Sudan’s ancient battlefield and ‘site of the war of the first race’ staged a series of violent episodes

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Prehistoric violence on the fringes of the Sahara, believed to be the oldest race war identified, was actually a series of conflicts, a reanalysis of 13,000-year-old skeletons suggests.

Healed trauma on remains found in Sudan’s Jebel Sahaba Cemetery indicates that individuals fought and survived several violent attacks, rather than fighting in one fatal event, as previously thought.

Discovered in 1965 on the east bank of the Nile, the cemetery contained at least 61 individuals dating back to 11,000 BC – about half of whom had died from injuries inflicted.

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Healed trauma to skeletons found at Jebel Sahaba cemetery in Sudan (pictured) indicates individuals fought and survived several violent attacks, rather than one fatal event

Healed trauma to skeletons found at Jebel Sahaba cemetery in Sudan (pictured) indicates individuals fought and survived several violent attacks, rather than one fatal event

Scientists identified 106 previously undocumented lesions and trauma and were able to distinguish between projectile injuries from arrows or spears (pictured), trauma from close combat, and tracks related to natural decay.

Scientists identified 106 previously undocumented lesions and trauma, and were able to distinguish between projectile injuries from arrows or spears (pictured), trauma from close combat, and tracks related to natural decay.

Discovered in 1965 on the east bank of the Nile, the cemetery (pictured) contained at least 61 individuals dating back to 11,000 BC.  - about half of which had died of wounds inflicted

Discovered in 1965 on the east bank of the Nile, the cemetery (pictured) contained at least 61 individuals dating back to 11,000 BC. – about half of whom had died of wounds inflicted

The discovery of the Jebel Sahaba cemetery

The cemetery was discovered in 1965. There were at least 61 persons dating back about 13,000 years ago.

The cemetery is one of the first formal cemeteries in the world.

Before the discovery, only isolated tombs or clusters of up to three bodies were known in the Nile Valley, experts at the British Museum write in a report. blog post.

Of the 61 skeletons found buried at the site, at least 45 percent of them died from wounds inflicted.

The remains are the earliest evidence of intercommunal violence in the archaeological record.

Fragments of arrows and weapons were found next to the bodies – with some weapons embedded in the bones. Cutting marks were also found on the bones.

Scientists originally believed that the hunter-fisher-gatherer had perished in a single armed conflict, which is believed to be the earliest known example of communal violence between groups.

However, reanalysis of the bones using newly available microscopy techniques suggests that it was, in fact, a sequence of violent episodes, likely exacerbated by climate change.

The skeletons, which are currently preserved in the British Museum in London, were analyzed by scientists from the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Toulouse.

They identified 106 previously undocumented lesions and trauma, and were able to distinguish between projectile injuries (from arrows or spears), trauma (from close combat), and spurs related to natural decay.

Researchers found that 41 people (67 percent) buried in Jebel Sahaba had at least one type of healed or unhealed injury.

The scientists suggest that the number of healed wounds corresponds to sporadic and recurring acts of violence, which were not always fatal, between groups in the Nile Valley at the end of the Late Pleistocene (126,000 to 11,700 years ago).

These could have been repeated skirmishes or raids between different groups, the study suggests.

At least half of the injuries were identified as stab wounds, caused by projectiles such as spears and arrows, supporting the theory that they happened when groups attacked from a distance, rather than during internal conflict.

Register in Scientific reports, said the researchers, led by Isabelle Crevecoeur, “ We reject the hypothesis that Jebel Sahaba reflects a single war event, with the new data supporting sporadic and recurring episodes of interpersonal violence.

“Territorial and environmental pressures caused by climate change are most likely responsible for these frequent conflicts between what appear to be culturally distinct semi-sedentary hunter-fisher-gatherer groups in the Nile Valley.”

Fighting likely broke out because of the Ice Age environmental disaster, causing the attackers and victims to live together in a smaller area, experts previously suggested.

Ice Age glaciers that covered much of Europe and North America at the time made the climate in Egypt and Sudan cold and dry, forcing people to live near the Nile.

But the river was either wild or low and slow. There was little land on which to live safely and resources were scarce.

One of the skulls excavated in 1965 at Jebel Sahaba Cemetery in North Sudan

One of the skulls excavated in 1965 at Jebel Sahaba Cemetery in North Sudan

The graveyard, illustrated with the position in which the skeletons were found, is one of the earliest formal burial grounds in the world.  The red dots show those who have previously found traumatic lesions or signs of violence, the orange dots those with newly identified lesions as well as those already discovered, and the green dots newly identified as traumatic lesions or signs of violence.

The graveyard, illustrated with the position in which the skeletons were found, is one of the earliest formal burial grounds in the world. The red dots show those who have previously found traumatic lesions or signs of violence, the orange dots those with newly identified lesions as well as those already discovered, and the green dots newly identified as traumatic lesions or signs of violence.

Reanalysis of the bones using newly available microscopy techniques (photo) suggests that what was originally considered a single conflict was in fact a sequence of violent attacks.

Reanalysis of the bones using newly available microscopy techniques (photo) suggests that what was originally considered a single conflict was in fact a sequence of violent attacks.

French scientists have examined dozens of skeletons found grouped in Jebel Sahaba Cemetery (pictured during excavations in 1965)

One of the skulls found is depicted here

French scientists have examined dozens of skeletons found grouped in the Jebel Sahaba cemetery (left during excavations in 1965). One of the skulls on the right

Competition for food may have been the reason for the violence as more groups of people had to make claims for the best fishing spots and sites to live.

Two other cemeteries near the main site suggest that other social units, or small tribes, also considered the area their home and this may have created friction.

However, the remains buried in the other cemeteries show no signs of violence.

The study is published in the journal Scientific reports.

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