In a new study published in the Procedures of the National Academy of Sciences, an international research team, led by the University of Uppsala, discovered kinship relationships among Stone Age individuals buried in megalithic tombs in Ireland and Sweden.
Family relationships can be traced for more than ten generations and suggest that the megaliths were tombs for groups of relatives in the Stone Age North-Western Europe.
Agriculture spread with migrants from the Fertile Crescent to Europe around 9,000 BC, reaching north-western Europe at 4,000 BC. From about 4,500 BC, a new phenomenon of construction of megalithic monuments, particularly for funeral practices, emerged along the Atlantic façade. These constructions have been enigmatic for the scientific community, and the origin and social structure of the groups that erected them have been largely unknown. The international team sequenced and badyzed the genomes of the human remains of 24 individuals from five megalithic burial sites, encompbading the widespread tradition of megalithic construction in northern and western Europe.
The team collected human remains of 24 people from megaliths in Ireland, Scotland and the Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden. The remains were dated by radiocarbon between 3,800 and 2,600 BC. The DNA was extracted from bones and teeth for genome sequencing. The team compared genomic data with the genetic variation of Stone Age groups and individuals from other parts of Europe. The individuals in the megaliths were closely related to the Neolithic farmers in northern and western Europe, and also to some groups in Iberia, but less related to the farmer groups in central Europe.
The team found an overrepresentation of men compared to women in the megalithic tombs of the British Isles.
"We found paternal continuity through time, including the same haplotypes of the Y chromosome, which are repeated over and over again," says the archaeologist Helena Malmström of the University of Uppsala and co-first author. "However, the family members were not excluded from the megalithic burials, since three of the six kinship relationships in these megaliths involved women."
The genetic data show close relationships between the individuals buried inside the megaliths. A possible relationship between parents and children was discovered for individuals at the tomb of Listhogil at the Carrowmore site and tomb 1 at Primrose Grange, at a distance of approximately 2 km from each other. "This was a surprise. It seems that these Neolithic societies were closely linked to kinship relations very close in the burial sites, "says the population geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto of the University of Uppsala and co-first author.
The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea is embedded in an area with the majority of hunter-gatherers at that time. "The people buried in Ansarve's tomb are remarkably different at the genetic level compared to contemporary individuals excavated in hunter-gatherer contexts, which shows that the burial tradition in this megalithic tomb, which lasted more than 700 years, was carried out by different groups, with roots in the European Neolithic expansion, "says archaeologist Magdalena Fraser of Uppsala University and co-first author.
"That we find distinct paternal lineages among people in the megaliths, an overrepresentation of men in some tombs, and clear kinship relationships suggest that individuals are part of a patrilineal segment of society instead of representing a random sample. of a Community of Neolithic farmers, "says Mattias Jakobsson, population geneticist at the University of Uppsala and lead author of the study.
"Our study demonstrates the potential of archaeogenetics not only to reveal large-scale migrations, but also to inform about Stone Age societies and the role of particular phenomena in those times such as megalithic phenomena," says Federico Sánchez. Fifth.
"The patterns we observed could be unique to the Primrose, Carrowmore and Ansarve burials, and future studies of other megaliths are needed to determine if this is a general pattern for megalith burials," says osteoarchaeologist Jan Storå, of the University of Stockholm.
University of UPPSALA
Header image: the Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea is embedded in an area with the majority of hunter-gatherers at that time. Credit: Magdalena Fraser