Above, the Old Bridge (Stari Most) over the Neretva river in the city of Mostar, in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Pixabay, public domain

Men in one European country are taller than anywhere else because their ancestors hunted mammoths.

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, a certain gene passed from fathers to sons can be found in about 70 percent of the people there. That same gene has roots in ancient people called Gravettians who walked the Earth more than 20,000 years ago. A study in the journal Royal Society Open Science says the DNA helps to explain why the modern men have such a large stature.

Researchers measured about 3,200 men from the country in southeastern Europe, which is bordered by Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, to come up with an average national height of almost 6 feet tall. The ancient Gravettians had a similarly large average height — according to a report on the research, the Paleolithic men from that society hunted large game like mammoths and thus ingested a lot of protein, which contributed to their gradual increase in size that they passed down to their descendants.

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The modern men measured for the study were between 17 and 20 years old, and they came from dozens of schools across 37 towns in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although the national average was just below 6 feet, some regional averages were even higher. And despite their heights being among the tallest male values in the world — along with men from the Netherlands, Montenegro and Croatia’s Dalmatia region — the scientists say they likely haven’t even reached their full height potential.

“Both nutritional standards and socioeconomic conditions are still deeply suboptimal,” the study says, offering an explanation for both the higher potential and for why DNA is likely the cause of male height rather than dietary and environmental factors. “The genetic potential for height in this region could then be the greatest in the world.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina is located in southeastern Europe, across the Adriatic Sea from Italy, and shares borders with Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro. Google Maps

We are constantly learning more about how much today’s humans have been influenced by earlier evolution, in everything from physical features like height and baldness to health conditions like autism. In the case of the latter, research suggests that evolution may have favored genes linked to autism because they also boosted human brain power over time.

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