As per a Live Science report, archaeologists in France have pieced together two elaborate Neolithic family trees that span multiple generations, using ancient DNA. This achievement stands as the largest ancestral human record ever reconstructed.
The family trees are based on a 6,700-year-old funerary site known as Gurgy, which is located in the Paris Basin region of northern France.
The Gurgy site, initially excavated in the mid-2000s, took on renewed significance due to advancements in ancient DNA analysis techniques. Among the 128 individuals, comprising both children and adults, whose remains were recovered from the site, researchers meticulously studied the genomes of 94 individuals, leveraging cutting-edge methods to unlock the secrets held within the ancient genetic material.
The Neolithic epoch marked a pivotal transition in human history around 12,000 years ago, as societies shifted from nomadic hunting and gathering to settled farming communities. Gurgy’s burial ground, a testament to this transformation, serves as a compelling testament to the enduring ties that bound families across generations.
Notably, the research unveiled a remarkable discovery: the progeny of this ancient community traced their lineage back to a solitary “founding father.” His remains, originally interred at an undisclosed location, were subsequently reburied in proximity to his kin at Gurgy.
Through meticulous analysis of mitochondrial DNA (maternal lineage) and Y-chromosome data (paternal lineage), coupled with details regarding age and genetic sex, the researchers constructed two intricate family trees.
The first family tree connected an astonishing 64 individuals across an impressive span of seven generations, cementing its status as the most extensive ancestral record of its kind. The second family tree featured 12 individuals spanning five generations.
A notable trend emerged as the researchers delved into the data: a distinct “patrilineal pattern” indicated that successive generations were intricately linked through the male lineage. An intriguing observation also came to light: while men typically remained within their birth communities, women seemed to migrate from external locales, a phenomenon evidenced by the genetic disparities between genders.
“The women who were buried there weren’t related and came from somewhere else,” said Maïté Rivollat, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Archaeology at Ghent University in Belgium. She further postulated that this strategic movement of females may have served to prevent inbreeding within the community.
Equally captivating was the absence of half-siblings among the buried individuals, indicating a practice of monogamy rather than polygamy within this ancient society. The shared parentage between sons and daughters underscored the strong familial cohesion prevalent in Gurgy’s community.
As Rivollat pointed out, “The closer they were buried together, the closer they were related.”
The research represents a collaborative effort, reflecting the dedication of the archaeological community in piecing together fragments of history to illuminate the complex dynamics of ancient societies.
The research was published in the journal Nature on July 26.
More information: Rivollat, M., Rohrlach, A.B., Ringbauer, H. et al. (2023). Extensive pedigrees reveal the social organization of a Neolithic community. Nature 620, 600–606. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06350-8