Book Review: Warfare in Neolithic Europe: An Archaeological and Anthropological Analysis


by Julian Maxwell Heath

Barnsley, Eng.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate Publishers, 2017. Pp. xxvi, 142. Illus., plans, notes, biblio., index. $39.95. ISBN: 147387985X

“Primitive Warfare”

Archaeologist Heath, author of Warfare in Prehistoric Britain and other works, takes on the long-standing claim that Neolithic peoples were peaceful agriculturalists living in harmony with nature.

Marshaling the evidence, Heath demonstrates that organized violence was neither unknown nor rare. He points out that the evidence for warfare in the period has often been ignored or explained away. So stone enclosures that look much like fortifications are often tagged as animal pens. Similarly, the remnants of burnt villages are considered signs of accidents, while mass graves are explained as indicating epidemics, despite, at times, evidence of horrendous trauma to skeletal remains.

Heath takes note of several primordial wall carvings depicting what looks very much like violent encounters, commenting that these are often interpreted as being of a ritualized or symbolic nature. Oddly, when discussing the rock carvings from Les Dogues, in Spain, he fails to note that the attacking archers appear to be in two or three waves, while the defenders seem to be in two lines, suggesting some tactical sophistication, which would certainly bolster his case.

While Heath’s book is focused on warfare in Neolithic Europe, he freely draws on evidence of such conflict in Neolithic cultures in other areas, down to the present.

Warfare in Neolithic Europe is a good read for anyone interested in the origins of war.


Note: Warfare in Neolithic Europe is also available in several e-editions.


Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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