Research NewsArchaeology

North America's Wars

Science  27 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5359, pp. 2038-2040
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5359.2038

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New analyses presented this week at a special symposium at the Society for American Archaeology meetings in Seattle suggest that prehistoric North America, once considered peaceful, was instead a bitter battlefield where tribes fought over land and water. Clever new ways to read the subtle marks of periodic warfare in such features as the arrangement of villages and the placement of wells, plus direct evidence of massacres (see sidebar), are persuading archaeologists that ancient North American societies made war as fiercely as any nation states in order to acquire scarce resources, particularly when the climate turned harsh. But skeptics argue that warfare advocates have yet to present convincing proof that ancient hostilities claimed many lives.