Explanations for the emergence of monogamous marriage have focused on the cross-cultural distribution of marriage strategies, thus failing to account for their history. In this paper I reconstruct the pattern of change in marriage strategies in the history of societies speaking Indo-European languages, using cross-cultural data in the systematic and explicitly historical framework afforded by the phylogenetic comparative approach.
The analysis provides evidence in support of Proto-Indo-European monogamy, and that this pattern may have extended back to Proto-Indo-Hittite. These reconstructions push the origin of monogamous marriage into prehistory, well beyond the earliest instances documented in the historical record; this, in turn, challenges notions that the cross-cultural distribution of monogamous marriage reflects features of social organization typically associated with Eurasian societies, and with “societal complexity” and “modernization” more generally. I discuss implications of these findings in the context of the archaeological and genetic evidence on prehistoric social organization.