Deacon's Dilemma: The Problem of Pair-bonding in Human Evolution
© The British Academy 2010. All rights reserved. Humans have an unusual mating system - nominally monogamous pair-bonds set within multimale/multifemale communities. In the context of large, dispersed communities, this inevitably places a significant stress on mating strategies, especially for males for whom paternity uncertainty is a real problem. This chapter discusses the nature of this bonding process in terms of the proximate mechanisms that make it possible, and then asks why such a phenomenon might have evolved. It suggests that the evidence for the importance of biparental care is weak, and a more likely explanation is that females attached themselves to males in order to reduce the risks of harassment and infanticide from other males. Finally, the discussion examines when pair-bonds of this kind might have evolved during the course of hominin evolution, and suggests that it might have been quite late.