Under what circumstances did the 338 individuals buried in a rock shelter die more than 5,000 years ago, on the site of San Juan ante Portam Latinam, in the Spanish Basque Country? Archaeologists, who studied the site after its accidental discovery in 1985, initially thought it was a macre, the skeletons bearing numerous traces of blows and injuries. But a new analysis, published in Scientific Reports on November 2, led by Teresa Fernandez-Crespo (University of Valladolid) and her colleagues, suggests that a large part of the deceased would have been killed during recurring war conflicts, on a scale still unknown for this period at the end of the Neolithic.
“We looked again at these human remains because there appeared to be too few perimortem injuries [autour de la période de la mort] to support the idea of a single and common cause to explain the death of at least 338 individualsexplains Teresa Fernandez-Crespo. There was also too low a proportion of unhealed head wounds compared to the number of arrow wounds. »
Spanish archaeologists therefore re-examined the injuries to the head and the rest of the body, and discovered 77 traumas that had not been documented. They found that men, adults and adolescents, accounted for 97.6% of wounds which had not healed at the time of death, and 81.7% of those which had had time to heal. “These findings suggest that many individuals, primarily men, were exposed to violence and ultimately killed in battles and raids, as warlike behavior is primarily restricted to this demographic in many societies.”, they conclude. They believe that the site offers an example of a large-scale conflict for which it would be necessary to wait a millennium to find an equivalent, on the German site of the Tollense valley, in the Bronze Age.
“However, Tollense can be interpreted as a battlefieldspecifies Teresa Fernandez-Crespo. Both sites have in common the large number of individuals involved and the primary role of men in this violence, but, while Tollense must be understood as a single event, it is likely that San Juan resulted from recurring episodes of violence. » These could have lasted months, even years, leading survivors to bury the corpses sometimes in eight successive “layers”.
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