Scientists unravel the world’s oldest family tree!3 min readReading Time: 3 minutes
Have you wondered about where you come from? Who were your ancestors and what were they like? Where did they live and what did they do for a living? People who are curious about their origins tend to draw out a family tree that gives them a sense of where they come from. This ‘tree’ represents generations of a family, and can date back generations and generations.
Now, scientists have put together the world’s oldest family tree using archaeological techniques and genetic analysis. They did an analysis of the remains of 35 people who lived about 5,700 years ago! The remains were found in a place where farming was first introduced in Britain about a century ago.
Their study, which was published in the Nature journal earlier this week, claims to be the first of its kind to reveal in detail how prehistoric (the period before written records existed) families were structured. The authors say that the study provides new insights into burial and kinship practices prevalent in the Neolithic times.
The Neolithic period is the final division of the Stone Age, with a wide-ranging set of developments that appear to have arisen independently in several parts of the world.
The main events of this period were:
1. Domestication of animals.
2. Agriculture practice.
3. Modification of stone tools.
Archaeologist Peter Bogucki wrote in the Encyclopaedia of Archaeology that during the Neolithic period, prehistoric societies of Europe started to appear familiar to the modern observer and that during this time, people ceased to be hunter-gatherers.
The team of scientists analysed DNA extracted from the bones and teeth of 35 individuals who were in a tomb in the Cotswolds-Severn region of Britain. The researchers were able to detect that 27 of these individuals were close biological relatives.
The presence of the remaining eight, who could not be determined to be close relatives, suggests that biological relatedness was perhaps not the only criterion for inclusion into the tomb.
What this tells us….
Most significantly, the study says that most of the people buried in the tomb were descended from four women who had children with the same man.
When these people died, they were buried inside two chambered areas (north and south) of the cairn (a kind of a memorial). The research suggests that while men were buried with their father or brothers, there were no adult daughters present. Their absence suggests that they were buried elsewhere, possibly with their male partners who they had children with.
Iñigo Olalde of the University of the Basque Country and Ikerbasque, who is the lead geneticist for the study and co-first author, said, “The excellent DNA preservation at the tomb and the use of the latest technologies in ancient DNA recovery and analysis allowed us to uncover the oldest family tree ever reconstructed and analyse it to understand something profound about the social structure of these ancient groups.”
Sources: Scientific American, Indian Express, BBC