Global phylogenetic analysis reveals multiple origins and correlates of genital mutilation/cutting

Nature Human Behavior Vol/Iss. 6 Nature Published In Pages: 635-645
By Šaffa, Gabriel, Zrzavý, Jan, Duda, Pavel


This study is a comprehensive analysis of female and male genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C and MGM/C) practices, including their history and socio-ecological correlates, using a phylogenetic cross-cultural framework. It employed two global ethnographic samples, the Ethnographic Atlas (EA) and the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS), and two subsets of the phylogeny (supertree) of human populations based on genetic and linguistic data, to investigate the variables that may have led to the introduction of these practices, and to determine where and when they may have originated. The study suggests that MGM/C probably originated in polygynous societies with separate residence for co-wives, supporting a mate-guarding function, and that FGM/C likely originated subsequently and almost exclusively in societies already practicing MGM/C, where it may have become a signal of chastity. Both practices are believed to have originated multiple times, some as early as in the mid-Holocene (5,000–7,000 years ago). The study posits that GM/C co-evolves with and may help maintain fundamental social structures and that the high fitness costs of FGM/C are offset by social benefits, such as enhanced marriageability and social capital.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Standard Cross Cultural Sample (SCCS)CombinationSocio-ecological variables
Ethnographic Atlas (EA)CombinationGM/C and socio-ecological variables
Human Population Supertree (from Duda and Zrzavy, 2019)Other researchersPhylogenetic information

Documents and Hypotheses Filed By:jacob.kalodner