Violence in the first millennium BCE Eurasian steppe: Cranial trauma in three Turpan Basin populations from Xinjiang, China. Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVES: Violence affected daily life in prehistoric societies, especially at conflict zones where different peoples fought over resources and for other reasons. In this study, cranial trauma was analyzed to discuss the pattern of violence experienced by three Bronze to early Iron Age populations (1,000-100BCE) that belonged to the Subeixi culture. These populations lived in the Turpan Basin, a conflict zone in the middle of the Eurasian Steppe. METHODS: The injuries on 129 complete crania unearthed from the Subeixi cemeteries were examined for crude prevalence rate (CPR), trauma type, time of occurrence, possible weapon, and direction of the blow. Thirty-three injuries identified from poorly preserved crania were also included in the analyses except for the CPR. Data was also compared between the samples and with four other populations that had violence-related backgrounds. RESULTS: Overall, 16.3% (21/129) of the individuals showed violence-induced traumatic lesions. Results also indicated that most of the injuries were perimortem (81.6%), and that women and children were more involved in conflict than the other comparative populations. Wounds from weapons accounted for 42.1% of the identified cranial injuries. Distribution analysis suggested no dominant handedness of the attackers, and that blows came from all directions including the top (17.1%). Wounds caused by arrowheads and a special type of battle-ax popular in middle and eastern Eurasian Steppe were also recognized. DISCUSSION: A comprehensive analysis of the skeletal evidence, historical records, and archeological background would suggest that the raiding to be the most possible conflict pattern reflected by the samples. The attackers were likely to have been nomadic invaders from the steppe (such as the Xiongnu from historical records), who attacked the residents in the basin more likely for their resources rather than territory or labor force.

published proceedings

  • Am J Phys Anthropol

author list (cited authors)

  • Zhang, W., Zhang, Q., McSweeney, K., Han, T., Man, X., Yang, S., ... Wang, Q.

citation count

  • 1

complete list of authors

  • Zhang, Wenxin||Zhang, Qun||McSweeney, Kathleen||Han, Tao||Man, Xingyu||Yang, Shiyu||Wang, Long||Zhu, Hong||Zhang, Quanchao||Wang, Qian

publication date

  • January 2021