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Experts Find Alarming Evidence Of Ancient War That Lasted 100,000 Years

Aug 5, 2021

Image: Stone Age family group -
When it comes to human history, war is as common as blue skies and green plants according to But what about the battles waged before “history” was even recorded? A new scientific study has brought widespread attention to the possibility that thousands of years ago, there was a fight that lasted centuries. It was a war for the future, and it was a war that shaped who we are today.
Evolution has always favored the fittest, even humans from eras long, long ago. Even before world economies, competition between different groups of people was fierce, and that usually took the form of war on a scale we can't imagine today.
Massive Proportions
When thinking of war from centuries ago, it's easy to assume that these were more like petty fights between tribes. But they were far more brutal — and some might go as far as to call them genocidal. The makeup of our world looks a lot different because of this fighting.
Before Sumer
The problem for historians, however, is piecing together exactly what this fighting looked like. One of the earliest wars recorded took place around southwest Asia between the nations of Elam and Sumer, around 2,700 BC. But just because it’s the earliest record doesn’t mean it was the first war to take place. People fought before people recorded the fighting.
Archaeological Battle
And since this ancient, ancient history was never written down by scribes and scholars, uncovered relics from millennia ago are the only way to know what happened pre-historically. Recent discoveries shed light on the deadly war between two unlikely pre-historic candidates.
The Ice Age
Let’s rewind 70,000 years when a super volcano called Mount Toba erupted in what is today known as Sumatra, Indonesia. This is believed to have caused an environmental domino effect that ended in the worldwide Ice Age — and set the war into motion.
Out Of Africa
By working together, a select group of Homo sapiens found warmth despite the chill. They survived the Ice Age by forming tribes, and after becoming strong and efficient enough, they left what is now known as Africa...and ran into trouble.
Not Alone
It was then that the Homo sapiens realized they weren’t alone in the world. They had fought through an icy hell to survive the past generation, but the struggle was far from over. As they were making a westward journey from the Near East to Europe, they ran into Neanderthals — a distant cousin.
Meeting Their Match
Named after the Neander Valley in present-day Germany, Neanderthals had left Africa a while before humans, and let’s just say they weren’t happy to see their distant cousins follow suit. These weren't your average cavemen.
Intelligent Beings
Although Neanderthals are depicted as oafish in cartoons, they were actually pretty smart. Anatomically speaking, Neanderthals weren’t all that different from humans. They were shorter, stockier, and perhaps less philosophical, but our brains are the same size! This made them mighty competitors for Homo sapiens.
Hunted In Groups
With their big brains and hard bodies, Neanderthals could easily cooperate, which meant working together toward common goals. Neanderthals were pros at hunting in groups. They were at the top of the food chain for hundreds of years. War, for them, would be just another day of hunting.
Complicated Tools
On top of that, Neanderthals created their own tools out of bone and stone. They had complicated designs and were effective against wild animals. Sure the tools would make fine work of fleshy Homo sapiens, the Neanderthals felt prepared to fight. After all, Homo sapiens in their territory spelled disaster.
Well before their species was threatened by wandering Homo sapiens, the biggest issue Neanderthals faced was overpopulation. They were leaders in their ecosystem, but too many of them could have meant not enough resources. Contending for game wasn't an option — there would need to be a fight.
Family Feud
French paleontologist Marcellin Boule proposed in 1912 that Neanderthals and Homo sapiens battled violently for resources. As their enemies bombarded them, Neanderthals contended with disease and climate issues. They were fighting a war on several fronts. Evidence uncovered later showed just how brutal the fighting was.
Proof In The Skull
In 1979, a special skeleton was found in St. Césaire, France. It dated back at least 35,000 years, and its skull was healed from a fracture. This has led us to believe he was speared in the head during battle. Of course, wars don't last thousands of years if they're a lopsided affair.
Similar Scarring
It wasn’t just the Neanderthals who sustained injuries. Archaeologists have seen the same kinds of injuries sustained in both species. In other words, both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens fought with equal vigor — and dealt crushing blows. Eventually, something had to give.
The Battle Rages
Even just 50,000 years ago, the battle between Neanderthals and sapiens raged on, but one of them was closing in on the win. Interbreeding was hurting the Neanderthals' numbers, and Homo sapiens continued advancing their weapon technology. Things were grim.
Clinched Victory
Neanderthals eventually lost, but they actually had the upper hand for most of the war. They were physically stronger than their enemies, but humans’ advanced weaponry that struck from a distance helped them clinch the win.
Obvious Winner
We wouldn’t be here today if the humans hadn’t won, but some historians wish the two species could have coexisted. Instead of competing against each other to survive, they could have worked together — which would give humanity a very different look in the modern era.
100,000 Years
We know all about humans, but Neanderthals remain misunderstood. You may think they were dumb and brutish, but something was working for them to sustain a 100,000-year war against humans. Experts are continually astounded by what our cousins were capable of.
Finding Fossils
While digging in the the Atapuerca Mountains of northern Spain, a group of archaeologists discovered a deposit of 80 bone fragments in the dirt. At first glance they appeared Homo sapien in origin, though upon closer inspection, the researchers were stunned.
An Easy History
See, our evolutionary tree wasn't always so fragmented — or, at least, no one really knew it was. Our progress to modern-day humans seemed pretty straightforward: Australopithecus to Homo habilis, habilis to Homo erectus, and erectus to Homo sapiens.
Things Get Complicated
Then, in the 1970s, everything changed. The discovery of new hominin fossils completely eliminated this notion of linear evolution, leaving us to wonder where sapien-like Neanderthals, or the three-foot-tall Homo floresiensis, fit on our neat little tree.
Even our notion of which species evolved from which was rocked by these discoveries. While it was generally accepted that Homo habilis evolved into Homo erectus, fossils found near Africa's Lake Tanganyika showed that these species actually lived side by side.
A Puzzling Past
With fossil records showing that early bipedal humans still swung from trees alongside apes and that the use of tools predated larger brains, was it even possible to establish any kind of straightforward human evolution? That 1994 discovery seemed to hold the answer to this burning question.
A Startling Discovery
The fragments they found were cut and butchered, indicating that cannibalism was practiced by these early humans. Homo sapiens, however, weren't known to cannibalize, leading the researchers to rethink their classification.
Could It Be You?
They looked to Homo erectus as a possible match, though the fragments were still too different to have come from the species. DNA testing was the logical next step, and when the results returned, they were nothing short of historic.
New Humans
Not only did the fragments belong to an unidentified hominin species, but they were also more than 800,000 years old, making them some of the oldest ever found in Europe. They decided to call the new species Homo antecessor, derived from the Latin word meaning "predecessor."
The Missing Link?
In the researchers' minds, the age of the fragments made it likely that Homo antecessor was the intermediate between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis, the supposed direct ancestor to Neanderthals, Denisovans, and, possibly, Homo sapiens. Many in the archaeological community celebrated these findings as a breakthrough — others, however, weren't convinced.
Not So Fast
Some researchers believed the dating of the fragments indicated that Homo antecessor was more closely related to Neanderthals and Homo sapiens than to Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis, sitting on the same evolutionary branch rather than preceding them. Calls for further study were made.
Dumping DNA
DNA, while the backbone of our genetic code, degrades relatively quickly, becoming unreadable after just a few hundred thousand years. If researchers wanted to get to the bottom of Homo antecessor's place in the evolutionary chain, they'd have to look to something a bit bigger than DNA.
Not Just For Gains
Proteins — and no, not the kind you load up on before the gym. Our cells build proteins from amino acids coded by our DNA, meaning that DNA is present in these macronutrients — even after millions of years.
This makes them perfect for genetic sequencing, which is why researchers turned to paleoproteomics — the study of ancient proteins — in 2020 during a new study of the fragments. Even with so many pieces to choose from, there was one bit of bone they were particularly interested in.
A Dentist's Dream
A tooth! Well, more specifically, the enamel. Using mass spectrometry, which shows the mass of the molecules in a given sample, the researchers could trace the proteins back to the originating source and could finally read that valuable DNA.
Proved Wrong
After comparing their findings with genetic data taken from more recent human tooth samples, the researchers confirmed that Homo antecessor was not the missing link between Homo erectus and Homo heidelbergensis. Surprisingly, however, the opposing theories were a bit off as well.
The Truth Revealed
Instead of Homo antecessor being laterally related to Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens, it appeared to be a close predecessor. Therefore, Homo antecessor was actually a "sister species" to these species' common ancestor!
A Rewarding Conclusion
"I am happy that the protein study provides evidence that the Homo antecessor species may be closely related to the last common ancestor of Homo sapiens, Neanderthals, and Denisovans," said study co-author José María Bermúdez de Castro. "The features shared by Homo antecessor with these hominins clearly appeared much earlier than previously thought."
The Skeptics Return
While this conclusion seems a logical one, the limited availability of data regarding Homo antecessor has left plenty of room for debate. With our only understanding of the species coming from scans of a single tooth, some researchers have chosen to accept these findings as simply a "best guess."
Back To Work
The only way to know for sure where Homo antecessor fits on the chain of human evolution is to uncover more remains, a realization that's led countless other researchers to the Atapuerca Mountains in search of the truth. Yet these mountains aren't the only place archaeologists should be looking.


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