Mid-Holocene cave art showing a scene of War. Wikimedia commons.

The Impact of Warfare in Neolithic Societies

Warfare in the neolithic was a thing.


Violent conflicts, rather than climate fluctuations, were instrumental in determining the demographic trajectory of early agricultural societies in Neolithic Europe, as suggested by a recent interdisciplinary collaboration. In fact, scientists say warfare had a great impact on the downfall of smaller Neolithic societies.

For a long time, scholars have sought to explain the recurring boom-bust cycles, including entire regional abandonments, in Neolithic farmer populations. Climate fluctuations have often been deemed the primary trigger, yet empirical evidence falls short of substantiating this theory.

The Impact of Warfare on Neolithic Societies

According to a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports, recurring warfare outbreaks, not climatic shifts, could account for these population patterns, posits project leader at the Complexity Science Hub, Turchin.

In an unprecedented move, the team deployed an agent-based model on a scale never seen before for this historical period. The model, covering the majority of the European continent, focuses on interactions at the village level.


Social Disintegration and Collapse in Neolithic Societies

Turchin’s mathematical models typically analyze the rise and fall of complex societies like agrarian empires or modern nation-states. However, new evidence suggests similar patterns of collapse even in “simple” Neolithic farming societies, leading to substantial depopulation in various regions.

The researchers simulated the period from the inception of agriculture in Europe until the dawn of the Bronze Age. The resulting patterns, produced by simulating both climatic and social variables, aligned remarkably well with real-world data from radiocarbon dating.

Social Conflict vs. Climate Variations

Contrary to prior beliefs, climate variability fails to explain boom-bust dynamics during this time frame. However, simulations incorporating social conflict yielded patterns akin to radiocarbon dating data.

The study suggests a dynamic and surprisingly violent social landscape during this period, with social integration and disintegration cycles parallel to population cycles.

A More Comprehensive Application

The researchers successfully applied the study’s premise to a broader region and longer timeframe, establishing disintegration and warfare as general behavioral patterns in early agricultural societies.


The study reinforces the notion of humans and their friendly or violent interactions as a complex system, indicating that the ripple effects of a neighbor’s behavior can reach far and wide, irrespective of their political or economic structures.

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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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