Detail of one of the burials from Sunghir, in Russia. The new study sequenced the genomes of individuals from the site and discovered that they were, at most, second cousins, indicating that they had developed sexual partnerships beyond their immediate social and family group.
Credit: By José-Manuel Benito Álvarez (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Early humans seem to have recognised the dangers of inbreeding at least 34,000 years ago, and developed surprisingly sophisticated social and mating networks to avoid it, new research has found.
The study, reported in the journal Science, examined genetic information from the remains of anatomically modern humans who lived during the Upper Palaeolithic, a period when modern humans from Africa first colonised western Eurasia. The results suggest that people deliberately sought partners beyond their immediate family, and that they were probably connected to a wider network of groups from within which mates were chosen, in order to avoid becoming inbred.
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