The Invention of Fistfighting

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William Buckner


It has been hypothesized that key aspects of human male upper limb and facial morphology evolved through selective pressures related to fistfighting. Based on the primatological, archaeological, and ethnographic evidence, I argue these proposals are misguided. An important trend during recent hominin evolution was a decline in upper body strength and facial robusticity, coinciding in part with the rise of complex tools and weaponry. Consistent with this, dueling with weapons is a more a salient form of male-male conflict and conflict management than fistfighting across contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. Among foragers in the Standard-Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS), fistfighting is comparatively rare, while wrestling is widespread, and dueling with weapons falls in between. I emphasize that hypotheses regarding human evolutionary history should be evaluated carefully against the cross-species, cross-cultural, and historical evidence.



Anthropology, Biological and Physical Anthropology, Social and Behavioral Sciences


Dueling, Fistfighting, Male-male competition, Ritual conflict, sexual selection, Wrestling


Published: 2021-10-20 23:48

Last Updated: 2021-10-23 12:42

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