Research Article

Did Warfare Among Ancestral Hunter-Gatherers Affect the Evolution of Human Social Behaviors?

Science  05 Jun 2009:
Vol. 324, Issue 5932, pp. 1293-1298
DOI: 10.1126/science.1168112

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Abstract

Since Darwin, intergroup hostilities have figured prominently in explanations of the evolution of human social behavior. Yet whether ancestral humans were largely “peaceful” or “warlike” remains controversial. I ask a more precise question: If more cooperative groups were more likely to prevail in conflicts with other groups, was the level of intergroup violence sufficient to influence the evolution of human social behavior? Using a model of the evolutionary impact of between-group competition and a new data set that combines archaeological evidence on causes of death during the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene with ethnographic and historical reports on hunter-gatherer populations, I find that the estimated level of mortality in intergroup conflicts would have had substantial effects, allowing the proliferation of group-beneficial behaviors that were quite costly to the individual altruist.

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