The Evolutionary Origins of Kinship Structures
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The Evolutionary Origins of Kinship Structures


Patrilineal kinship structures are among the most complex manifestations of the impact of kinship on human social life. Despite the fact that such structures take highly diverse forms across cultures, that they are absent in many human societies and, moreover, that they are not observed in other primate species, a comparative analysis of human and nonhuman primate societies reveals that human kinship structures have deep evolutionary roots and clear biological underpinnings. I argue here that the first patrilineal kinship structures came into being as the emergent products of the combination, in the course of human evolution, of ten biologically grounded components, seven of which are observed in our closest relative, the chimpanzee, the remaining three being consequences of the evolution of pair-bonding in humans. This indicates that contemporary patrilineal kinship structures are not cultural creations, but cultural constructs that built upon, and diversified from a rich biological substrate. The same reasoning applies to many other complex human kinship phenomena, such as marital arrangements. I conclude that models and theories from cultural anthropology must be compatible with the relevant biological evidence.

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