Nineteenth-century arrow wounds and perceptions of prehistoric warfare

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Abstract

In recent years, prehistoric warfare has increasingly attracted the attention of archaeologists in North America, much like other parts of the world. Skeletons with several forms of trauma, including arrow wounds, are often used as evidence of intergroup conflict, although opinion is divided over what these casualties might mean in terms ofthe effect of warfare on everyday life. Information on 191 patients from the nineteenth-century Indian Wars in the American West indicates that only about one in three arrows damaged bone, and as many as one-half of wounded lived for months or years following their injuries. Arrow wound distributions vary among Indian Wars cases, modern Papua New Guinea patients, and prehistoric skeletons from eastern North America, in large part because of differences in how fighting was conducted. Despite arguments to the contrary, it is reasonable to infer that even low percentages of archaeological skeletons with distinctive conflict-related bone damage indicate that warfare must have had a perceptible impact on ways of life. Copyright

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)144-156
Number of pages13
JournalAmerican Antiquity
Volume70
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Archaeology
  • Museology

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