Steven Pinker’s ‘Prehistoric Anarchy’: A bioarchaeological critique

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract

Steven Pinker’s thesis on the decline of violence since prehistory has resulted in debates that have ranged – at times even raged – across the disciplinary spectrum of evolution, psychology, philosophy, biology, history and beyond. It is telling that prehistoric archaeology and bioarchaeology (the study of archaeological human skeletal remains), having contributed the empirical data underpinning Pinker’s notion of a more violent prehistoric past, have not featured prominently in these discussions. This article will discuss the diverse and challenging nature of the prehistoric evidence as the chronological and conceptual cornerstones of Pinker’s argument. It exposes Pinker’s oversimplified and casual cross-disciplinary use of bioarchaeological datasets in support of his linear and outdated, quasi-evolutionary model of the past. Pinker’s exclusive focus - for prehistory - on numbers through problematic statistical inferences suggests that experiential and contextual qualities of violent events may not be accessible in the pre-literate periods of humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth, as recent bioarchaeological discourse is uniquely placed to create
very intimate insights into the experience and meaning of violent interaction throughout the human past.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Darker Angels of Our Nature
Subtitle of host publicationRefuting the Pinker Theory of History and Violence
EditorsPhilip Dwyer, Mark Micale
PublisherBloomsbury Academic
Chapter7
Pages107-124
Edition1
ISBN (Electronic)9781350140615, 9781350140622, 9781350148437
ISBN (Print)9781350140608, 9781350140592
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 23 Jul 2021

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