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Society

Family Ties: Ancient Greeks Encouraged First Cousins to Marry

ATHENS – Researchers analyzing the genomes of ancient human remains said they found during the Bronze Age, unlike in other European societies then, that first first cousins in Minoan Crete and Mycenaean Greece frequently married.

That was a period from 3300-1100 B.C. being looked into by a team from the

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, which checked more than 100 genomes of people from the Aegean, said CNN.

Their findings were published in the scientific journal, Nature Ecology & Evolution, which were said to have provided “exciting insights” into the social order then.

By analyzing the DNA of people buried in a tomb under the courtyard of a house in a Mycenaean hamlet,on the Greek mainland, the researchers managed to reconstruct the family tree of its inhabitants from the 16th Century BCE.

Archaeologist Professor Philipp Stockhammer, one of the study’s lead authors, told CNN: “We wanted to have a look at how were people buried together genetically related and about what you can learn about the relevance of the genetic relativeness for the structure of society.”

He added that, “We managed to construct the first family pedigree for the Mediterranean. We can see who lived together in this house from looking at who was buried outside in the courtyard.

“We could see, for example, that the three sons lived as adults in this house. One of the marriage partners brought her sister and a child. It’s a very complex group of people living together.”

Even more surprising was the discovery that around half of those living on the islands married their cousins, while the proportion on the mainland was about a third. “It’s not 100%, but not everybody has a cousin,” Stockhammer said.

“People have studied thousands of ancestral genomes and there’s hardly any evidence for societies in the past of cousin-cousin marriage. From a historical perspective this really is outstanding,” he added.

There were pragmatic reasons, including access to land. “All of the driving force is to unite the land within the family. If you look at what people were growing, it was grapes and also olives for olive oil, but both grapes and olives might need to be at a certain place for decades.

“If you marry in your family it means that you focus on staying in the same area,” he said. “In Greece, there’s not much space to grow things and things that you plant need decades to grow,” he said.

“We can completely see the cousin to cousin marriage from the genomic evidence. It’s too many people doing it to say it’s pure chance – but it isn’t 100%. I would say it was quite a strict practice,” he told the news station.

 

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