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Ancient humans avoided inbreeding by networking

DNA from 34,000 years ago suggests hunter-gatherers left home to find mates

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2:00pm, October 5, 2017
Stone Age hunter-gatherers

ANCIENT NETWORKERS  DNA from four Stone Age people — including the two shown here as they looked when excavated, top, and at the time of death, bottom — suggests that hunter-gatherers have long formed groups with few close relatives. Aside from discouraging inbreeding, that social structure encouraged cooperative ties among groups and rapid cultural advances, scientists say. 

DNA of people who lived around 34,000 years ago reveals an especially lively social scene that may have been a key to humans’ evolutionary success.

Much like hunter-gatherers today, ancient Eurasians married outside their home groups and formed webs of friends and in-laws vital for eventually building cities and civilizations, a new study suggests.

Long-gone hunter-gatherers lived in groups with few close relatives, thus limiting opportunities for inbreeding, say evolutionary geneticist Martin Sikora of the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and his colleagues. It’s likely that adolescents of both sexes found mates in communities other than their own, fostering social ties among groups that might otherwise avoid or fight each other, the scientists conclude online October 5 in Science.

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