August 27, 2021

Atacama Desert in Chile Growing Violence at 1000 BCE

At 1000 BCE, ancient Andeans tried farming in the driest desert in the world, the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. At this point, violence exploded with folks using maces, knives, hunting weapons. They were fighting over water and fertile land.

Graves excavated between 3,000-1,400 years old show snapped ribs, broken collarbones, facial mutilation and puncture wounds in the lungs, groin and spine. At least half of the injuries look like they were fatal blows.

There are skinny patches of fertile land in the Atacama Desert where inhabitants irrigated, planted corn, chiles and other crops.

Researchers studied the remains of the dead and found half of the injuries in the dead were fatal. This level of violence is much higher then found in other nearby regions. Males and females were battered, but child abuse is rare. Mace injuries, stabbings were common. The lab at the University of North Carolina studied dental remains from 31 individuals with injuries and 38 individuals with no injuries. They found no foreigners. Some ate a largely seafood diet, others ate food from the valley. So there was conflict between fisherman and farmers.

They found spear throwers, knives and other weapons in the graves. Rock art depicts warriors with headdresses and bows and darts. In one village, massive walls were built with stocked sling stones. El Nino cycles around 1000 BCE caused less reliable seafood catch, and drought in the valleys. So wars began over land, water, and food.

The research will be published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Smithsonian has the report here:

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