Scientists have compiled the world’s oldest family tree based on bones buried in a 5,700-year-old grave in the Cotswolds, UK.
DNA analysis of the occupants of the tomb revealed that the people who were buried in it were from five continuous generations of an extended family.
Most of those found in the tomb were descended from four women who had children with the same man.
The right to use the grave was based on the descent of a man.
But the people were buried in different parts of the tomb, based on the descent of the first-generation matriarch.
This suggests that first-generation women enjoyed a socially significant place in this community. The Neolithic tomb, or “cairn”, at Hazleton North in Gloucestershire has two L-shaped chambers, one facing north and the other south.
Professor David Reich, from Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA, led the generation of DNA from the remains, explaining: “All the children of two of the women are in the south chamber, along with the children. of them up to the fifth generation “.
“And after the other two women, her children are mainly in the north chamber, although some of them switched to the south chamber later in the tomb’s lifespan, probably reflecting the collapse of the north passage, which meant that it was not possible to bury there again. “
The doctor Chris Fowler, from Newcastle University, UK, the first author and archaeologist leading the study, said: “This is of great importance because it suggests that the architectural design of other Neolithic tombs can tell us how the family operated in these tombs.”
Families in ancient times
The tomb is dated to an important period, just after agriculture was introduced to Britain by people whose ancestors had dispersed across Europe from Anatolia (modern-day Turkey) and the Aegean several thousand years ago.
The work will help researchers understand the family dynamics of these Stone Age people and learn more about their culture.
“Hopefully this is the first of many similar studies,” said Professor Reich. “It really recreates the lives of those people … who lived in this place a long time ago.”
There were also indications that families adopted “stepchildren,” say the researchers – men whose mothers were buried in the grave but not their biological fathers, and whose mother had also had children with a male related to the original founder.
While two female family members who died in childhood are buried in the grave, the complete absence of adult daughters suggests that their remains are either in the graves of their male partners with whom they had children, or elsewhere.
“There are women who are missing. So the question, because women and men are born at roughly the same rate, is where are they. It’s a mystery, and it’s not that they are in the grave next door because they are generally missing throughout the entire life. community, “says Professor Reich.
“Were people cremated? There are some cremation practices. Were they disposed of in different ways, or are we just seeing people who acquire a certain social status?” He wonders.
While the tomb reveals evidence of polygyny (men having children with multiple women) it also shows that polyandry was widespread: women having children with multiple men.
Different women who had children with a man tended not to be related to each other. But in cases where women procreated with more than one man, those men tended to be close relatives.
Íñigo Olalde, from the University of the Basque Country in Spain, the lead geneticist and first co-author of the study, said: “The excellent preservation of DNA in the grave and the use of the latest generation technologies in recovery and analysis of ancient DNA us allowed to discover the oldest genealogical tree that has been reconstructed and analyze it to understand something in depth about the social structure of these ancient groups. “
The study was published in the journal Nature and it was peer reviewed.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.