Bioarchaeology in search of violence in Mesopotamia

Polish bioarchaeologists, studying the skeletal remains ranging from Neolithic to modern times from Mesopotamia in search for signs of trauma, discovered that physical violence was possibly not so common as the historic sources might suggest.

Skull with visible trauma (by Arkadiusz Sołtysiak)

Arkadiusz Sołtysiak of the Archaeology Institute of University of Warsaw acquired information about over 1200 skeletons from 25 cemetery sites in Mesopotamia, dated to a period of 10000 years – from Neolithic, to early 20th century. The researcher focused on healed signs of trauma left on skulls, as they were indicators of injuries that did not lead directly to death. The research led to the discovery that the frequency of such trauma marks in Mesopotamian populations is lower than in other regions of the Near East and drops after the emergence of first states. The highest frequencies were noted in the fringe regions and lowest or nearly non-existent in the central parts. According to the researcher, this might indicate that violence might have dropped with the emergence of central authorities, which successfully minimised violence within the ruled state, as rulers had the power of inflicting justice and take care that conflicts within communities did not lead to violence outbreaks. It is also noted, that numerous historic sources from Mesopotamia inform of physical cruelty, such as beheadings or skinning alive, but bioarchaeological research show communities where violence occurs rather seldom.

(after Nauka w Polsce & Arkadiusz Sołtysiak)

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