Book Review. “Mortal Wounds”. Not for the faint hearted.
THE HUMAN SKELETON AS EVIDENCE FOR CONFLICT IN THE PAST
By Martin Smith
Hardcover. £25 RRP. Pen-and -Sword. UK.
This book was not a relaxing read.
The author, Dr Martin Smith, is a Biological Anthropologist with particular interests in prehistoric populations. He examines human remains, taking a forensic approach, to try to determine whether violence was the cause of death. Since ancient remains rarely consist of more than skeletons, soft tissue injuries are not evident. So, the violent causes of death where bones were not injured are not assessable, and the incidence of violent deaths is certainly underestimated.
Crushed skulls, decapitations, cut wounds in bone, shattered bones, remains of weapons such as arrow heads and or spear heads inside skeletal remains are all assessed as violent deaths. Evidence of bone healing is also taken into account.
The book is divided into eras, from the deep past, the Mesolithic, the Neolithic, the bronze age, the Romans, Medieval England, the high Middle Ages-Renaissance. It does not deal in detail with the twentieth century.
Although the descriptions are often shocking, some fascinating conclusions are reached. Human history, it appears, has always been violent. At least 10% of all deaths in the “stone age” were violent, usually as evidenced by skull fractures, and contradicting the traditional “peaceful primitives” view of the era. The incidence of violent deaths is highest in the lowest, worst nourished classes, in all societies. Wounds resulting from black powder firearms were often more severe than from modern guns. (to mention just a few examples.)
There are many illustrations, line drawings and maps in the 290 pages. The text is a pleasure to read, although, I confess, I had to take it in small doses.
Another really fascinating read from Pen and Sword.