June 14 -- FRIDAY, June 13 (HealthDay News) -- Men fighting over women? Nothing new there, based on the findings of a prehistoric mass grave in southwest Germany.
Durham University-led researchers say that genetic evidence from 34 skeletons dating back to around 5000 B.C. shows the deaths were the result of a tribal war over the need for female companionship.
While adult females were found among the immigrant skeletons, only men and children were found among the native group of skeletons buried in the village of Talheim. The lack of local females, the researchers said, shows that they were captured instead -- a possible primary motivation for the attack.
"It seems this community was specifically targeted, as could happen in a cycle of revenge between rival groups. Although resources and population were undoubtedly factors in central Europe around that time, women appear to be the immediate reason for the attack," lead author Dr. Alex Bentley of Durham University's Anthropology Department, said in a prepared statement. "Our analysis points to the local women being regarded as somehow special and were therefore kept alive."
The findings are published in the journal Antiquity.
The team, which included researchers from University College London, University of Wisconsin and a German government body, made the conclusions based on the strontium, carbon and oxygen isotopes signatures of the skeletons' teeth. These give vital information about the skeletons' geological origin and diet.
While written accounts of fighting over women in the last hundred years exist, most archaeological evidence points to violence erupting over resources, overcrowding and property in more ancient times. The German findings for the first time strongly suggest violence took place over mates as early as prehistoric times, scientists said.
German skeletal experts first suspected the deliberateness of the prehistoric attack after determining that a blow to the left side of the head killed most of the victims. This suggested the victims were bound and killed, probably with a stone axe.
The American Psychological Association has more about women and men.
SOURCE: Durham University, news release, June 2, 2008