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Planet Earth

A synthetic unerstanding of the past

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanNovember 18, 2008 8:33 AM

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Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age:

In 2005 four outstanding multiple burials were discovered near Eulau, Germany. The 4,600-year-old graves contained groups of adults and children buried facing each other. Skeletal and artifactual evidence and the simultaneous interment of the individuals suggest the supposed families fell victim to a violent event. In a multidisciplinary approach, archaeological, anthropological, geochemical (radiogenic isotopes), and molecular genetic (ancient DNA) methods were applied to these unique burials. Using autosomal, mitochondrial, and Y-chromosomal markers, we identified genetic kinship among the individuals. A direct child-parent relationship was detected in one burial, providing the oldest molecular genetic evidence of a nuclear family. Strontium isotope analyses point to different origins for males and children versus females. By this approach, we gain insight into a Late Stone Age society, which appears to have been exogamous and patrilocal, and in which genetic kinship seems to be a focal point of social organization.

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