Chile’s Atacama Desert was a hotbed of violence 3,000 years ago, study shows

The Atacama Desert in Chile was a hotbed of extreme violence 3000 years ago – an estimated one in ten of its historic inhabitants were beaten to death.

A research team, led by experts from the University of Tarapacá in Chile, analyzed the remains of nearly 200 individuals and found that gardeners were routinely beaten at a time of social and environmental turmoil.

Of the 194 skeletons examined, 40 showed ‘trauma compatible with interpersonal violence, regardless of the degree of completeness of the bodies’.

Twenty-six percent of the men (27 out of 105) had signs of trauma, while 15 percent of the women (13 out of) had signs of trauma.

Ten percent of the skeletons had perimortem (at or near time of death) trauma, which may show different fracture patterns than postmortem trauma.

Some of the attacks on the gardeners — believed to have been carried out using clubs — were so violent that their brain matter was forcibly removed from their bodies.

3,000 years ago, the Atacama Desert was a cruel place 3,000 years ago, when the first gardeners were brutally murdered, says new stud farm

3,000 years ago, the Atacama Desert was a cruel place 3,000 years ago, when the first gardeners were brutally murdered, says new stud farm

“Some individuals showed severe high-impact fractures of the skull that caused massive destruction of the face and neurocranium, with cranio-facial disjunction and outflow of brain mass,” the researchers added.

“These subjects also showed multiple strokes to the postcrania, including the upper extremities, thorax, pelvis and legs.”

It’s unclear why the violence took place, but it may have stemmed from limited resources and living spaces in the Atacama Desert, the researchers suggest.

Due to the desert’s heat and aridity, the skeletons are well preserved, some containing “preserved soft tissue,” the authors said.

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert on Earth and there are hardly any living organisms.

“The findings suggested that there was violence between local groups and that social and environmental constraints likely led to violence within local communities,” the authors wrote in the study summary.

The study is published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Experts examined the remains of 194 individuals and found that they were routinely beaten at a time of social and environmental unrest

Experts examined the remains of 194 individuals and found that they were routinely beaten at a time of social and environmental unrest

Experts examined the remains of 194 individuals and found that they were routinely beaten at a time of social and environmental unrest

It is likely that the attackers used a mace to defeat the horticulturists’ skulls, although evidence of the weapon in one of the locations has yet to be discovered.

Three years ago, researchers found the remains of an ancient ceremonial site in the Atacama Desert.

Named Tulan-52, the site is estimated to have thrived in the desert’s largest salt flat from approximately 1110-900 BC to 550-360 BC.

Of the 194 skeletal studies, 40 showed 'trauma compatible with interpersonal violence, regardless of the degree of completeness of the bodies'

Of the 194 skeletal studies, 40 showed 'trauma compatible with interpersonal violence, regardless of the degree of completeness of the bodies'

Of the 194 skeletal studies, 40 showed ‘trauma compatible with interpersonal violence, regardless of the degree of completeness of the bodies’

The researchers say life in the Atacama Desert villages was likely influenced by different social groups competing for resources, land and water.

With agriculture ‘dramatically restricted’ and confined to valley terraces, ravines and oases, which were separated by vast arid areas, it was probably an area ripe for tensions between different groups.

“This new socio-cultural framework and land use can lead to social tensions, conflict and violence between groups investing in horticultural lifestyles,” the researchers, led by first author and anthropologist Vivien Standen, wrote.

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert on Earth and there are currently hardly any organisms living there.

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert on Earth and there are currently hardly any organisms living there.

The Atacama Desert is the driest non-polar desert on Earth and there are currently hardly any organisms living there.

Due to the heat and aridity of the Atacama Desert (above), the skeletons are well preserved, some containing 'preserved soft tissue'

Due to the heat and aridity of the Atacama Desert (above), the skeletons are well preserved, some containing 'preserved soft tissue'

Due to the heat and aridity of the Atacama Desert (above), the skeletons are well preserved, some containing ‘preserved soft tissue’

Some of the attacks on the gardeners were so violent that their brain matter was forcibly removed from their bodies

Some of the attacks on the gardeners were so violent that their brain matter was forcibly removed from their bodies

Some of the attacks on the gardeners were so violent that their brain matter was forcibly removed from their bodies

Several people with donkey trauma in a mass grave.  Twenty-six percent of men (27 out of 105) had signs of trauma, while 15 percent of women (13 out of) had signs of trauma

Several people with donkey trauma in a mass grave.  Twenty-six percent of men (27 out of 105) had signs of trauma, while 15 percent of women (13 out of) had signs of trauma

Several people with donkey trauma in a mass grave. Twenty-six percent of men (27 out of 105) had signs of trauma, while 15 percent of women (13 out of) had signs of trauma

These factors may have led to competition, tension and violent conflict between competing neighboring social groups in the Azapa Valley during the Formative Period, as elsewhere during the Neolithic.

“In addition, in this new economic mode, based on land use and horticultural production, emerging leaders may have sought to maintain greater power and prestige by trying to control productive spaces, creating social inequalities under stressful conditions.”

WHEN DID PEOPLE USE THE OLD CEREMONILE WEBSITES?

A newly analyzed site called Tulan-52 is estimated to have thrived in the desert’s largest salt flat from about 1110-900 BC to 550-360 BC, according to the new study published in the journal Antiquity.

Not far away is another site, Tulan-52, which existed nearly two millennia earlier.

The researchers say Tulan-52 was in operation from about 3450 to 2250 BC.

According to the team, the latter site may have been some sort of “prototype” ceremonial center prior to the creation of Tulan 54.

“There are convergent lines of evidence for the reinterpretation of Tulan-52 as a prototype ceremonial center, which together with Tulan-51 defines a longstanding and original tradition specific to the Circumpuna de Atacama,” the researchers say. ‘

“Thus, Tulan-52 would be one of the rare, long-lasting ceremonial centers known among the mobile hunter-gatherers of the Andes.”

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