www.stone-ideas.com

Megalith tombs were family graves in European Stone Age

The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea is embedded in an area with mostly hunter-gathers at the time. Photo: Magdalena Fraser

An international team of scientists collected human remains of 24 individuals from sites in Ireland, Scotland and the Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, an international research team, led from Uppsala University, discovered kin relationships among Stone Age individuals buried in megalithic tombs on Ireland and in Sweden. The kin relations can be traced for more than 10 generations and suggests that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in Stone Age northwestern Europe.

Starting around 4,500 BCE, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic monuments, particularly for funerary practices, had emerged along the Atlantic façade. The international team of scientists collected human remains of 24 individuals from megaliths on Ireland, in Scotland and the Baltic island of Gotland, Sweden.

The remains were radiocarbon-dated to between 3,800 and 2,600 BCE. DNA was extracted from bones and teeth for genome sequencing. The team compared the genomic data to the genetic variation of Stone Age groups and individuals from other parts of Europe. The individuals in the megaliths were closely related to Neolithic farmers in northern and western Europe, and also to some groups in Iberia, but less related to farmer groups in central Europe.

The genetic data show close kin relationships among the individuals buried within the megaliths. A likely parent-offspring relation was discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange, about 2 km distance away from each other. „This came as a surprise. It appears as these Neolithic societies were tightly knit with very close kin relations across burial sites,“ says population-geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto of Uppsala University and co-first author.

A likely parent-offspring relation was discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange, about 2 km distance away from each other. Photo: Göran Burenhult

The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea is embedded in an area with mostly hunter-gathers at the time. „The people buried in the Ansarve tomb are remarkably different on a genetic level compared to the contemporaneous individuals excavated from hunter-gather-contexts, showing that the burial tradition in this megalithic tomb, which lasted for over 700 years, was performed by distinct groups with roots in the European Neolithic expansion,“ says archaeogeneticist Magdalena Fraser of Uppsala University and co-first author.

„That we find distinct paternal lineages among the people in the megaliths and the clear kindred relationships point to towards the individuals being part of a patrilineal segment of the society rather than representing a random sample from a larger Neolithic farmer community,“ says Mattias Jakobsson, population-geneticist at Uppsala University and senior author of the study.

„Our study demonstrates the potential in archaeogenetics to not only reveal large-scale migrations, but also inform about Stone Age societies and the role of particular phenomena in those times such as the megalith phenomena,“ says Federico Sanchez-Quinto.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

(20.04.2019, USA: 04.20.2019)