Healed trauma on the skeletons found in the prehistoric cemetery Jebel Sahaba (Sudan), indicate that individuals fought and survived several violent assaults, rather than fighting in one fatal event as previously thought.
Jebel Sahaba is one of the earliest sites showing human warfare , 13,400 years ago.
Isabelle Crevecoeur and colleagues reanalysed the skeletal remains of 61 individuals, who were originally excavated in the 1960s, using newly available microscopy techniques.
They identified 106 previously undocumented lesions and traumas, and were able to distinguish between projectile injuries (from arrows or spears), trauma (from close combat), and traces associated to natural decay.
They found 41 individuals (67%) buried in Jebel Sahaba had at least one type of healed or unhealed injury. In the 41 individuals with injuries, 92% had evidence of these being caused by projectiles and close combat trauma, suggesting interpersonal acts of violence.
They suggest that the number of healed wounds matches sporadic and recurrent acts of violence, which were not always lethal, between Nile valley groups at the end of the Late Pleistocene (126,000 to 11,700 years ago).
It is possible these may have been repeated skirmishes or raids between different groups. At least half of the injuries were identified as puncture wounds, caused by projectiles like spears and arrows, which supports the researchers’ theory that these injuries happened when groups attacked from a distance, rather than during domestic conflicts.
Remains from the site of Jebel Sahaba, now in northern Sudan, were donated to the British Museum by Dr Fred Wendorf in 2002.
You can read about them here: Violence and climate change in prehistoric Egypt and Sudan