Our Paleolithic ancestors had no access to DNA testing, but they were well aware of the dangers associated with inbreeding and incest.
It doesn’t matter whether the taboos that arose as regards pairing resulted from a rise in deformed births, or this is simply an instinctive response; the end is the same – isolated tribes today still practice convoluted and labyrinthine taboos to make sure that people who are too closely related do not procreate.
The modern world has seen the effects of what would be termed line-breeding in dogs or other animals and in some of the closed religious sects like the Amish and Mormons. Increases in Downs Syndrome and dwarfism, as well as other genetic diseases have caused some of these sects to welcome in nonbelievers to help introduce new blood.
Kinship and Clans
Early mankind more than likely assigned everyone to one clan or another at birth. Some of these clans would be based on the matrilineal line and others on the patrilineal. The clans that someone from one clan would be able to marry would have to be outside his or her line.
Kinship patterns that can still be seen in South American and New Guinean tribes give us an idea of how involved some of these taboos could be. This was a way for people who had no written records to avoid incest.
Some kinship taboos prohibited marriage between any member of the particular clan or tribe, while others permitted marriage between cousins under certain circumstances. These marriage arrangements reflect marriage patterns seen among the European upper classes, even quite recently, especially as regards the union of cousins.
Exogamy and Endogamy
These terms refer to the marriage taboos or practices within a social group:
● Exogamy is the more common arrangement and requires that a young man looking for a spouse will have to cast his net outside his group of relatives or clan. Exogamy has advantages other than preventing inbreeding – it can help to cement trade relations between two peoples, or can help to prevent conflict. Exogamy, particularly in Paleolithic times, would help to increase the power and size of the clans involved.
● Endogamy encourages marriage within the clan, tribe or genetic group. In most cases, endogamy is practiced to prevent wealth or political power from being diminished. Among the most astounding examples of endogamy would be the ruling families of Europe from the Middle Ages on. In order to prevent losing any of their wealth, and perhaps to add to their taxable territory, cousins in the Hapsburg family married their first and second cousins or even nieces for generations. This led not only to the signature ‘Hapsburg Jaw’ but also to a general mental and physical degradation until many of the lines went extinct from failure to produce an heir of any kind.
Endogamy can also be applied on a much broader front as well. It is not uncommon, even today, for persons of a particular nation to only marry citizens who live there. Another form of endogamy involves racial groups, and this is practiced by every racial group on earth, for better or worse.
While kinship or tribal marriage arrangements are seldom referred to as taboos any longer and are now called laws, the concept of the taboo has remained basically unchanged from the time our caveman ancestors discussed an upcoming union around a fire to the present.
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