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Keywords:

  • Neolithic;
  • skull trauma;
  • violence;
  • Denmark;
  • Sweden;
  • gender

Abstract

This article examines evidence for violence as reflected in skull injuries in 378 individuals from Neolithic Denmark and Sweden (3,900–1,700 BC). It is the first large-scale crossregional study of skull trauma in southern Scandinavia, documenting skeletal evidence of violence at a population level. We also investigate the widely assumed hypothesis that Neolithic violence is male-dominated and results in primarily male injuries and fatalities. Considering crude prevalence and prevalence for individual bones of the skull allows for a more comprehensive understanding of interpersonal violence in the region, which is characterized by endemic levels of mostly nonlethal violence that affected both men and women. Crude prevalence for skull trauma reaches 9.4% in the Swedish and 16.9% in the Danish sample, whereas element-based prevalence varies between 6.2% for the right frontal and 0.6% for the left maxilla, with higher figures in the Danish sample. Significantly more males are affected by healed injuries but perimortem injuries affect males and females equally. These results suggest habitual male involvement in nonfatal violence but similar risks for both sexes for sustaining fatal injuries. In the Danish sample, a bias toward front and left-side injuries and right-side injuries in females support this scenario of differential involvement in habitual interpersonal violence, suggesting gendered differences in active engagement in conflict. It highlights the importance of large-scale studies for investigating the scale and context of violence in early agricultural societies, and the existence of varied regional patterns for overall injury prevalence as well as gendered differences in violence-related injuries. Am J Phys Anthropol, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.