How Warfare Helped Us Evolve

You either say a joyous Yes! to life -- with all of its horror and death -- or you forever cower inside yourself. Remember that as you read.

Now a new theory is emerging that challenges the prevailing view that warfare is a product of human culture and thus a relatively recent phenomenon. For the first time, anthropologists, archaeologists, primatologists, psychologists and political scientists are approaching a consensus. Not only is war as ancient as humankind, they say, but it has played an integral role in our evolution.

The theory helps explain the evolution of familiar aspects of warlike behaviour such as gang warfare. And even suggests the cooperative skills we've had to develop to be effective warriors have turned into the modern ability to work towards a common goal.

These ideas emerged at a conference last month on the evolutionary origins of war at the University of Oregon in Eugene. "The picture that was painted was quite consistent," says Mark Van Vugt, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Kent, UK. "Warfare has been with us for at least several tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years." He thinks it was already there in the common ancestor we share with chimps. "It has been a significant selection pressure on the human species," he says. In fact several fossils of early humans have wounds consistent with warfare.

Studies suggest that warfare accounts for 10 per cent or more of all male deaths in present-day hunter-gatherers. "That's enough to get your attention," says Stephen LeBlanc, an archaeologist at Harvard University's Peabody Museum in Boston.

New Scientist


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