What are the ways in which biological anthropology and archaeology can add to debate about human nature? For example, it is often argued that humans are inherently violent. How can scientiific evidence be used to evaluate this claim?
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It is very hard to use scientific evidence of the sort that can be found through archaeology or biological anthropology to determine whether human beings are innately violent. There are two main reasons why this is so.
First of all, we have a definitional problem. How will we know that we have proven that human violence is very common? It is clear that scientific evidence can tell us if human remains that we find died by violent means. However, it is very hard to define objectively when we have shown that violence is very common. If 10% of all remains found show signs of violence, is that enough to say that human beings tend to be violent? Is the threshold higher? Lower? Science can tell us what percent of remains found died from violence, but it cannot really interpret that.
Second, even assuming we find that the incidence of violence is very high, that does not necessarily tell us about innate human nature. The vast majority of human remains that we find are from times when civilization already existed. If there is a great deal of violence occurring after civilization has arisen, can we say that the violence is caused by human nature rather than by civilization? It is very hard to find causation and to dig down to find the specific effects of human nature.
Thus, there are inherent limitations to our ability to determine what human nature is by looking at physical remains.
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