Science

Bone pit may be site of "earliest-known indiscriminate mass killing"

Bone pit may be site of "earli...
The mass grave contains the skeletons of 41 people, approximately half of them male and half female
The mass grave contains the skeletons of 41 people, approximately half of them male and half female
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The mass grave contains the skeletons of 41 people, approximately half of them male and half female
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The mass grave contains the skeletons of 41 people, approximately half of them male and half female
This photo shows penetrating injuries on the right side of the skull of a young adult female
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This photo shows penetrating injuries on the right side of the skull of a young adult female

In case there was ever any doubt … atrocities are nothing new. Scientists have recently determined that piled human remains unearthed in what is now Potočani, Croatia, represent the earliest-known indiscriminate mass killing.

First discovered when a garage was being constructed on the site in 2007, the 6,200-year-old mass grave contains the skeletons of 41 individuals.

Buried all at one time in a very haphazard fashion, the bones are from males and females, who are believed to have been part of a small pastoralist community in the area. Analysis of the remains began in 2012, culminating in a paper published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

Because both men and women are represented (in approximately a half-and-half ratio), the researchers state that the deaths couldn't have been the result of "inter-male" fighting, as was the norm in battles of the time. Additionally, DNA analysis showed that 70 percent of the individuals weren't closely related to any of the others, suggesting that the deaths weren't associated with a feud between two or more families.

This photo shows penetrating injuries on the right side of the skull of a young adult female
This photo shows penetrating injuries on the right side of the skull of a young adult female

Thirteen of the skeletons exhibit cranial injuries, while the cause of death in the others is unclear. This discrepancy could have been due to the fact that the majority of the people were killed by means that left no evidence, such as strangulation or stabbing in soft-tissue areas.

So, why were they slaughtered? The scientists believe that climate change may have resulted in a loss of resources, causing one larger community to attack another that was smaller.

"These factors tend to disrupt human lifeways, and groups sometimes try to take over others’ territories and resources," says the University of Washington's Prof. James Ahern. "Increases in population size cause groups to overextend their local resources and require expansion into other areas. Both climate change and population increase tend to cause social disruption and violent acts, such as what happened at Potočani, that become more common as groups come into conflict with each other."

The study also included scientists from the Institute for Anthropological Research (Croatia), Harvard Medical School, the University of Wyoming, the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, and the University of Zagreb.

Source: University of Washington

9 comments
CAVUMark
"Increases in population size cause groups to overextend their local resources and require expansion into other areas. Both climate change and population increase tend to cause social disruption and violent acts, such as what happened at Potočani, that become more common as groups come into conflict with each other."

I guess things don't change very much through the years
aksdad
Where is the evidence that climate change leads to "social disruption and violent acts"? Climate change happens so slowly that it takes hundreds of years and several generations for noticeable changes to become disruptive. The "loss of resources" that may result likewise take hundreds of years. Now if there was a massive volcanic eruption like Mt. Tambora in 1815 that led to global cooling for a year, that could cause rapid resource loss. But that's not "climate change". That's a natural disaster.
piperTom
Climate change... AGAIN?! Do these scientists have any basis for blaming the atrocity on climate change? ... I mean, other than the usual desire to blame everything unpleasant on climate change.
Tristan P
Violence is inherent in every human system. Even in peaceful countries, we still commission others (police, defence force etc) to engage in violence on our, the civilians', behalf.
Brian M
@piperTom
"Climate change... AGAIN?"
Climate change can happen very quickly - think volcanic activity etc.
Douglas Rogers
Looks like evidence of a hole saw!
buzzclick
The reference to climate change may simply mean that a particular year had a poor food production, and therefore caused a dearth of food availability, but I digress. Humans have been known to use any excuse to annihilate any other tribe for frivolous or dominating reasons. People can be so...harmful and dominating.
Karmudjun
What many people who feel free to post regarding climate change tend to ignore - or just don't know - is that the Earth's climate has been continuously changing for eons. One example - India, the subcontinent that has monsoon seasons and floods experienced a slow progression of climate change between 4000 & 3800 years ago. A culture as advanced - if not more than the height of the Islamic heyday during the European "Dark Ages" fell over some 500-800 years. We don't have to look far in Biblical records to uncover cycles of adverse weather - so while there is no proof that a reduction in the 'dependable' monsoon pattern weakened the advanced civilization on the subcontinent, it does give one very plausible explanation for such a civilization to 'fade away' with no Pompeii event or 1906 event. A slow demise would not be indicative of new novel viruses like our current pandemic or the 1918 influenza.
https://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/liviuindia/
If it isn't plausible and everyone has to react to a politically charged "dog whistle" of climate change, I'll go make a tin foil hat and put it on in order to determine why changing weather cycles - whether man made or event driven - can't be termed climate change. Archeological records show multiple short term climate changes, and geological records with fossil history shows long term changes - imagine Alaska as a tropical rain forest! The fossil record is just a scientific record - so if you believe in our opinion over scientific record, I'll try to understand your point of view just as soon as I get another roll of tin foil.
Worzel
There was a family found in the Stonehenge area, who had been murdered, around that same era and thrown in a ditch. The remains of a partly built dwelling and walls were also uncovered. This was not ''climate change'' it was territorial fury, just like the person who kicks the hell out of someone's car because they have parked in ''their'' public parking space!
The holes in the skull shown look more like trepanning, than blunt object force.
Another possibility, is that the group developed a nasty virus, and were rapidly buried to prevent its spread. They could also have feasted on the wrong kind og mushrooms which can produce manic behaviour. If the individuals developed any form of manic behaviour, they would be considered possessed, and quickly dispatched.
If there was a food shortage, then there would probably be signs of cannibalism. When you're starving, you dont bury good food!
So, climate change? I think the jury is still out on that one, or should be.