The past as a foreign country: Bioarchaeological perspectives on Pinker’s “Prehistoric Anarchy”

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Steven Pinker’s thesis on the decline of violence since prehistory has resulted in many popular and scholarly debates on the topic that have ranged – at times even raged – across the disciplinary spectrum of evolution, psychology, philosophy, biology, history and beyond. Those disciplines that made the most substantial contribution to the empirical data underpinning Pinker’s notion of a more violent prehistoric past, namely archaeology and bioarchaeology/physical anthropology, have not featured as prominently in these discussions as may be expected. This article will focus on some of the issues resulting from Pinker’s oversimplified cross-disciplinary use of bioarchaeological datasets in support of his linear model of the past, a model that, incidentally, has yet to be incorporated into current accounts of violent practices in prehistory.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-16
JournalHistorical Reflections/Reflexions Historiques
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • prehistory
  • Europe
  • violence
  • bioarchaeology
  • skeletal trauma
  • interdisciplinarity
  • ethics


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