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Stone Age megalith tombs were mass graves of up to TEN generations

Stone Age megalith tombs were mass graves of up to TEN generations of prehistoric families

  • Experts analysed DNA taken from the remains of 24 humans found at five sites  
  • The remains were radiocarbon-dated to between 3,800 and 2,600 BC
  • DNA was extracted from their bones and teeth for genome sequencing

More than ten generations of the same family were buried in giant Stone Age tombs, reveals a new study.

Scientists analysed human remains from tombs in Scotland, Ireland and on the Swedish island of Gotland.

An international research team traced more than ten generations in the same grave.

They said their findings suggest that that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in Stone Age north western Europe.

More than ten generations of the same family were buried in giant Stone Age tombs, reveals a new study.  Scientists analysed human remains from tombs in Scotland, Ireland and on the Swedish island of Gotland. This image shows a megalithic site in the UK

More than ten generations of the same family were buried in giant Stone Age tombs, reveals a new study.  Scientists analysed human remains from tombs in Scotland, Ireland and on the Swedish island of Gotland. This image shows a megalithic site in the UK

Researchers led by Uppsala University in Sweden sequenced and analysed the genomes from the human remains of 24 individuals from five megalithic burial sites in northern and western Europe. 

The team collected human remains of 24 individuals from megaliths in Scotland, Ireland and the Baltic island of Gotland. 

The remains were radiocarbon-dated to between 3,800 and 2,600 BC. DNA was extracted from bones and teeth for genome sequencing.

The researchers 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 team found an ‘over-representation’ of males compared to females in the megalith tombs on the British Isles.

Study co-first author Dr Helena Malmström, an archaeogeneticist ar Uppsala University, said: ‘We found paternal continuity through time, including the same Y-chromosome haplotypes reoccurring over and over again.

‘However, female kindred members were not excluded from the megalith burials as three of the six kinship relationships in these megaliths involved females.’

She said the genetic data show close kin relationships among the individuals buried within the megaliths. 

Experts say their findings suggest that that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in Stone Age north western Europe. The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea (pictured) is embedded in an area with mostly hunter-gathers at the time.

Experts say their findings suggest that that megaliths were graves for kindred groups in Stone Age north western Europe. The Ansarve site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea (pictured) is embedded in an area with mostly hunter-gathers at the time.

The team found an 'over-representation' of males compared to females in the megalith tombs on the British Isles. A likely parent-offspring relation was discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange (pictured)

The team found an ‘over-representation’ of males compared to females in the megalith tombs on the British Isles. A likely parent-offspring relation was discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange (pictured)

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT NEOLITHIC BRITAIN?

The Neolithic Revolution was the world’s first verifiable revolution in agriculture.

It began in Britain between about 5000 BC and 4500 BC but spread across Europe from origins in Syria and Iraq between about 11000 BC and 9000 BC.

The period saw the widespread transition of many disparate human cultures from nomadic hunting and gathering practices to ones of farming and building small settlements.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later added to during the early Bronze Age

The revolution was responsible for turning small groups of travellers into settled communities who built villages and towns.

Some cultures used irrigation and made forest clearings to better their farming techniques.

Others stored food for times of hunger, and farming eventually created different roles and divisions of labour in societies as well as trading economies.

In the UK, the period was triggered by a huge migration or folk-movement from across the Channel.

The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

The Neolithic Revolution saw humans in Britain move from groups of nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled communities. Some of the earliest monuments in Britain are Neolithic structures, including Silbury Hill in Wiltshire (pictured)

Today, prehistoric monuments in the UK span from the time of the Neolithic farmers to the invasion of the Romans in AD 43.

Many of them are looked after by English Heritage and range from standing stones to massive stone circles, and from burial mounds to hillforts.

Stonehenge, the most famous prehistoric structure in Europe, possibly the world, was built by Neolithic people, and later finished during the Bronze Age.

Neolithic structures were typically used for ceremonies, religious feasts and as centres for trade and social gatherings.

Agriculture spread with migrants from the Fertile Crescent into Europe around 9,000 BC, reaching north western Europe by 4,000 BC.

Starting around 4,500 BC, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic monuments, particularly for funerary practices, emerged along the Atlantic.

The constructions have been a mystery to the scientific community, and the origin and social structure of the groups that built them has remained largely unknown.

A likely parent-offspring relation was discovered for individuals in the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and a tomb at Primrose Grange, just over a mile apart in Ireland.

Co-first author Dr Federico Sanchez-Quinto, a population-geneticist at Uppsala University, said: ‘This came as a surprise.

‘It appears as these Neolithic societies were tightly knit with very close kin relations across burial sites.’

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 findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THE STONE AGE?

The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory.

It begins with the earliest known use of stone tools by hominins, ancient ancestors to humans, during the Old Stone Age – beginning around 3.3 million years ago.

Between roughly 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, the pace of innovation in stone technology began to accelerate very slightly, a period known as the Middle Stone Age.

By the beginning of this time, handaxes were made with exquisite craftsmanship. This eventually gave way to smaller, more diverse toolkits, with an emphasis on flake tools rather than larger core tools.

The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory. This image shows neolithic jadeitite axes from the Museum of Toulouse

The stone age is a period in human prehistory distinguished by the original development of stone tools that covers more than 95 per cent of human technological prehistory. This image shows neolithic jadeitite axes from the Museum of Toulouse

These toolkits were established by at least 285,000 years in some parts of Africa, and by 250,000 to 200,000 years in Europe and parts of western Asia. These toolkits last until at least 50,000 to 28,000 years ago.

During the Later Stone Age the pace of innovations rose and the level of craftsmanship increased.

Groups of Homo sapiens experimented with diverse raw materials, including bone, ivory, and antler, as well as stone.

The period, between 50,000 and 39,000 years ago, is also associated with the advent of modern human behaviour in Africa.

Different groups sought their own distinct cultural identity and adopted their own ways of making things.

Later Stone Age peoples and their technologies spread out of Africa over the next several thousand years.

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