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Big Viking families nurtured murder

Killers more likely to belong to large extended clans, victims to small vulnerable ones

By
12:33pm, October 3, 2016

FAMILY STRIKE  Killings in Viking-era Iceland, such as the one depicted here, were largely carried out by individuals whose families greatly outnumbered those of their victims, researchers say. Disparities in family sizes may have long influenced who got killed by whom in small-scale societies. 

Murder was a calculated family affair among Iceland’s early Viking settlers. And the bigger the family, the more bloodthirsty.     

Data from three family histories spanning six generations support the idea that disparities in family size have long influenced who killed whom in small-scale societies. These epic written stories, or sagas, record everything from births and marriages to deals and feuds.

Iceland’s Viking killers had on average nearly three times as many biological relatives and in-laws as their victims did, says a team led by evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar of the University of Oxford. Prolific killers responsible for five or more murders had the greatest advantage in kin numbers, the scientists report online September 20 in Evolution and Human Behavior.

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