healthHealth and Medicine

Many Tall Men Can Be Traced Back To Paleolithic Mammoth Hunters


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


Men from Herzegovina are some of the tallest in the world, averaging an ample 183.4 centimeters (6 feet) tall. That’s pretty impressive considering that the average guy in the US is just 175.7 centimeters (5 ft 9 in). The male population of Bosnia, the Netherlands, Montenegro, Croatia, and other pockets of North-Central Europe equally resemble a gang of basketball players with high heels on.

Oddly enough, these corners of Europe with tall male populations all appear to have strong genetic ties to a population of badass mammoth hunters from the Upper Paleolithic.


A new study by Masaryk University in the Czech Republic has recently looked into the roots of Europe's lofty populations through an anthropometric survey of young men in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Today, a unique genetic mutation can be found in up to 70 percent of men in parts of Herzegovina, 63 percent in the Croatian city of Dubrovnik, and 50 percent in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. Known as I-M170, it is passed down on the male Y chromosome.

According to the study, I-M170 is commonly “regarded as the genetic legacy of the Upper Paleolithic Gravettian culture,” which thrived in the Balkans, Central Europe, and Eastern Europe around 31,000 BCE to 22,000 BCE. 

Lead author Pavel Grasgruber told IFLScience: "We know that the oldest sample containing I-M170 belongs to a male from the Gravettian culture, who lived some 33,000 years ago in Southern Italy."


Archaeological evidence also shows that the men from this Gravettian culture had particularly tall men. This culture managed to spread across many parts of Central and Northern Europe. Grasgruber stressed that "I-M170 is not a gene of height," although people with the mutation are exceptionally tall. Instead, it does reveal people with common origin from a single male founder who was likely to be of notable height.

He explained: "This pattern is very unlikely to be coincidental... In all likelihood, it was just the founding male with the I-M170 mutation, who was exceptionally tall and his descendants passed his genes to other generations."

Apart from the height, the Gravettians are well-known for another thing: hunting skills. Archaeological evidence shows that this culture had fearsome big-game hunters, using blades, spears, and even nets to hunt bison, horse, reindeer, and mammoths.

"We know that Gravettian people were tall, well-fed and rarely starved, which is ascribed to the abundance of animal protein from megafauna in their diet," added Grasgruber. "So there must exist at least two conditions: Small population density and a lot of big mammals. Maybe, you also need to live in an environment with few other nutritional options than high-quality meat from big animals, because their hunting is otherwise risky."


Of course, a whole load of factors contribute to your height, from genetics to nutrition to socioeconomics. But, if you are a particularly tall man with heritage from around the Balkans or central northern Europe, perhaps there's a chance you can thank some very tall mammoth hunters from the Upper Paleolithic. 


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