Near the knuckle: How evolutionary logic helps explain Irish Traveller bare-knuckle contests

Thumbnail Image
Near_The_Knuckle.pdf(450.38 KB)
Accepted Version
King, Robert
O'Riordan, Caoilfhionn
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Springer Nature Switzerland AG
Research Projects
Organizational Units
Journal Issue
Irish Travellers constitute a pre-demographic-shift population living among a post-demographic-shift one. Their socio-medico profile identifies them as largely on fast life-history trajectories. In addition, they are strongly religious (typically using no contraception), highly sexually behaviorally dimorphic, with strong traditions of male-male competition (bare-knuckle fighting) and quasi-symbolic bride capture (“grabbing”). Their male-male competitions thus allow for the comparative testing of a number of interesting theories pertaining to the nature and function of types of violence in society. As a pilot study, we used expert raters (some naive to the hypotheses) to analyze a number of real-life bare-knuckle competitions in terms of the support said spectacles offered to theories of this sort of violence as reinforcing ideas of antisociality, hierarchical promotion, intersexual signaling, or maintenance of within-group equality. We found good evidence to support theories of within-group, prosocial hierarchical functions for these contests. Limitations and implications for future research, such as direct measurement of fitness, are discussed.
Bare-knuckle fights , Male-male competition , Evolution , Aggression , Combat , Life-history theory
King, R. and O'Riordan, C. (2019) 'Near the knuckle: How evolutionary logic helps explain Irish Traveller bare-knuckle contests', Human Nature, 30(3), pp. 272-298. doi: 10.1007/s12110-019-09351-7
© 2019, Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature. This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Human Nature. The final authenticated version is available online at: