War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, by Lawrence H. Keeley


Platinum Member
Feb 28, 2023
In War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage Lawrence H. Keeley presents impressive evidence that Paleolithic and Neolithic people have always been considerably more violent than people living in civilizations. This evidence consists of skeletal remains of Paleolithic and Neolithic people who lived hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years ago and older. It consists of archaeological remains of Paleolithic and Neolithic settlements built hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years ago and longer. Finally, it consists of written accounts of Paleolithic and Neolithic people who preserved their ways of life long enough for them to be recorded by literate observers.

Paleolithic people were stone age hunters of wild animals, and gatherers of naturally growing plant foods. Neolithic people still built weapons out of stone, but they practiced primitive agriculture and herding.

Skeletal remains of pre civilization people often show evidence of violence. This can consist of scratches in the tops of skulls when scalps were removed. It consists of heads cut off of bodies and kept as trophies. It consists of human bones with flint arrow heads and spear heads embedded in them. It consists of skeletons of people whose bodies were mutilated after they were killed.

Archaeological evidence consists of ancient settlements surrounded by fortifications. It consists of ancient settlements that were burned down. This evidence comes from times before Paleolithic and Neolithic people had contact with people living in urban civilizations.

This evidence conflicts with the contemporary consensus that pre civilization warfare was rare, of minor significance, and that Paleolithic and Neolithic people lived in harmony with each other.

Keeley documents his findings with data that may be hard to understand. Fortunately, Wikipedia has compiled the data into a chart that is easy to understand.

WarBeforeCivilization 1.png

War Before Civilization - Wikipedia

Keeley attributes the fashionable myth of the peaceful savage to the wide spread revulsion to the destruction caused by the Second World War. After that war most people wanted to believe that war is a recent aberration, rather than an instinct hard coded in the human psyche.

I attribute the myth to the unwillingness of many to consider how different evolutionary pressures lasting for thousands of years influence how members of various races differ in average physical aggressiveness and violent behavior.

According to the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, the yearly murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants in the Americas is 15%, in Africa it is 12.7%, in Asia it is 2.3%, and in Europe it is 2.2%.

List of countries by intentional homicide rate - Wikipedia

There is no further breakdown by race. According to The Color of Crime, by Edwin S. Rubenstein, and posted by the New Century Foundation, in the United States:

  • There are dramatic race differences in crime rates. [East] Asians have the lowest rates, followed by whites [of European descent], and then Hispanics. Blacks have notably high crime rates. This pattern holds true for virtually all crime categories and for virtually all age groups.
  • In 2013, a black was six times more likely than a nonblack to commit murder, and 12 times more likely to murder someone of another race than to be murdered by someone of another race.
The Color of Crime - American Renaissance

Most Hispanics are partially descended from American Indians, who also have high crime rates.

Native Americans and reservation inequality - Wikipedia

What we can see from this is that the closer one’s ancestors are in number of generations to a Paleolithic or Neolithic way of life is, the more likely one is to be a violent criminal.

In his book Keeley points out that in a pre civilization environment all men fight in the wars. The best warriors have more than one wife and consequently more sons who inherit their violent inclinations and abilities. Moreover, in such an environment men are expected to avenge wrongs done to them, their relatives, and their friends. Women usually decline to become involved with men to do this.

By contrast, in civilizations the military is one of several professional specialties and most men are never in combat. Moreover, until fairly recently, in civilizations criminals were killed at the scene of their crimes, they died in custody, or they were executed. There was no effort at rehabilitation. It never has been very effective. The few children some criminals had rarely lived to adulthood.

Consequently, instinctive inclinations toward violence that are selected for in pre civilization peoples are selected against in civilizations.
Actually, the myth of noble and peaceful savage came at least from the times of Gilgamesh and Enkidu.
And the idea of precivilisation "Bellum omnium contra omnes" is pretty old too.
But yes, it would be nice to read a compilation of the modern researches.
Archeology is based on suppositions and theories. Dig up a bunch of skeletons, create a theory based on their condition and write a book.

Forum List