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Anthropologists' study shows widespread Amazonian belief in multiple fathers

November 16, 2010

Partible paternity – the belief that multiple men can be co-genitors of a single child – is the subject of a study by University of Missouri anthropologists Robert Walker and Mark Flinn and Arizona State University anthropologist Kim Hill, a professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

The study, being reported on by NatGeo News Watch, appears in the Nov. 9 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The ethnographies of 128 lowland South American societies were analyzed during the study, showing that conception beliefs among indigenous populations in this area run up to two times in favor of partible paternity over the biologically correct belief in singular paternity.

According to the study, the belief in partible paternity can be traced back to ancient times in Amazonia and has practical implications. The child of a woman who has multiple sexual partners prior to giving birth can claim each of those partners as a biological father. The “fathers” often contribute, along with the spouse of the mother, to the child’s upbringing.

The practice seems to benefit all parties. Provision and protection increase for the children. Mothers receive child-related gifts and support from their partners. Men build alliances through sharing wives and often strengthen family bonds, since brothers commonly share wives.

The system also produces a decreased risk of infanticide and an increase in the chance a child will still have a father should his mother become widowed.

Article source: NatGeo News Watch

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