Both [Lawrence H.] Keeley and [Steven] LeBlanc believe that for a variety of reasons anthropologists and their fellow archaeologists have seriously underreported the prevalence of warfare among primitive societies. "While my purpose here is not to rail against my colleagues, it is impossible to ignore the fact that academia has missed what I consider to be some of the essence of human history," writes LeBlanc. "I realized that archaeologists of the postwar period had artificially 'pacified the past' and shared a pervasive bias against the possibility of prehistoric warfare," says Keeley.
Keeley suggests that warfare and conquest fell out of favor as subjects of academic study after Europeans' experiences of the Nazis, who treat them, also in the name of might makes right, as badly as they were accustomed to treating their colonial subjects. Be that as it may, there does seem a certain reluctance among archaeologists to recognize the full extent of ancient warfare. Keeley reports that his grant application to study a nine-foot-deep Neolithic ditch and palisade was rejected until he changed his description of the structure of "fortification" to "enclosure." Most archaeologists, says LeBlanc, ignored the fortifications around Mayan cities and viewed the Mayan elite as peaceful priests. But over the last 20 years Mayan records have been deciphered. Contrary to archaeologists' wishful thinking, they show the allegedly peaceful elite was heavily into war, conquest and the sanguinary sacrifice of beaten opponents.
Archaeologists have described caches of large round stones as being designed for use in boiling water, ignoring the commonsense possibility that they were slingshots. When spears, swords, shields, parts of a chariot and a male corpse dressed in armor emerged from a burial, archaeologists asserted that these were status symbols and not, heaven forbid, weapons for actual military use. The large number of copper and bronze axes found in Late Neolithic and Bronze Age burials were held to be not battle axes but a form of money. The spectacularly intact 5,000-year-old man discovered in a melting glacier in 1991, named Ötzi by researchers, carried just such a copper axe. He was found, Keeley writes dryly, "with one of these moneys mischievously hafted as an ax. He also had with him a dagger, a bow, and some arrows; presumably these were his small change."It was a peaceful religion, as they say.