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Hunter-Gatherers' Unique Social Structure Reveals Sex Equality

First Posted: May 15, 2015 03:04 PM EDT
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Hunter-gatherers had a unique social structure and now, scientists have learned a bit more about it. They've found that sex equality in residential decision-making may explain the social structure.

Over two years, researchers from the Hunter-Gatherer Resilience Project in UCL Anthropology lived among populations of hunter-gatherers in Congo and the Philippines. They collected genealogical data on kinship relations, between-camp mobility and resident patterns by interviewing hundreds of people. This revealed how individuals in each community they visited were related to one another. Despite living in small communities, these hunter-gatherers lived with a large number of individuals with whom they had no kinship ties.

The scientists then constructed a computer model to simulate the process of camp assortment. In the model, individuals populated an empty camp with their close kin.  When only one sex had influence over this process, camp relatedness was high. However, group relatedness is much lower when both men and women have influence-which is the case among many hunter-gatherer societies, where families tend to alternate between moving to camps where husbands have close kin and camps where wives have close kin.

"While previous researchers have noted the low relatedness of hunter-gatherer bands, our work offers an explanation as to why this pattern emerges. It is not that individuals are not interested in living with kin," said Mark Dyble, one of the researchers, in a news release. "Rather, if all individuals seek to live with as many kin as possible, no one ends up living with many kin at all."

The findings reveal a bit more about hunter-gatherers. More specifically, they show how humans structure themselves not only today, but also possibly how they constructed themselves in the past.

The findings are published in the journal Science.

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