The nature versus nurture argument is one of the oldest debates in psychology. It is at its most simplified a contention between genetics and environment. Its front-runners argue that either nature (genes and hereditary factors that influence who we are) or nurture (environmental variables that impact who we are, for instance, our early childhood experiences, how we were raised, our social relationships, and our surrounding culture) are the determining factor in our eventual manifestations.
This argument manifests itself in many facets of life, for instance biologists who lean more to the nature end of the spectrum, contend that a person’s height is more likely influenced by their parents genes, although severely grievous conditions may stunt growth. Immediately needful to us is the application of this debate in the origins of warfare.
One school of thought believes that the inclination to violence is embedded deep in human nature, while an opposing school of thought believes that war arose in response to a need to protect property, coming from man’s move from nomadic hunting and gathering to a more settled lifestyle. The supporters of the latter idea argue therefore that man was basically peaceful in the hunter-gatherer or paleolithic era.
With a study published today in the journal Nature, that argument may become harder to fly as a team of anthropologists document the findings of a prehistoric mass grave. The site which was discovered in Nataruk, Kenya, in 2012, housed the remains of 27 people who based on carbon dating of their bones and surrounding sediment are estimated by the researchers to have been killed somewhere between 9,500 and 10,500 years ago.
It would appear that about 10,000 years ago, well within the hunting-gathering era, a small band of men, women and children were captured by a rival clan, tied up, shot with arrows and then methodically bludgeoned to death. The evidence was preserved because the bodies fell into a lagoon and were preserved in the sediment all these years.
A Cambridge University anthropologist and one of the lead authors of the journal named Marta Mirazon Lahr explained that the massacre could have resulted from an attempted seizure of resources that had stockpiled or a standard antagonistic response of two clashing social groups. This discovery although unable to pin-point the reason for this clash, shows that organized violence predates settlement and may have floundered completely the point of view that supports nurture alone.
What does this discovery mean for us? If indeed we were not only capable of but actually engaged in violence before there was any apparent reason to, does it mean that man is by nature essentially violent and only needs sufficient triggers to display said nature? Whatever the answer may be, another trip through history is sure to reveal that man is just as capable at exercising self-control, so have yourself a happy, non-violent life.