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Thread: Frequent inbreeding may have caused skeletal abnormalities in early humans

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    Frequent inbreeding may have caused skeletal abnormalities in early humans

    Early humans faced countless challenges as they fanned out of Africa: icy conditions, saber-tooth cats, and, according to a new study of ancient skeletons, an unusually high number of birth defects, both debilitating and relatively inconsequential. It’s unclear why such abnormalities seem to be so common, but scientists say one strong possibility is rampant inbreeding among small hunter-gatherer groups.

    However, several bodies show abnormalities consistent with known genetic mutations, and multiple individuals from at least one site exhibited several different conditions, suggesting the people might be related. It’s thought that most human populations at the time were small and isolated, Trinkaus says. In those conditions, inbreeding can lead to widespread harmful genetic mutations.

    Evidence of low genetic diversity among Pleistocene humans based on ancient DNA analysis also supports this hypothesis, says Hallie Buckley, a bioarchaeologist at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. “Of all the arguments put forward … this seems the most likely explanation.”

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