The bioarchaeology of conflict

Authored by: Christopher Knüsel , Martin J. Smith

The Routledge Handbook of the Bioarchaeology of Human Conflict

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  December  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415842198
eBook ISBN: 9781315883366
Adobe ISBN: 9781134677979


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Warfare is often described as “senseless”, having no place in civilized society, yet it continues to feature in modern social relations, with a long and established history. Recurrent legacies of warfare are far from trifling. They include population displacement and forced migration, changed governance, demographic shifts, destruction of property and goods, and environmental degradation and destruction, as well as economic, educational and sociocultural disruption. Implicit — and unplanned — benefits include technical and medical innovations, infrastructural rebuilding, and attractive opportunities for social and economic advancement for surviving combatants, their kin and their leaders once hostilities have ceased. Warfare also provides for the acquisition of land, goods and a workforce, either as indoctrinated group members or as slaves. The last of these may especially characterize the motivation for earlier armed aggression when group sizes were small and thus under threat oflocal extirpation. Perhaps the least realized of the changes wrought by warfare is the demise of beliefs and associated social institutions entrusted with defence against or success in conflicts. Attacks on and destruction of cultural patrimony, such as buildings, places of worship, cemeteries, historic sites and culturally symbolic objects, are a consequence of modern warfare, which may have also been a motivation in earlier conflicts, when statuary and depictions of deities and leaders were targeted during periods of strife.

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