War and peace

Were early humans shy, gentle creatures, or savage brutes? You can find textbooks and scientific papers arguing both ways. Which is the correct view?

Both of them, according to Michael Bisson, professor of anthropology at McGill University in Montreal. Different ancestors had different behaviors at different times. You can’t just make a single, sweeping generalization.

For me, the most interesting part of the article is towards the end, where Bisson notes that anthropologists working between WW I and WW II tended to interpret artifacts as evidence that early humans were aggressive; while anthropologists working since the 1960s have tended to interpret the evidence as showing our ancestors were peaceful. Just shows that scientists can succumb to intellectual fashions if they aren’t careful.

Bisson also argues that human aggression emerged about one-and-a-half million years ago, as our ancestors shifted from gathering to hunting. This timeline contradicts the Neill hypothesis, now getting an airing in Australia.

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

i think that it is fair to say that ancient humans could of been both peacefull and aggresive. Chimpanzees, who are very closely related to us, are agressive towards other troops, but very gentle towards the young. i believe that, like we arenow, ancient humans were both aggressive and peaceful, when the occasion is neccesary.

posted on Thu, 03/23/2006 - 3:34pm

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