words, it would be when power structures and levels of social organization would appear that would allow the development of large-scale quasi-war conflicts. There are political proposals (minority, but real) that claim to be ‘primitivist’ in the clear sense of considering the idea of return to pre-chalcolithic social models (or, even, to symbolic thought).
The problem is that it is a lie. “For a long time the image of prehistoric societies has been highly mediated by brutal prejudices (the war of all against all) or Edenic (the noble savage) and there are tests for all tastes, but in my opinion the mistake is to think about the Prehistory or its periods as uniform blocks in terms of economy, social organization, violence, etc”, Rodrigo Villalobos, archaeologist and author of the most complete essay on the social archeology of the Neolithic, Calolithic and Ancient Bronze Age, explained to Xataka.
The Talheim pit is an unbeatable example to knock down these “Edenic prejudices”. 34 individuals (7 were women, 16 children) were found decapitated with an axe. It was a type of systematic and ritual violence that we were not used to seeing at sites of that time. Over the years, we discovered that it was not an isolated event, that there were many more graves and that the ‘modus operandi’ (although it changed) was very similar. Above all, that systematicity was similar: they were not apparently outbursts of collective hysteria; They seemed perfectly planned and protocolized actions. practices that included mutilation, cannibalism and exposure of bodies in very specific ways.
What happened in Central Europe?
However, everything became much more confusing when, over the decades, we realized that the pits only appeared in very specific places: the sites where the first great European Neolithic culture, the Linienbandkeramik (LBK), occurred. As Gonzalez-Ruibal explainedit is known thus “for the decoration of ceramics with lines” and it spread mainly between the Danube, the Elbe and the Rhine: in Central Europe.
“What had happened there —— the archaeologists wondered —— to reach these levels of conflict and aggressiveness?” And it is that the question had a crumb: if that were something typical of Neolithic cultures, we should have found graves of this type all over the world; but that has not happened. What happened to the banda pottery culture was something specific, something terrible.
Also, it only happened during a very specific period of time. Between 5100 and 4900 B.C. C. In just 200 years, that part of Europe became hell. And, as if that were not enough, the question becomes even more enigmatic as soon as we realize that this is a particularly rich area, an extremely fertile region. After all, one could expect these types of violent outbreaks in contexts of scarcity, but how to explain them in a context in which the fertility of the soil allowed such high prosperity?
the end of the party
images | dr Till Kühl, prehistory and early history/University of Kiel
The last question in the previous block was tricky, of course. For archaeologists, precisely this prosperity (and the increase in population that it brought) was the key that would explain the total war of 7,000 years ago. And it is necessary to take into account that, at that time, agricultural economies were not very resilient. Everything was sustained on a handful of cereals and legumes. That greatly exposed these societies to any epidemic, weather change or agricultural problem. Above all, in ecosystems such as the “Central Europeans (which) offered limited resources with which to complement agriculture”
According to archaeologists, that was exactly what happened. When the problems began (a mixture of bad harvests and epidemics) in the rich and hyperpopulated region where LBK was based, the competition for scarce resources was terrible, the towns were fortified and the psychosocial processes did the rest: boundless violence took everything.
The lessons of history
“Neither what happened before nor what happened after comes close to the atrocities of the end of LBK”, said González-Ruibal. And it is true. That’s not to say that we can’t find more Neolithic massacres, but (as Villalobos says) the story is much more complex than it seems. In Spain, for example, “the common grave of San Juan Ante Porta Latinam in Álava, with dozens of individuals shot at” coexists with “the burials of the dolmens of the Burgos region of La Lora, whose hundreds of deceased have recently been studied by the physical anthropologist Angélica Santa Cruz and among those who have barely found violent injuries”. All at the same time and very few kilometers.
In other words, the main lesson of all this, as explained by González Ruibal, is that “tribal societies are no more inclined than state ones to practice extreme violence.” But that in both there can be “circumstances that exacerbate conflicts and legitimize atrocities.” “It is necessary to know these circumstances to understand the social logic of violence in the past. But also to avoid conflicts in the present”
images | Prof. Dr. Martin Furholt, Institute for Prehistory and Early History/University of Kiel