Civilization's Double-Edged Sword

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Science  18 May 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6083, pp. 832-833
DOI: 10.1126/science.336.6083.832

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Mass warfare and civilization share a 6000-year history. The killing field at Tell Brak, about 500 kilometers northeast of Damascus near the Iraqi border, documents what is perhaps the world's oldest known large massacre or organized battle. When the violence occurred in about 3800 B.C.E., this settlement was evolving into one of the world's first fledgling cities. What took place here and at other sites where complex societies were starting to coalesce is of particular interest to researchers studying human violence. Some scientists argue that civilization replaced tribal anarchy with a more organized way of life that reduced rates of violence (see p. 829). But recent finds around the world suggest an upsurge, not a decline, in violence during the key period when societies transitioned from the simpler organization of tribes and chiefdoms into complex urban life.