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← Infanticide in higher mammals

Helga Vieirch's Avatar Jump to comment 69 by Helga Vieirch

Regarding the widespread occurrence of infanticide in humans, I have one piece of data to contribute: it was NOT common in the forager group I lived with. There were cases of twins, and I specifically asked if one twin was sometimes killed or abandoned - the Kua looked at me as though I had suddenly sprouted two heads! NO, was their horrified answer. I found out about "birth control" among them - which involved mostly very long continuous breastfeeding accompanied by very slow (and infant-led) weaning. I found out the hormonal mechanism that makes this actually effective (anyone here interested?)

There were Kua forager adults who had birth injuries or other disabilities dating from childhood. Most of these had been looked after very well by their families (and everyone else they lived with) and many, including the man whose legs were paralyzed from birth, were married and had children.

Lethal solutions to humans born with no chance of survival were sometimes employed, but horrific birth defects of this kind are difficult to document. Most experienced mothers go off in to the bush by themselves to give birth. They may take another women along, or go alone. In any case, if the woman returns without an infant, very little is said about it. It only happened once while I was in the field and the woman shook her head and cried. It was born dead, she said. Then she said it had its heart outside of its body and cried in my tent for about an hour.

There are, by the way, archaeological cases recorded where skeletal evidence of extremely disabled persons surviving into adulthood. I would suggest that the very reaction of most of the people on this forum suggests that the human brain did not evolve to take infanticide and murder for granted, but rather to adopt a more empathetic and nurturing approach. The forager data, both ethnographic and archaeological, offers some support for this.

Sat, 14 Jul 2012 17:04:52 UTC | #949198