Did Prehistoric Humans Develop Social Networks To Minimize Inbreeding?

Despite the fact that many human lines of royalty tended to marry between families to keep the bloodline pure, our human ancestors figured out the dangers of inbreeding more than 30,000 years ago. As a matter of fact, the people of these ancient civilizations may have been so concerned about this that they develop intricate social networks to avoid such a travesty.

There is still so much that we do not about the origins of humanity and this certainly sheds more light on the unknown complexities of early human civilizations. In this study, an international team of experts looked at the genomes of several anatomically modern human remains, which they found in Sunghir, Russia.

Lead study author, Professor Eske Willerslev, comments, “I think many researchers had assumed that the people of Sunghir were very closely related, especially the two youngsters from the same grave.”

He goes on to say, “What this means is that even people in the Upper Palaeolithic, who were living in tiny groups, understood the importance of avoiding inbreeding. The data that we have suggest that it was being purposely avoided. They must have developed a system for this purpose. If small hunter-gatherer bands were mixing at random, we would see much greater evidence of inbreeding than we have here.”

We also know, for one, that early humans (and other hominins, like the Neanderthal) probably lived in small family units. A society built this way, though, would increase the prevalence of inbreeding. At some point in history, the researchers say, they gained awareness of this risk and began taking precautions to prevent it.

University of Copenhagen professor Martin Sikora notes, “Small family bands are likely to have interconnected with larger networks, facilitating the exchange of people between groups in order to maintain diversity.”

The researchers suggest, then, that the people from this area might have belonged to primitive networks similar to more modern hunter-gatherer communities, common in Australian and Native American societies.

According to Professor Marta Mirazón Lahr, of the University of Cambridge, most non-human primates organized their societies around single-sex kin in which one of the sexes is always a resident with the other migrating to another group. This, she explains, minimizes inbreeding,

“At some point,” she assuages, “early human societies changed their mating system into one in which a large number of the individuals that form small hunter-gatherer units are non-kin.”

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