Early Humans Formed Sophisticated Mating Systems To Avoid Inbreeding

Detail of one of the burials from Sunghir, in Russia. University of Copenhagen

"Small family bands are likely to have interconnected with larger networks, facilitating the exchange of people between groups in order to maintain diversity," explained Professor Martin Sikora, from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen.

The human remains were found buried alongside jewelry and artifacts, which also suggests a more complex social structure. The researchers say these objects could have been used in ceremonies and rituals involved in the exchange of mates between families – perhaps in an early version of a wedding – or to distinguish between the different groups.

"The ornamentation is incredible and there is no evidence of anything like that with Neanderthals and other archaic humans," said Willerslev.

When you put the evidence together, it seems to be speaking to us about the really big questions; what made these people who they were as a species, and who we are as a result.

Illustrations of the Sunghir burials. Libor Balák, Anthropark.
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