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Interpersonal violence in the Neolithic

Mick Wysocki with Rick Schulting (Oxford University)

Early work on the Neolithic HSR project (see Wysocki and Whittle 2000) led to a growing realisation that individuals interred in Neolithic funerary monuments may have died as a result of interpersonal violence more often than was then generally believed. I was fortunate to be able to collaborate with Rick Schulting, who was pursuing similar lines of enquiry. The resultant paper on the incidence blunt force peri-mortem cranial trauma in the British Neolithic utilised approaches from forensic anthropology and ethnography to clarify and resolve issues first raised by John Thurman in the mid-nineteenth century (Schulting and Wysocki 2005; see also Schulting and Wysocki 2002: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/prehistoric/past/past41.html#Cranial  ). But the work is more far-reaching than that. Together with the new dating evidence from chambered tombs and long barrows (Wysocki et al. 2007; Bayliss et al. 2007; Whittle et al. 2007), and further finds of embedded flint projectile tips at Wayland’s Smithy (FLash Resource) (Fig. 3), a sense of the Neolithic as a more dynamic, immediate and confrontational epoch is emerging. This, in turn allows us to recontextualise notions of social interaction, status, and the roles of monuments and ancestors in defining communities and landscapes.

Fig. 1: embedded tip of flint arrowhead in human hip-bone from Wayland’s Smithy I (photo: M. Wysocki).