Archive for April 23rd, 2015

April 23, 2015

War Before Civilization

noble savage

War Before Civilization: the Myth of the Peaceful Savage’ is a 1996 book by Lawrence H. Keeley, an archeology professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who specializes in prehistoric Europe. The book deals with warfare conducted throughout human history by societies with little technology. In the book, Keeley aims to stop the apparent trend in seeing civilization as bad. According to Keeley, modern western societies are not more violent or war-prone than (historical) tribes. He conducted an investigation of the archaeological evidence for prehistoric violence, including murder and massacre as well as war. He also looked at nonstate societies of more recent times. It has long been known, for example, that many tribes of South America’s tropical forest engage in frequent and horrific warfare, but some scholars had attributed their addiction to violence to baneful Western influences.

He makes three conclusions which the ‘New York Times’ wrote were unexpected: ‘The most important part of any society, even the most war-like ones, are the peaceful aspects such as art; neither frequency nor intensity of war is correlated with population density; and societies frequently trading with one another fight more wars with one another.’ The Times said that ‘the book’s most dramatic payoff is its concluding explanation for the recent ‘pacification of the past’ by scholars,’ that ‘…revulsion with the excesses of World War II has led to a loss of faith in progress and Western civilization…’

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