WASHINGTON — Evolution and genetics seem to have baked a certain amount of murder into humans as a species, but civilization has tamed some of the savage beast in us, according to a new study.

Scientists calculated the rate at which more than 1,000 mammal species kill their own kind, and noticed how closely related species have similar rates of lethal violence. They essentially found that where a species is on evolutionary tree of life tells a lot about how violent the species is to its own kind. And we’re in a rough neighborhood.

Humans are “in a position within a particularly violent mammalian clade, in which violence seems to have been ancestrally present,” the study in the journal Nature says. That means that based on other rather murderous species closely related to us, humans have “inherited their propensity for violence.”

As a group, mammals average a lethal violence rate against their own of about three killings of their own species in 1,000 deaths. The “root” violence rate of early humans and many of our closer primate cousins is about 20 in 1,000, said study lead author Jose Maria Gomez at the University of Granada in Spain. But in the medieval period, between 700 and 1500 A.D., that deadly rate shot up to about 120 per 1000.

But we’ve gotten less murderous.

On average, modern humans now kill each on a rate of 13 in 1000, Gomez said, basing his calculations on World Health Organization data. But he says the exact numbers are rough and depend on many technical variables, so what is more accurate is to say “violence has decreased significantly in the contemporary age.”

“It seems that we are in the present time less violent than we were in the past,” Gomez said in an email interview.

While humans are killing each other less than we once did, we are not nearly as peaceful as the killer whale – which despite the name, has a rate of interpersonal violence of pretty much zero (though Gomez notes that only a small sample of killer whales was examined). Many whale species, bats and anteaters are particularly peaceful to their own kind, the study finds.

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