Marylène Patou-Mathis

War in Prehistory Publication date : October 3, 2013

Marylène Patou-Mathis is the author of several authoritative works on prehistory, including Le Sauvage et la Préhistoire, published by Editions Odile Jacob. A senior research fellow at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), she has a doctorate in Prehistory and heads the archaeozoology unit in the Prehistory Department of the Natural History Museum. She recently curated a major exhibition at the Museum, ‘In the Era of the Mammoths’.

Have humans always been violent? Is war a product of civilisation or is it inherent to human nature? What makes humans kill each other, when their lives are already so precarious?
Prehistory is a fascinating laboratory for the study of such questions. Correlating anthropological and archaeological data, Marylène Patou-Mathis shows that even though evidence of violence, particularly cannibalism, exists as far back as 800 000 BCE, the advent of war occurred much later and can be linked to the great changes that accompanied the shift from the Palaeolithic to the Neolithic.
Exploring the reasons that led to the transformation of hunter-gatherers into warring societies (sedentarisation and agricultural surplus, the advent of patriarchal systems and of castes), she highlights the role played by beliefs and stresses the existence of very ancient forms of sacrificial violence.
The author thus portrays prehistoric Man neither as a ‘noble savage’ nor as a ‘killer ape’, but as a creature whose violent urges were motivated both by fear and by the first inklings of metaphysical thoughts.

• An archaeological journey through time and space, from the Far East via the Ukraine, Iraq and the Nile Valley to Western Europe.
• The controversy about the origins of violence and war, updated by recent findings.