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Understanding blunt force trauma and violence in Neolithic Europe: The first experiments using a skin-skull-brain model and the Thames Beater

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1515-1528
JournalAntiquity
Volume91
Issue number360
Early online date6 Dec 2017
DOIs
StatePublished - 7 Dec 2017

Abstract

The presence of conflict-related blunt force cranial trauma in the British and European Neolithic has been firmly established in recent population studies (Schulting & Wysocki 2005: 107; Lawrence 2006: 53; Smith & Brickley 2007: 25; McKinley 2008: 477; Ahlström & Molnar 2012: 17; Schulting 2012: 223; Schulting & Fibiger 2012; Fibiger et al. 2013: 190; Meyer et al. 2015: 11217). Experimental studies into the mechanism of these injuries can greatly aid in understanding the variable cause and context of violence and therefore create more comprehensive interpretation of social interaction in prehistory (Schulting & Wysocki 2005: 107; Ahlström & Molnar 2012: 17; Schulting 2012: 228; Fibiger et al. 2013: 190; Wedel & Galloway, 2014: 73). Currently, very little research has been done to analyze any possible implements that may be responsible for cranial blunt force trauma in prehistory. Experimental studies of blunt force trauma in other time periods have often utilized cadavers or animal substitutes when attempting to replicate intentional injuries, though both these mediums have major faults in accuracy or ethical issues (Corey et al. 2001: 104; Thali et al. 2002a: 199, 2002b: 178; Byard et al. 2007: 31; Raul et al. 2008: 359; Wedel & Galloway 2014: 140; Smith et al. 2015: 427). New methods utilizing synthetic ‘skin-skull-brain’ models have begun to emerge. These polyurethane human skull substitutes are uniform between individual samples and avoid the inaccuracies of animal substitutes and the legal and ethical issues of cadavers (Thali et al. 2002a: 195, 2002b: 178; Smith et al. 2015: 427). This paper presents the results of the first use of skin-skull-brain models to investigate blunt force trauma causes in the Neolithic osteological record. A replica of the Thames Beater, a Neolithic wooden club, was able to produce fractures in synthetic skulls with remarkable comparisons to Neolithic skeletal remains from Asparn/Schletz, a massacre site in Austria (Teschler-Nicola 2012: 107), and demonstrates the suitability of this test method. This research opens up new and innovative avenues to explore the mechanisms and context of blunt force trauma in prehistory. This is essential for understanding its social and cultural context and meaning when considering both, remains from standard funerary contexts as well as the increasing number of remains from mass graves across Western and Central Europe (Orschiedt et al. 2003: 376; Schulting & Wysocki 2005: 107; Lawrence 2006: 47; Golitko & Keeley 2007: 333; Boulestin et al. 2009: 968; Fowler 2010: 1; Lorkiewicz 2011: 428; Ahlström & Molnar 2012: 17; Schulting 2012: 223; Schulting & Fibiger 2012: 2; Teschler-Nicola 2012: 101; Wahl & Trautmann 2012: 77; Fibiger et al. 2013: 191; Chenal et al. 2015: 1329; Meyer et al. 2015: 11217).

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