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Warfare in the European Neolithic: Truth or Fiction?©
There is no evidence of territorial aggression [in Central Europe
between 6500 and 5500 BC], and the total absence of lethal weapons
implies a peaceful coexistence between all groups and individuals.
Villages have no fortifications except occasional V-shaped ditches
and retaining walls where structurally necessary. Villages were
usually founded on choice locations near rivers or streams or
on lake terraces, and the use of steep hills or other inaccessible
terrain for habitation was unknown during this peaceful period
Marija Gimbutas wrote that “the period of 4500- 2500 B.C.
(calibrated chronology) is one of the most complex and least understood
in prehistory. It is a period which urgently demands a concerted
effort by scholars from various disciplines” (Gimbutas 1980:1).
In her view, warfare did not exist in Neolithic Europe until after
c. 4400 BC when nomadic peoples, assumed to speak a Proto-Indo-European
language, began to enter Europe from north of the Black Sea. The
vision of Neolithic “Old Europe” as originally peaceful
has inspired a new view of European origins among theorists from
a variety of disciplines throughout the world. Nevertheless, a number
of archaeologists dispute Gimbutas’ claim. My intention in
this paper is to present a preliminary examination of evidence on
both sides of this question to begin to determine whether or not
Old Europe was indeed peaceful as Gimbutas has claimed.
No defensive features such as palisades or ditches are found in
the early period of this [the Linearbandkeramik] culture (39).
No weapons except implements for hunting are found among grave
goods in Europe until c. 4500-4300 B.C., nor is there evidence
of hilltop fortification of Old European communities (352).
In Archaeology: The Science of Once and Future Things,
archaeologist Brian Hayden writes: “There is abundant evidence
for warfare during the Middle and Late and even Early Neolithic,
long before the Indo-Europeans arrived on the scene, although it
may not have been so intense or so one-sided as the conflicts with
the Indo-Europeans” (Hayden 1993:350). A comprehensive examination
of the question of warfare during the European Neolithic is beyond
the scope of this paper, for it would require an exhaustive analysis
of hundreds of articles and monographs that discuss this subject
written in every Western and Eastern European language. Since Hayden’s
book is currently in use as an introductory university text, I will
examine the articles used by Hayden to support his argument that
warfare existed before the arrival of Indo-European speaking peoples.
It is first necessary to define a few terms. Neolithic (literally
“New Stone Age”) specifically refers to the use of ground
stone tools. It often implies a sedentary agrarian life style utilizing
a variety of domesticated plants and animals. In northern Europe
the Neolithic is often typified by the appearance of ceramics rather
than by fully settled agricultural communities while the Neolithic
economies of cultures north of the Black Sea, in the Caucasus Mountains
and the Caspian Sea regions depended upon the domestication of cattle,
sheep and goats (Gimbutas 1997:352) . The Neolithic period in Europe
does not begin at one moment in time. In the Mediterranean area,
as well as in central and southern Anatolia, the earliest Neolithic
communities are dated by calibrated radiocarbon chronology to the
early seventh millennium B.C. The Balkans established a food producing
economy toward the end of the seventh millennium, and in central
Europe between 6000 and 5500 B.C., whereas agriculture was not established
in Britain until around 4500 B.C. (Gimbutas 1991:6).
The term “Old Europe,” coined by Marija Gimbutas, refers
to the pre-Indo-European Neolithic cultures, initially of southeast
Europe (she eventually extended the term to include all of pre-patriarchal
Europe). In her view, Old Europe was peaceful until a collision
of cultures took place that introduced an androcratic, aggressive
ideology and weapons for war into Europe for the first time. Gimbutas
uses the term “Kurgan” to refer to the warlike nomadic
pastoralists who, according to her Kurgan Hypothesis1,
infiltrated Europe in three waves between 4400 and 2800 B.C.
Brian Hayden challenges the idea that Old Europe was peaceful
by stating that a number of sites were enclosed by walls of a
“defensive nature.” For evidence, he sites Evans &
Rasson (1984:720) and Webster (1990:343). Evans & Rasson’s
article is a 1984 review of the literature on Neolithic and Chalcolithic
research in southeast Europe. There are only two paragraphs in
the entire article that make reference to defensive structures:
Features such as ditches, banks, or fences may be investigated
for a variety of functions (Jacobsen 1981)2.
The identification of a community by a wall or fence may be symbolic
(to create a sense of community) or functional (to keep animals
in or out, for instance). Tringham (1971)3
suggests that the evidence for fences, ditches, and banks is more
likely a method of community “demarcation” than evidence
for fortification. The question of works constructed with defense
in mind - “fortification” - is another matter (Evans
& Rasson 1984:720).
The second paragraph begins with a sentence that calls attention
to a report by Sebastian Morintz (1962)4 concerning
the existence of Gumelnita sites in Romania, considered “fortified”
because of the existence of walls and trenches, their location on
summits, promontories, terraces or on islands. The second sentence
mentions Henrieta Todorova’s 1973 paper5
that describes “some communities having fortifications,”
especially the plan of Poljanica in Bulgaria. No information substantiating
these sites as fortifications is given, nor is a distinction made
between those sites with “ditches, banks, or fences”
that are interpreted as fortifications, and those that are not.
The term “fortification” is simply taken at face value.
A book edited by George Christopoulos (1970: 69, 79)6
is mentioned because it includes artist reconstructions of the Sesklo
and Dimini sites in Thessaly, interpreted as fortified with no further
The Sesklo site (shown at c. 5900-5700 B.C. in Figure 1) is encircled
by a retaining wall along the edges of a rather steep slope. Although
the excavator, Demetrios Theocharis (n.d.), used the terms “acropolis”
and “megaron” to describe the walled site, assuming
the existence of a ruling elite, no direct evidence was found in
this, or in any other site of the Sesklo culture, to indicate the
rule of a chieftain or of territorial aggression. The Dimini site
followed the Sesklo culture, and the artist’s illustration
[Fig. 2] published in Hayden (1993:252) shows a fortified settlement.
Although a date is not given for this reconstruction, it could not
have been later than 4000 B.C., since the Dimini culture in Thessaly
is dated (by calibrated radiocarbon chronology) to c. 5500-4000
B.C. (Gimbutas 1991:23, 420; Whittle 1996:79-89). The most recent
archaeological analysis of Dimini, however, has reversed the earlier
conclusion: the “fortification” was a series of retaining
[Dimini] consists of several concentric retaining walls, between
which there were buildings and work areas, with the innermost defining
a broad central space empty except for some building around the
outer part. The walls are not now seen as defensive, and there are
several entrances through all the circuits (Whittle 1996:87).
The Karanovo settlement of Poljanica in northeastern Bulgaria
[Fig. 3], mid-fifth millennium B.C., had three parallel palisades,
traditionally referred to in the literature as a fortification.
According to Gimbutas, they functioned “perhaps as protection
from wild animals, which are not to be confused with hill-fort
fortifications of the Indo-European type” (Gimbutas 1991:93).
Poljanica is organized in a square formation open to the four
directions, typical of other square enclosures found in Old European
culture groups during the fifth and fourth millennia B.C. Emilie
Pleslová-Sıtiková, from the Archaeological Institute
of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague associates the plan
of Poljanica with a ritual tradition of four corner/four season
symbolism, as an expression of paleogeometry and paleoastronomy
(Pleslová-Sıtiková 1980:61). The square enclosure
of Makotrasy in central Bohemia from the Funnel-necked Beaker
culture (TRB), excavated by Pleslová-Sıtiková, is
an especially sophisticated example of astronomical orientation
stemming from advanced agricultural technology [Fig. 4].
It is possible that this square structure was built according to
an already existing model and with extant knowledge of the northernmost
local azimuth of moonrise. . .which appears only once in 18.6 years.
. . Perhaps men of that time knew how to transfer the horizontal
right angle from which the northernmost moonrise differed, from
the azimuth of some fixed correlated points on the horizon. . .where
the bright stars rise or set. . . . The paleoastronomic structure
at Makotrasy may also have served as a clue to the first application
to the principle of the Pythagorean triangle, actually incorporated
in the geometric base of numerous paleoastronomic constructions.
. . a place of central cultic activity; the religious ideas primarily
related to the cult of the moon and sun (69-71).
We will continue with the subject of other enclosures which also
suggest a ritual significance later in this paper.
The article by Gary Webster on “Labor Control and Emergent
Stratification in Prehistoric Europe” includes only these
few words relating to fortification:
From the late 4th millennium on, cultural development in adjacent
regions of the Balkans and the Aegean follow strikingly different
trajectories. . . There is evidence for settlement nucleation
(sometimes with fortification) and the associated widespread abandonment
of small peripheral sites during the late 4th millennium . . perhaps
reflecting a declining agricultural base” (Webster 1990:344).
Although widespread site abandonment during the late fourth millennium
B.C. might have resulted from “a declining agricultural base,”
Gimbutas’ Kurgan Hypothesis explains the dislocation of populations
and the appearance of fortifications as the result of invasions
by Kurgan peoples between the fifth and third millennia B.C. (Gimbutas
1991:358, 368). According to Gimbutas, the repeated intrusions of
steppe people into Europe over two millennia shattered the continuity
of Old European development (although Old European traditions continued
in the Aegean and Mediterranean islands until the mid-second millennium
B.C.). During the fourth millennium B.C., a structural reorganization
seems to have taken place across much of southeast Europe. Evidence
for this comes from the abandonment of 600-700 tell sites in the
Balkans which had flourished from as early as the seventh millennium
B.C. As archaeologist James Mallory points out, the indigenous populations
were displaced in every direction except eastward, moving into marginal
locations - islands, caves or easily fortified hilltop sites. The
apparent cultural collapse and chaos of this period produced a Balkan
“dark age” (Mallory 1989:238). Webster’s comments
are not, therefore, in contradiction with Gimbutas or Mallory.
Hayden continues: “Evidence for warfare and fortifications
appears in the earliest Neolithic sites in central and eastern Europe
(Milisauskas, 1986:787) and continues until the late Neolithic (Pavúk,
1991), sometimes with bodies in the defensive ditches” (Hayden
1993:350). It should be pointed out that neither Milisauskas nor
Pavúk write about bodies found in defensive ditches.
In his 1986 article, “Selective Survey of Archaeological
Research in Eastern Europe,” Sarunas Milisauskas devotes
one brief paragraph to the subject of fortifications. In his view,
warfare and fortifications began with the appearance of Neolithic
A number of fortified settlements were excavated such
as the early Neolithic settlement at Eilsleben in East Germany
(Kaufmann 1977, 1982)7 and the Middle and
Late Neolithic fortifications at Bronocice in Poland (Kruk and
Milisauskas 1979, 1985)8. V.
Pavúková found ditches at the Lengyel site of Svodín
in Slovakia (Milisauskas 1986: 787).
Since evidence for the association of Neolithic farmers with warfare
is not presented, it is impossible to evaluate its merit. Is Milisauskas
simply assuming that ditches are evidence of warfare? Did Brian
Hayden actually read the articles that Milisauskas cited with his
statement that Neolithic farmers brought warfare (which were written
in German in Slovakian and Polish publications), or is he simply
adopting Milisauskas’ viewpoint as truth? In any case, no
discussion of the material evidence is given. Milisauskas, however,
goes go on to say:
It should be noted that not all Neolithic sites with
ditches or enclosures are classified as fortified sites. For example,
the Neolithic site of Makotrasy in Czechoslovakia was classified
as a ritual place (Pleslova-Sıtikova et al. 1980)9.
The orientation of the enclosures at Makotrasy was consistent
with sunrise and sunset at the winter and summer solstice (Milisauskas
The article by Juraj Pavúk, “Lengyel-culture Fortified
Settlements in Slovakia,” was given to me at an international
congress in Bratislava in 1991. Afterwards, Marija Gimbutas and
I drove to the well-known site of Buèany in Slovakia to view
a recently excavated roundel10 [Fig. 5]. I
listened intently to her discussion with the excavators concerning
the evidence unearthed at the site and their interpretation of its
function. Two concentric V-shaped ditches, nearly 70 meters in diameter,
define the site which is open on each of the four cardinal directions.
The excavators considered that it may have been used for seasonal,
ritual activities by settlements of the Lengyel culture located
in the surrounding area.
After eight pages of text describing such earthworks as “fortifications”
(although no evidence of warfare is mentioned), Juraj Pavúk
includes these comments on the last page of his article:
The high cultural level of this society is borne out by the structure
of the large settlements, which are dominated by central fortifications,
designed and built with a view of exploring patterns in natural
phenomena and exploiting them for the benefit of the communities
concerned. Both the astronomical orientation of the fortification.
. .and the planned layout of the adjacent settlements as well
as their subsequent enclosure, suggest that the economic needs
of the community were dominant in the process of settlement foundation.
Circular and oval fortifications in settlement sites might have
represented a reaction to certain critical situations, helping
to use natural phenomena as observed in their context. If they
were designed and built as calendrical devices, they must have
fulfilled other tasks based on the laws of nature or on the movements
of the heavenly bodies, in addition to astronomical time measurements.
A connection with the growth cycles of cultivated cereals and
other plants comes to mind as the most likely candidate. Features
of this kind are, however, best understood as cult facilities
Some of the roundels (ditched enclosures) are extremely large. The
Zılkovce site, for instance, measures 900 meters north-south and
almost 500 meters at its width. The interiors could accommodate
the entire local population which, according to Pavúk, “could
have represented a setting for rituals but also a refuge for all
inhabitants of the site” (356).
Pavúk indicates that the early period of the Lengyel culture
seems to have been economically prosperous. A pattern of settlement
discontinuity arose, however, that is not explained by social and
economic causes, indicating “a new strategy both towards the
environment and towards social and cultural traditions” (356).
Pavúk observes that this discontinuity became a conspicuous
feature of Lengyel settlements “which were founded and deserted
within one cultural stage” (354). He discusses only the possibility
of environmental factors to explain dislocation, although he does
say that “the emergence of settlements with defense facilities
and with considerable concentrations of people reflects a social
situation of crisis and conflict” (356).
Pavúk gives the calibrated radiocarbon dates for Lengyel
I as c. 4900-4700 B.C., and Lengyel II as c. 4400-4200 B.C. He adds
that “no fortifications dating from Lengyel III and Lengyel
IV stages are known from Slovakia” (353-354). Since Lengyel
I appears to have been prosperous and stable, the instability must
have taken place during the Lengyel II phase (4400-4200 B.C.). This
period coincides exactly with the appearance of the first Kurgan
wave into Europe.
In The Civilization of the Goddess, Marija Gimbutas writes:
North of Budapest and in western Slovakia, Lengyel disappears after
c. 4400-4300 B.C., and reemerges in Bavaria, central Germany, and
western Poland. . . The discontinuity of the Varna, Karanovo, Vinèa
and Lengyel cultures in their main territories and the large scale
population shifts to the north and northwest are indirect evidence
of a catastrophe of such proportions that cannot be explained by
possible climatic change, land exhaustion, or epidemics (for which
there is no evidence in the second half of the 5th millennium B.C.).
Direct evidence of the incursion of horse-riding warriors is found,
not only in single burials of males under barrows, but in the emergence
of a whole complex of Kurgan cultural traits. . .The earliest hill
forts are contemporary with late Lengyel and Rössen materials
or immediately follow them. Radiocarbon dates place this period
between 4400 and 3900 B.C. (Gimbutas 1991:364).
A population fearing attack would be motivated to restructure
an existing earthwork, originally created for ritual purposes
and communal gatherings, into a fortification for protection.
Such elaborations can be seen at the Slovakian sites of Svodín
and Zılkovce [Figs. 6 & 7]. Their final dislocations are noted
by Pavúk in this way: “In the following phase of
Lengyel IV (Ludanice), the farmers came back to the . . .dunes
and banks of the Danube, penetrating, for the first time since
the Palaeolithic, the caves of western Slovakia” (Pavúk
This abandonment and movement, often propelling neighbouring
cultures into one another, operated against a background not only
of somewhat elusive traces of hybridization with the steppe cultures.
. . but also with continuous incursions of mobile pastoralists
Excavations at Talheim, in Germany, have exposed a Neolithic mass
grave in which thirty-five skulls had been fractured by shoe-last
axes used as maces (see Wahl & König, 1987)11,
while arrowhead tips in the skeletons of early Neolithic peoples
also indicate significant levels of group violence (Whittle, 1991:261;12
Schutkowski, 1991) (Hayden 1993:350).
Marija Gimbutas has also drawn from the article by Wahl &
König to give an account of the Talheim finds:
Signs of violence - evidence of people murdered with
spears or axes - appear in this period and continue in the subsequent
millennia. . . . In Talheim, east of River Neckar in south-western
Germany, thirty-four skeletons of murdered people - men, women
and children - were uncovered in a pit dug into the settlement
area of the LBK (several potsherds of late LBK were found in the
debris, but no other finds were associated with the skeletons).
At least eighteen skulls had large holes in the back or top from
thrusts of stone axes or flint points, which suggests that the
people were killed from behind, perhaps as they fled. Skeletons
were found in a pit 1.5 by 3.1 m across and 1.5 m deep in chaotic
order and positions, with females, males, and children mixed together13.
Since murdered people were buried in the cultural layer of the
LBK culture with radiocarbon dates indicating early 5th millennium
B.C., the massacre must have happened after this time, probably
within the Rössen period (Gimbutas 1991:364-365)14.
This site and numerous others are evidence of the brutality that
accompanied the appearance of Kurgan peoples into Europe. Another
example is provided by Nicolai Merpert, Director of Foreign Archaeology,
Institute of Archaeology, Moscow. His excavation of Junazite in
the Upper Thracian Valley of Bulgaria uncovered the grisly conclusion
to the last Eneolithic (Neolithic with copper) habitation level
of the Karanovo culture of the mid-fourth millennium B.C.
All of the walls were smashed down and burned, covering
the debris of the house interiors and the remains of the inhabitants.
Almost fifty skeletons were found, as well as parts of dismembered
bodies. Whole families - men, women and children - were situated
inside the dwellings, up to seven skeletons in one house. Some
of the bodies were laying in unnatural positions: on the stomach
with the raised hands, with faces directed down, and so on. Others
were in a contracted position on the side. All of them were situated
upon the floors or upon the surfaces between the houses. Several
skulls had traces of trauma.
Undoubtedly, this is the picture of the humiliation of the final
Eneolithic settlement, with all its population, by newcomers who
brought the culture of the Early Bronze Age. The attack was swift.
Therefore, the remains of the house interiors - the pottery, clay
and bone figurines, stone tools and even gold ornamentation -
were conserved under the crashed down walls. Immediately after
the devastation the surface was smoothed out, the pits were filled
up and upon the bones, in the full sense of the word, the construction
of the first settlement of the Early Bronze Age was begun (Merpert
Numerous other Bulgarian tells display skeletons in similar conditions,
described by Bulgarian archaeologist Henrieta Todorova as examples
of “the struggle against the nomads of the steppe”15
(quoted in Merpert 1997:75).
The 1991 report by Holger Schutkowski describes two men killed by
arrows who were found together in an “emergency burial”
in Bavensted, Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. A radiocarbon date is not
given for this site although it is described as Late Neolithic,
which would probably place it within the range of the Globular Amphora
culture in northern Germany16. Although we
do not know the specific circumstances that provoked the death of
these two men by flint arrows, the turbulence that took place in
Europe during the Late Neolithic as a result of the Kurgan invasions
led to many violent situations. Previously peaceful peoples found
themselves under enormous stress, either as refugees, or needing
to defend their ancient territories from dislocated intruders. Hybrid
cultures formed, c. 3500-3000 B.C., as amalgamations between Old
European cultures and the North Pontic culture (Gimbutas 1991:368).
Returning to Hayden:
Farther west, in central and western France and in
Belgium, more than forty late Neolithic fortified sites have been
recorded in the last two decades alone, and these sites constitute
the apex of settlement hierarchies (Scarre, 1984a:241-42, 253,
and 1984b:332-35; Keeley & Cahen, 1989; Jaden & Cahen,
1990)17. Even more fortified Middle Neolithic
sites have been found in the rest of France (Hayden 1993:350).
In “The Neolithic of West-Central France,” Christopher
Scarre mentions the discovery, by aerial survey, of a “considerable
number of late neolithic fortified sites” (Scarre 1984a:225).
Concerning the Late Neolithic (c. 2800-c.2300/2100 bc - uncalibrated)
in the coastal zone, “fortified settlement sites, often with
elaborate systems of ditches and ramparts, appear at the beginning
of this period, making a sharp contrast with the dearth of middle
neolithic settlement evidence” (1984a:237). Scarre suggests
that the appearance of sixty known fortified sites reflects a situation
of increasing community stress, competition for critical wetland
pasture and a change in the organization of society toward a social
hierarchy. Even the monumental tombs used in the earlier Neolithic
for collective burials were no longer built and lost their importance
in the new social circumstances (Scarre 1984a:241-243)18.
According to Scarre, intergroup hostility may have developed as
the best land was taken and expansion began into areas considered
Excavations have shown that these defensive works, even at their
simplest, were of substantial proportions. . . At champ Durand
the inner ditch was rock-cut, 5m across at the lip and 2.5m deep.
. .The inner, middle and outer ditches were of successively shallower
depth . . .[which] would have enabled defenders stationed on the
inner rampart to fire over the heads of those on the two outer
ramparts, in the manner of certain medieval castles (1984a:255).
The availability of wetland pasture, due to a drop in sea level
that led to this geographical opportunism was short lived.
By the third millennium B.C., the sea level began to rise again,
causing the lowlands to become waterlogged. “This may have
been one reason for the abandonment of the fortified sites at about
this time; there is nothing to indicate that they were violently
The article by Lawrence Keeley and Daniel Cahen (1989:157-176) discusses
evidence from three fortified Late Linearbandkeramik settlements
in northeastern Belgium, constructed approximately 3 km apart along
the boundary of the Upper Geer River. The sites of Darion, Oleye
and Longchamps, dated to c. 6300-5900 b.p. are examples of the earliest
agriculturalists to enter the region. The presence of defensive
structures, found only in western LBK areas, challenges traditional
assumptions about the peaceful nature of their colonization.
The character and complexity (e.g., baffle gates, multiple palisades,
deep ditches, etc.) of Darion’s defenses seem clearly to
have been intended to deter humans, implying that these enclosures
were fortifications (Keeley & Cahen 1989:168).
The small scale of the population at Darion (35 adults) and the
large scale of the palisade (400 meters long) suggests a cooperative
effort of construction and defense in concert with other LBK villages
in the area. The fortifications at Darion and Longchamps were erected
between 6300 and 6200 b.p., at the pioneer stage of colonization,
while the Oleye fortification was erected after that settlement
was destroyed by fire. The threat that led to these protective constructions
seems to have lasted less than a generation. Within thirty years,
and perhaps less than fifteen, the fortifications were allowed to
fall into disrepair. At Longchamps, “the threat was of relatively
brief duration, as the ditch was allowed to fill rapidly and, after
a decade or so, was used as a dumping area by the inhabitants”
The authors ask why these defenses were created. A number of plausible
hypotheses are explored, such as their use as “kraals”
to protect livestock from human and non-human predators, because
of raids from LBK or non-LBK groups, or as symbols of status or
ritual importance (170).
Any internecine warfare among LBK social units, whether they were
villages or clusters, would be expected to increase with intensifying
competition over resources, which should be correlated with increasing
population density and the length of LBK settlement in an area.
In other words, fortifications should be a late feature of the local
sequence and more prevalent through time. This is not the case in
our area. With plentiful open land to the north and west of the
Upper Geer cluster, it is difficult to see why any conflicts over
resources within the LBK should develop (171).
Evidence was found of a high degree of economic cooperation between
the closely spaced villages which would not indicate a situation
of rivalry or competitive status, such as expected between chiefs
or “big men” who would be inclined to make war.
The homogeneity in adze materials between sites in the
Upper Geer cluster also fits poorly with the idea that “big
men” were the distributors. . . Perhaps it is time to resurvey
the ethnographic literature to see if there are forms of social
organization other than chiefdoms that are capable of centralizing
the acquisition and distribution of valuable commodities to the
extent evidenced here (174)19.
The authors ask why LBK fortifications are found only in the western
region of their population area, and linger on the fact that these
colonies were established in western areas utilized by Late Mesolithic
There is evidence accumulating that indicates the Late Mesolithic
hunter-gatherers of NW Europe were becoming much more intensive
foragers, with higher population densities and greater sedentism
than their contemporaries further east (Price 1987). Hunter-gatherers
of this type would have been more vulnerable to the ecological
disruptions caused by LBK colonization and more capable of offering
significant resistance (171).
An analogy is made to the destruction of native economies by colonial
settlements in America and the subsequent resistance by the indigenous
populations. Since the LBK defenses were soon abandoned, the authors
add that “brief periods of armed hostilities do not preclude
more peaceful interactions over longer periods” (172).
In England, such Neolithic sites as Hambledon Hill and Crickley
Hill not only were fortified but met violent ends; they were burned
and their defenses left littered with arrowheads, some of them
inside the body cavities of men killed during attacks on the ramparts.
. .(Mercer, 1985; Dixon, 1979) (Hayden 1991:350).
In his 1985 article, “A Neolithic Fortress and Funeral Center,”
R. J. Mercer describes the huge defensive enclosure at the top of
Hambledon Hill in southwestern England as one of the largest Neolithic
sites excavated in Europe so far.
The transition to agriculture was well established in Britain by
4000 B.C., and by c. 3600 B.C., the elevated site of Hambledon Hill
was being used for excarnation and elaborate funeral rituals. The
rampart of the early circular enclosure “was a timber-framed
case into which a mass of chalk from the ditch was packed to produce
an impressive but ultimately unstable barrier” (Mercer 1985:99).
Within the compound corpses were exposed to the elements for defleshment,
then the bones were gathered and ceremonially reburied, accompanied
by offerings and communal celebrations20.
Sixty percent of the bones found within the enclosure were of young
children, while female and male adults were found in equal proportions
with all members of the community represented21.
Valuable offerings were buried in pits, with some imported from
as far away as Brittany. Offerings were also deposited in the ditch,
which included a series of skulls laid right side up at irregular
intervals on the ditch floor (98-99).
Hambledon Hill underwent a gradual modification over 200-300 years,
and by c. 3400 B.C. it had three concentric ramparts; the inner
rampart was supported by 10,000 oak beams “as thick as telephone
poles” (94). Such a project would have demanded an enormous
expenditure of energy from the surrounding agrarian communities.
By the mid-Neolithic, c. 3300 BC, a period of social upheaval
took place during which several Neolithic sites were abandoned,
left littered with leaf-shaped arrowheads. Mercer suggests that
violence may have been brought on by economic or environmental
factors. An attack was made to Hambledon Hill around that time
in which c. 200 meters of ramparts were torched and destroyed
by fire. The skeletons of both defenders and attackers were found,
some pierced by arrowheads. Hambledon Hill was abandoned soon
The 1991 article by Alasdair Whittle, “A Late Neolithic Complex
at West Kennet, Wilshire, England,” describes the discovery
of two palisade enclosures in the area of the famous Avebury complex
(one over 40 meters in diameter and the other c. 180 meters in diameter)
associated with Beaker pottery22, dated to
the Late Neolithic - Early Bronze Age (Whittle 1991:256).
It is possible to regard the palisade enclosures as sacred precincts,
defensive strongholds or stockades around prominent settlements.
There are arguments for and against each possibility. . . .The great
wooden walls could be seen as defensive, and may have ended by being
burned. Finds of arrowhead tips in skeletons have shown the Eary
Neolithic as not wholly peaceful, and raiding or warfare could have
been endemic in the Later Neolithic. . . [I]f the enclosures belong
to a very late phase of the Neolithic, transformations can be seen
taking place (Whittle 1991:261).
In The Civilization of the Goddess (1991), Marija Gimbutas
discusses the appearance in England and Ireland during the mid-fourth
millennium B.C. of single male burials under round barrows [Fig.
3]. These represent a complete contrast to the tradition of communal
burials that typify the egalitarian practices of the indigenous
Neolithic communities. “Analogies are known across the Channel
in the Rhine and Upper Danube region. . .in the Rössen and
Aichbühl-Schwieberdingen groups dated to the period of 4300-3900
B.C.” (Gimbutas 1991:216). “This signals the arrival
of the first people carrying Kurgan traditions across the Channel
or North Sea. . . At the same time, signs of warfare and violence
P.W. Dixon discusses the site of Crickley Hill in his 1979 article
“A Neolithic and Iron Age Site on a Hilltop in Southern England.”
About fifty Neolithic enclosures or “causewayed camps”
have been identified in southern England that were originally thought
to be defensive. As Dixon explains, archaeologists have come to
accept the view that these were not built as fortifications for
the following reasons: settlements were not found inside the enclosures;
there were numerous entrances offering easy access to attackers;
and the most defensive sites were often ignored. Enclosures were
thought to be livestock enclosures or spiritual centers, while “current
opinion is inclined to regard the causewayed camps as serving a
variety of practical and ritual functions. . . (Dixon 1979:186-187).
A knoll at the top of Crickley Hill was enclosed by a bank and ditch
in which five phases of Neolithic occupation were found. Pottery
finds indicate fairly uniform phases between c. 3500 and 2500 B.C.
The final Neolithic phase did enclose a settlement and a new bank
was cut, faced with a vertical stone wall. Its two narrow entrances
were closed with strong gates. This military enclosure did not protect
the final Neolithic settlement from a violent and sudden end. A
fire destroyed the gates and scores of leaf-shaped flint arrowheads
traditionally used for hunting were found scattered around the site
The picture that is now emerging is one of a sedentary and stratified
society capable of achieving substantial communal works, a society
that both built fortified settlements and attacked them (188).
It is important to keep in mind that the Early Neolithic in Britain
corresponds to the period of the first incursions of Kurgan peoples
into southeast Europe. The appearance of Kurgan influenced burials
in Britain, during the mid-fourth millennium B.C., is simultaneous
with the earliest fortifications of a military type. A similar
situation is found throughout Europe in which signs of stress
and armed hostilities, the dislocation of previously settled populations
into the territory of others, and attempts to defend settlements
from attack are clearly apparent after 4400 B.C.
The Kurgan Hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas explains the appearance
of warfare in Europe as the result of a “collision of cultures”
between the settled agrarian pre-Indo-European societies and armed,
mobile people utilizing the horse. If this hypothesis is not considered,
the Neolithic becomes a blur of seemingly spontaneous outbursts
of competition and the expected hostilities between “big
Marija Gimbutas held the view that a communal based social structure
prevailed throughout the pre-Indo-European cultures of Old Europe
that was primarily peaceful, not organized in terms of an aggressive
system. In my view, the creation of fortifications by the LBK
colonists to possibly protect themselves from a brief period of
attack by Mesolithic people does not pose a challenge to Gimbutas’
It is clear that archaeologists interpret some enclosures as fortifications
while others are not, although there seems to be no universal
agreement about how this distinction should be made. Once a structure
is called a fortification in the literature, this term, and the
constellation of accompanying associations, is repeated with little
or no questioning of its validity. Perhaps this is because an
assumption is automatically made that warfare is endemic to the
human condition. The idea that people from numerous settlements
within a region might have pooled their efforts to construct an
earthwork for ceremonial purposes, without a defensive motivation,
has seemed virtually unthinkable to many researchers.
Brian Hayden’s blanket assertion that there was warfare
in the Neolithic is lacking in scientific rigor. To acknowledge
the effect of the Indo-Europeanization of the cultures of Old
Europe can provide a new understanding of the rise of warfare
at the end of the Neolithic period.
Joan Marler's website at www.archeomythology.org
1979 A Neolithic and Iron Age Site on a Hilltop in Southern England.”
Scientific American 241 (5): 183-190.
Evans, Robert K., and Judith A. Rasson.
1984 “Ex Balcanis Lux? Recent Developments in Neolithic
and Chalcolithic Research in Southeast Europe.” American
Antiquity 49 (4): 713-741.
1980 “Introduction.” The Transformation of European
and Anatolian Culture 4500-2500 B.C. and its Legacy. Journal
of Indo-European Studies 8 (1&2):1-2.
1991 The Civilization of the Goddess: The World of Old Europe.
San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
1997 The Kurgan Culture and the Indo-Europeanization of Europe.
Selected articles from 1952-1993, Miriam Robbins Dexter and Karlene
Jones-Bley, eds. Journal of Indo-European Studies Monograph,
No. 18. Washington, D.C.: Institute for the study of Man.
Keeley, Lawrence H., and Daniel Cahen.
1989 “Early Neolithic Forts and Villages in Northeast Belgium:
A Preliminary Report.” Journal of Field Archaeology
1989 In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology
and Myth. London: Thames & Hudson.
1985 “A Neolithic Fortress and Funeral Center.” Scientific
American 252 (3): 94-101.
Merpert, Nicolai Ya.
1997 “The Earliest Indo-Europeanization of the North Balkan
Area in Light of a New Investigation in the Upper Thracian Valley.”
In From the Realm of the Ancestors: An Anthology in Honor
of Marija Gimbutas. Joan Marler, ed., pp. 70-77. Manchester,
CT.: Knowledge, Ideas & Trends, Inc.
1986 “Selective Survey of Archaeological Research in Eastern
Europe.” American Antiquity 54 (4): 779-798.
1991 “Lengyel-culture Fortified Settlements in Slovakia.”
1980 “Square Enclosures of Old Europe, 5th and 4th Millennia
B.C.” In The Journal of Indo-European Studies 8
1984a “The Neolithic of West-Central France.” In Ancient
France: Neolithic Societies and Their Landscapes, 6000-2000 bc.
Christopher Scarre, ed., pp. 223-270. Edinburgh: University of
1984b “A Survey of the French Neolithic.” In Ancient
France, pp. 324-343.
1991 “Case Report No. 16: Two Neolithic Arrow-Shot Victims.”
Paleopathology Newsletter 75:13-15.
Theocharis, Demetrios R.
n.d. “Development and Diversification: The Middle Neolithic
of Thessaly and the Southern Region.” Neolithic Greece.
Athens: National Bank of Greece.
Webster, Gary S.
1990 “Labor Control and Emergent Stratification in Prehistoric
Europe.” Current Anthropology 31 (4): 337-366.
1991 “A Late Neolithic Complex at West Kennet, Wilshire,
England. Antiquity 65: 256-262.
1996 Europe in the Neolithic: The Creation of New Worlds.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
1 The Kurgan Hypothesis of Marija Gimbutas locates the homeland
of nomadic Proto-Indo-European speakers in the Volga steppe region
of south Russia. After domesticating the horse during the fifth
millennium B.C. they began their out migrations into Europe and
into the Indus valley. This is the explanation offered by Gimbutas
for the striking similarities between the Lithuanian language
2 Thomas W. Jacobsen (cited in Evans & Rasson 1984): “Franchthi
Cave and the Beginning of Settled Life in Greece. Hesperia
50 (4) 1981:303-319.
3Ruth Tringham (cited in Evans & Rasson 1984): Hunters,
Fishers and Farmers of Eastern Europe: 6000-3000 B.C., 1971.
London: Hutchinson University Library.
4 Sebastian Morintz (cited in Evans & Rasson 1984): “Tiputi
de asezari si sisteme de fortificatie si imprejmuire in cultura
Gumelnita.” Studii si Cercetari Istorie Veche 13
5 Henrieta Todorova (cited in Evans & Rasson 1984): “Die
früesten Fortifikationsysteme in Bulgarien.” Zeitschrift
für Archeologie 7 (1973):229-238.
6 George A. Christopoulos, editor-in-chief (cited in Evans &
Rasson 1984): History of the Hellenic World: Prehistory and
Protohistory, 1970. Athens: Ekdotike Athenon S.A.
7 D. Kaufmann (cited in Milisauskas 1986): “Entdeckung und
Vermissung einer befestigten linienbandkeramischen Siedlung bei
Eilsleben, Kr. Wanzleben.” In Zeitschrift für Archaologie
11 (1977):93-100; .”Zu einigen Ergebnissen der Ausgrabungen
im Bereich linienbandkermischen Erdwerk bei Eilsleben, Kreis Wanzleben.”
In Siedlungen der Kultur mit Linearkeramik in Europa,
edited by B. Chropovsky and J. Pavuk (1982): 69-71. Nitra: Slovenska
8 J. Kruk and S. Milisauskas (cited in Milisauskas 1986): “Befestingungen
der späten Polgár-Kultur bei Bronocice (Polen). Archäologisches
Korrespondenzblatt 9 (1) 1979:9-13; Bronocice: osiedle
obronne ludnosci kultury lubelskowolynskiej (2800-2700 lat p.n.e.).
9 E. Pleslova- _tikova et al. (cited in Milisauskas 1986): “A
Square Enclosure of the Funnel Beaker Culture (3500 B.C.) at Makotrasy
(Central Bohemia): A Palaeoastronomic Structure.” Archeologicke
Rozhledy 32 (1980):3-35.
10A “roundel” is a circular earthwork, usually called
a “henge” monument or a “causewayed camp”
(originally assumed to be a military enclosure). It is composed
of a flat, circular space surrounded by one or more ditches and
banks, sometimes utilizing large stones or palisades, with one
or more entrances (often open to the four directions). Roundels
are found from the fifth millennium B.C. in central Europe in
the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture, and in the Lengyel culture
in Moravia. During the fourth millennium B.C. they were created
by the Funnel-necked Beaker culture (TRB) in eastern Germany.
Roundels appear 1-2 millennia later in Britain as Stonehenge,
Avebury, Woodhenge, among others (Gimbutas 1991:207-208, 338-341).
11 J. Wahl and H. König (quoted in Hayden 1993:350), “Anthropologisch-traumatologische
Untersuchung der menschlichen Skelettreste aus dem banderamischen
Massengrab bei Talheim, Kreis Heilbronn.” Fundberichte
aus Baden-Württemberg, Band 12 (1987):65-194.
12 The article by Whittle will be discussed later in connection
with Hambledon Hill in southwest England.
13 At this point, Gimbutas cites the 1987 article by J. Wahl and
14 Marija Gimbutas describes the Rössen period as “the
late phase of the LBK culture with elements deriving from Kurgan
I. The name comes from the cemetery near Merseburg, C Germany”
15 Henrieta Todorova, Kamenno-mednata epocha w Bulgarii,
16 The pastoral Globular Amphora culture appeared during the mid-fourth
millennium B.C. in central and northern Europe, causing the disintegration
of the Funner-necked Beaker culture (TRB). Their burial rites
and material culture have similarities to those of the Kurgan
culture in the North Pontic region, in contrast to the Old European
TRB (see Gimbutas 1991:381-384, 393, 400-401, 421).
17 I was not able to locate the 1990 article by Ivan Jadin and
Daniel Cahen, “La guerre avant l’an mil.” Wéris,
Belgium: Musée de Wéris.
18 Marija Gimbutas discusses the significance of communal burials
in the megalithic tombs of western Europe as expressions of a
community based, non-hierarchal social structure in which a spiritual
connection with the ancestors was honored. The kurgan burials,
in contrast, celebrated the personal power of an elite individual.
The abandonment of communal tombs could certainly indicate the
rupture of Old European communal patterns (see Gimbutas 1991).
19 See chapter 9, “Social Structure,” in Gimbutas
20 A two-stage burial involving excarnation and ceremonial burial
of the defleshed bones was practiced by a number of Old European
societies. It is also found in Old Anatolia and in many primal
cultures throughout the world.
21 An egalitarian social structure is indicated that is typical
of pre-Indo-European societies.
22 The pastoral Bell Beaker culture was formed from Yamna (Kurgan)
and Vuèedol traditions in east-central Europe. (Vuèedol
is a Kurganized culture that arose from the Baden culture in the
northwest Balkans). Between 2500 and 2100 B.C. it spread between
central Europe, the British Isles and the Iberian Peninsula (Gimbutas