Stone Age skulls reveal women endured violence

Stone Age skulls reveal women endured violence

Violence against women can be traced back to pre-historic times, according to a new study which found that women were subjected to routine physical assault during the Stone Age.

Scientists analysing the skulls found that up to 1 in 6 exhumed in Scandinavia from the late Stone Age - between about 6,000 and 3,700 years ago - had nasty head injuries.

Contrary to findings from mass grave sites of the period, women were equally likely to be victims of deadly blows, according to the study published in the Journal of Physical Anthropology.

Linda Fibiger, an archaeologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and her colleagues focused on the late Stone Age, when European hunter-gatherers had transitioned into farming or herding animals, the LiveScience reported.

Mass graves unearthed from that time in Talheim and Eulau, Germany, contained mostly males who had died in violent conflicts.

Researchers had thought women were spared from conflicts due to their potential childbearing value, Fibiger said.

However, looking only at the aftermath of big, bloody conflicts can obscure the day-to-day realities of Neolithic farmers.

“It would be like only looking at a war zone to assess violence. That’s not going to tell you what’s going on in your neighbourhood,” Fibiger said.

“To see what more humdrum days looked like for these Stone Age farmers, the team assessed 478 skulls from collections throughout Sweden and Denmark from between 3900 BC and 1700 BC.

“They distinguished bumps due to falls or accidents from violent wounds, which might leave evidence such as an “axe-shaped hole in the skull,” Fibiger said.

As many as 10 per cent of the Swedish skulls exhibited signs of violent injury, and nearly 17 per cent of the Danish skulls had such wounds.

Men endured more nonfatal injuries, but women were just as likely as men to have lethal head wounds — which can be identified because they never healed.

It suggests these ancient herders routinely experienced violence, likely due to raids, family feuds, or other daily skirmishes with competing groups, Fibiger said. However, it is not clear why women were frequent victims of violence.

Researchers said domestic violence could be a factor, but proving it requires looking for repeat injuries and wounds to the ribs and torso.

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