Keith F. Otterbein

Keith Otterbein Professor Emeritus
Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 1963
Office: Fillmore, Room 374
Phone: (716) 645-0403

Research Interests

Topics: Political Anthropology (law and war), Social Structure (family organization and folk housing)

Areas: Caribbean, West Africa, and American South

Methodologies: Cross-cultural research, Ethnographic research methods

Selected Publications

[Note: Please click here to view a full list of Keith Otterbein's publications.]

2004. How War Began. College Station, Texas A & M University Press.

1994. Feuding and Warfare: Selected Works of Keith F. Otterbein. Langhorne, Gordon and Breach.

1986. The Ultimate Coercive Sanction: A Cross Cultural Study of Capital Punishment. New Haven, Human Relations Area Files Press.

1975. Changing House Types in Long Bay Cays: The Evolution of Folk Housing in an Out Island Bahamian Community. HRAFlex Book No. SW1 001. New Haven, Human Relations Area Files Press.

1972/1977. Comparative Cultural Analysis: An Introduction to Anthropology. New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston. (2nd edition 1977 major expansion)

1970/1985/1989. The Evolution of War: A Cross Cultural Study. New Haven, Human Relations Area Files Press. (2nd edition - new Preface and Index; 3rd edition - 2 new Appendices)

1966. The Andros Islanders: A Study of Family Organization in the Bahamas. Lawrence, University of Kansas Press.

Additional Information on Selected Books

2004 How War Began.
College Station, Texas A & M University Press.

Have humans always fought and killed each other, or did they peacefully coexist until organized states developed? Is war an expression of human nature or an artifact of civilization? Questions about the origins and inherent motivations of warfare have long engaged philosophers, ethicists, and anthropologists as they speculate on the nature of human existence.

In How War Began, author Keith F. Otterbein draws on primate behavior research, archaeological research, and data gathered from the Human Relations Area Files to argue for two separate origins. He identifies two types of military organization: one that developed two million years ago at the dawn of humankind, wherever groups of hunters met, and a second that developed some five thousand years ago, in four identifiable regions, when the first states arose and proceeded to embark upon military conquests.

In careful detail, Otterbein marshals evidence for his case that warfare was possible and likely among early Homo sapiens. He argues from comparison with other primates, from Paleolithic rock art depicting wounded humans, and from rare skeletal remains embedded with weapon points to conclude that warfare existed and reached a peak in big game hunting societies. As the big game disappeared, so did warfare-only to reemerge once agricultural societies achieved a degree of political complexity that allowed the development of professional military organizations. Otterbein concludes his survey with an analysis of how despotism in both ancient and modern states spawns warfare. 

A definitive resource for anthropologists, social scientists, and historians, How War Began is written for all who are interested in warfare, whether they be military buffs or those seeking to understand the past and the present of humankind.

1994. Feuding and Warfare: Selected Works of Keith F. Otterbein.
Langhorne, Gordon and Breach.

Bruce M. Knauft
'This is the life's work compilation of a highly respected and focused scholar who has contributed enormously to the anthropological and sociological understanding of warfare over three decades. It is a rigorous and systematic exploration of an important line of reasoning in the study of warfare." 

Undergraduate Courses Offered

APY 217 | Warfare
APY 218 | Men, Women, and War
APY 401 | History of Anthropology
APY 403 | Comparing Cultures Worldwide
APY 429 | Anthropology of Architecture

Graduate Courses Offered

APY 509
APY 581 | Comparing Cultures Worldwide
APY 582 | Anthropology of Architecture
APY 592
APY 661 | History of Anthropology


Administration, Human Relations Area Files, Inc.

Chairman of the Board, Human Relations Area Files, April 1987-April 1994
Member, Executive Committee, Human Relations Area Files, 1982-1987
Director, Human Relations Area Files, 1978-Present
Editorial Board, Human Relations Area File, Inc., New Haven, 1974-1994

Professional Organizations

American Anthropological Association (Fellow)
Current Anthropology (Associate)
Society for Cross-Cultural Research
American Ethnological Society
Association for Political and Legal Anthropology
Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences
Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society
Warren County Historical Society, PA
Niagara County Historical Society, NY
Old Fort Niagara Association


Archaeological field school, University of Arizona, Summer 1957
Ethnographic research, Andros Islands, Bahamas, Summer 1959 and 1961
Ethnographic research, Abaco Island, Bahamas, Summer 1964
Ethnographic research, Mandara Mountains, Northeast Nigeria, Summer 1965
Ethnographic research, Andros and Abaco Islands, Bahamas, Spring 1968
Ethnographic research, Andros Island, Bahamas, Spring 1973, Winter 1975, Winter 1987
Ethnographic research, Lily Dale, New York and Cassadaga, Florida, ongoing
Historical research, Charleston, South Carolina, Winter 1997, Spring 1998, Winter and Spring 1999, Winter 2000
Historical research, Norfolk, East Anglia, England, Spring 1997