Madrid, December 22 (EFE). – An international team of archaeologists and geneticists, with great Spanish participation, has reconstructed the oldest genealogical tree to date, corresponding to a family that lived about 5,700 years ago, and revealed many details about their kinship. and social organization, including the presence of adoption, filial, or polygamous practices.
Researchers have analyzed the DNA of 35 people buried in one of the UK’s best-preserved Neolithic cemeteries, in Gloucestershire (UK), which yielded new knowledge about the kinship rules that govern that community, and today they publish their findings in the journal Nature.
All of the individuals were buried in Hazelton North, a long Early Neolithic area with two opposing “L”-shaped chambers, and scientists have verified, by comparing archaeological analyzes with data extracted from DNA, that 27 individuals belonged to the same family and that the majority are descended from four women who had children by the same man.
Archaeologists from the universities of Newcastle, York, Exeter and Lancashire (UK) and genetics from the universities of the Basque Country, Vienna and Harvard participated in the research, who concluded, by organizing the bodies in the cemetery, that non-biological kinship – adoption – could be as important as biological for this community From the modern stone age.
Researchers analyzed DNA that they were able to extract from the bones and teeth of 35 buried people – whose remains are preserved at the Corinium Museum in Cotswold (UK) – and their findings reveal for the first time in such detail how prehistoric families were structured.
University of the Basque Country researcher Íñigo Olalde, the study’s lead geneticist and one of the first signatories to the work, noted that it was “the oldest family tree ever reconstructed” and determined that the description was possible thanks to the “excellent” conservation of DNA in the cemetery and the use of the latest techniques to recover and ancient DNA analysis.
Speaking to EFE, Olalde noted that many social patterns are known by anthropologists who study current societies, and noted that “the key” is that they are the first large biological family recovered in prehistoric times, “it’s the first time we can investigate the These details are straightforward and with great precision in such ancient societies.”
The researcher pointed out that “until now we have only been able to investigate it indirectly from archaeological data,” and explained as an example that if a burial with a man and two women was found, the researchers assumed that it was a man and a couple of childbearing. .
Other evidence regarding female exogamy (that girls leave the family to join other societies), there were already indications of it occurring in the Neolithic because isotope analysis has seen that women tend to be more mobile than men because the geology of the place in which they grew It didn’t match where they died, “but this is the first time we’ve seen them directly in the family.”
Archaeologist Chris Fowler, of Newcastle University and first author of the publication, highlighted the significance of the findings at North Hazleton Cemetery, and made sure that the architectural arrangement of these and other Neolithic tombs reveals how kinship in those graves worked. Burials.
In the same sense, researcher David Reich, of Harvard University who led his laboratory generating ancient DNA, emphasized that modern techniques will allow genetic fingerprinting to be analyzed with high accuracy to address transcendent questions for archaeologists. .
A few years ago, Ron Benhase, of the University of Vienna, stated that it was “difficult to imagine” that Neolithic kinship structures would have been known at this level of detail.
Íñigo Olalde highlighted the importance of knowing how these groups are socially organized to reveal their mobility patterns, their relationships with other groups or livestock management, and emphasized that new techniques allow for the sequencing of the complete genomes of ancient humans and will allow us to learn aspects that are still unknown when applied to areas of past knowledge. which have not yet been used.
“Thanks to ancient DNA, we can throw new clues into questions and details that archaeologists have been asking about for a long time, because DNA is the only technology that tells us about biological relationships between individuals,” a university researcher told EFE from the Basque Country. .
The research was funded, among other things, by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, the Basque Science Foundation (Ikerbasque), the National Institutes of Health in the United States, various foundations, medical institutes and private donations.
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