The Past as a Foreign Country

Bioarchaeological Perspectives on Pinker’s “Prehistoric Anarchy”

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Linda Fibiger University of Edinburgh

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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 data sets 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.

Contributor Notes

Linda Fibiger is a Senior Lecturer in Human Osteoarchaeology at the University of Edinburgh and Programme Director of the MSc in Human Osteoarchaeology. She has published on the promotion of professional standards, ethics, and legislation in bioarchaeology, and is currently involved in the European-funded TRACES project that focuses on the challengesand opportunities inherent in transmitting contentious cultural heritage in contemporary Europe.

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