Research Shows that the Past Has Valuable Lessons to Teach About Conflict Resolution

April 1, 2020by Natalie Davis

Summary of:

Schulting, R. J. (2018). Conclusion: The science of conflict. In A. Dolfini, R. J. Crellin, C. Horn, & M. Uckelmann (Eds.). Prehistoric warfare and violence. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing AG.

Background & Theory

This chapter evaluates what conflict was like in the prehistoric era, and concludes that recent research methods in archaeological science have been critical in learning more about the past, specifically in terms of conflicts.

Research Questions

The author seeks to answer the following questions:

  1. How are evolving methods in archaeological science changing the way we understand the past?
  2. Specifically, how can we use these developments to better understand conflict, and what can we learn from conflict in the past?


Schulting conducted his research by evaluating some of the current methods used in archaeological science and what we can learn from them. Newer and more accurate methods to discover identity, for instance, are isotopic and DNA analyses. Schulting also dug into the improvements we have made in regards to radiocarbon dating and Bayesian modelling. He provided specific examples of how all of these developments in archaeological science have allowed us to better understand the past, and specifically in terms of conflict, uncover what may have happened at mass graves or battle sites, and what we can learn from those involved in the conflict and who they were. This ultimately all gives way to understanding humanity’s past and how we changed over time, and also how conflict has changed over time.


Schulting showed various real life examples of how these newer methods in archaeological science (isotopic and DNA analyses, radiocarbon dating, and Bayesian modelling) are all critical to uncovering information from the past. He shows how when used together, and in alignment with other methods, such as studying demographic information or pulling from known historical sources, we can learn much more than we have been able to before. This also shows us the evolution of conflict over time, and the similarities and differences we might see today, both in communities and individually. 

What This Means

  • As society moves forward with technological and archaeological advances, we will continue to not only improve our current day-to-day life, but learn much more about the past and its implications for the future.
  • We can evaluate what kinds of conflict occurred historically with more accuracy than previously done, and thus learn what both caused and resolved conflict in prehistoric times. 
  • From what we know currently (and are continuing to uncover), conflict in the prehistoric era was often very violent, but ultimately encompassed many of the roots of conflict that still exist today (for instance, politically-fueled conflict or conflict caused by gender inequality).
  • The author concludes that an interdisciplinary approach to researching the past will allow us to learn more. This same idea can apply to understanding conflict in general, as we continue to advance in the field of conflict analysis and resolution.

Final Takeaway

For consultants: There is much we can learn from the past. One such area is that conflict has always existed and will likely always exist in some context. The question is how we can continue learning and growing in our understanding of conflict and best practices to resolve it.

For everyone: In understanding conflict, we can better learn how to resolve it. Think back to conflict in your own life and how you have handled it before. In what ways were you successful in resolving conflict, and in what ways can you do better when involved in conflict in the future?


Natalie Davis

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