Another Nail in the “Man-the-Warrior” Coffin
By Judith Hand.
AFWW has closely followed the evolution of thought about whether humans have always made war, or whether war is a fairly recent, and nasty, invention, the result of hunter-gatherer males being put into the strange new environment of settled living.
From early speculation in “Women, Power, and the Biology of Peace” (2003) about a possible nonviolent and women-centered Minoan civilization and the physical similarities humans share with bonobos, such as hidden ovulation, continuous sexual receptivity, and frontal sexual intercourse, to more recent essays, Dr. Hand, and AFWW, has been inclined to say it’s possible, perhaps even likely, that we have not always made war!
Two other scientists offering work suggesting that warfare may be a recent behavior for Homo sapiens have been featured on the AFWW website, including reviews of their books:
Douglas Fry – Beyond War: The Human Potential for Peace His book reviews studies of hunter-gatherer cultures, many of which are nonviolent, and concludes that war is not universal or inevitable.
Sarah Blaffer Hrdy – Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding. Her book looks at the origins of human capacities for altruism, cooperation, sharing, and caring. It suggests that the need to care for extremely dependent young lies at the root of such behavior, and that raising of such dependent young is more likely than war to have been the basis from which our amazing feats of cooperation spring.
Now comes more good news in the form of discovery of the oldest primate ancestor of Homo sapiens, a fossil species called Ardipithecus ramidus that is 4.4 million years old. What is so remarkable about Ardi when trying to reconstruct the origins of war is that at least two traits in this fossil hominid are quite unlike the chimpanzees, the highly aggressive human relative that has been extensively used as the model from which to speculate on human evolution.
Unlike chimpanzees, the canine teeth (eye teeth) of Ardipithecus males are small and blunt, clearly not the long and sharp fighting weapons of chimpanzees. Given that Ardi lived in a period of time before the use of even stone tools, let alone weapons, the idea of warfare resembling the skirmishes of chimpanzees, in which canines are the weapons, seems highly unlikely given those reduced teeth. And in body size, male Ardipithecus are not much larger than females…there is very little size dimorphism. Chimpanzee males are significantly larger than females, and chimpanzee males dominate females.
The relatively small degree of size dimorphism and those small male eye teeth suggest that male Ardipithecus did not fight with each other for access to females. It also hints that perhaps female Ardipithcus, like living female bonobos, were either equal in dominance status to the males or perhaps even dominated the males.
Another anthropologist, Frans de Waal, is now toying with the notion that perhaps we have not always made war, nor do the roots of war go into our deep past. He has a new book, The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, which explores our more peaceable side. Use this link to check out his thoughts about Ardi.
While certainly not proving that ancestors in our deep deep past did not make war, Ardi puts to rest the notion that chimpanzees are acceptable models. It looks like perhaps we humans have in fact have much more in common with the “peaceable bonobo” than the aggressive chimpanzee.
For those of us fighting to put an end to war, this shift in the scientific paradigm offers increasing support that we are NOT genetically predetermined to always kill each other. That war is a culturally induced phenomenon, most likely the result of putting male hunter-gatherers into the brand new environment of settled living.
The result of taking up settled living argues Dr. Hand, based in part on Fry’s analysis, was the subsequent development over many generations and long periods of time of several very negative, unintended consequences: the emergence of dominance hierarchies with males dominating females, the loss of female power in community decision-making, extensive overuse of local environmental resources, and the emergence of war.
Bottom line: new data and reanalysis of old data is moving perceptions of the essence of our origins in the direction of stressing “humans-the-cooperators”rather than “man-the-warrior.”
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About the Author
Dr. Judith L. Hand. Dr. Hand earned her Ph.D. in biology from UCLA. Her studies included animal behavior and primatology. After completing a Smithsonian Post-doctoral Fellowship at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., she returned to UCLA as a research associate and lecturer. Her undergraduate major was in cultural anthropology. She worked as a technician in neurophysiology laboratories at UCLA and the Max Planck Institute, in Munich, Germany. As a student of animal communication, she is the author of several books and scientific papers on the subject of social conflict resolution.