Tuesday 21 May 2019

Family ties at ancient burial sites revealed

Ciara Galvin

An international research team has uncovered for the first time that megalithic tombs in Sligo contain family members, in some cases generations apart.

The research, undertaken by a team from Uppsala University in Sweden genetically analysed teeth and bones from Listoghil at Carrowmore and the Primrose Grange site, among other sites across Europe, including Scotland, on the Swedish island of Gotland and in the Czech Republic.

Research is part of the new genetic study of Stone Age funeral practices and is also a multidisciplinary effort to understand Eurasian and Scandinavian prehistory,

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, detailed that the international research team examined eleven remains from the Primrose Grange tomb and one from the Listoghil tomb. Findings showed the megalithic tombs held mostly family members and were also heavily male-dominated.

Remains were radiocarbon-dated and 16 different teeth taken from the sites dated from 3,790 and 3,360 BC.

According to findings, the genetic data show close kin relationships among the individuals buried within the megaliths. Research showed 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 kilometers in distance away from each other.

Commenting on the findings, population-geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto of 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."

Though it is significant in its findings, osteoarchaeologist Jan Storå of Stockholm University noted that further examinations of other sites were needed.

"The patterns that we observe could be unique to the Primrose, Carrowmore, and Ansarve (site on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea) burial and future studies of other megaliths are needed to tell whether this is a general pattern for megalith burials."

Commenting on the findings, archaeologist and author of 'First Light: The Origins of Newgrange', Robert Hensey, PhD, MIAI welcomed the potential of DNA to answer long-standing debates.

Speaking to The Sligo Champion, Mr Hensey said the findings were significant in regard to kinship studies.

"One of the most interesting parts of the study is the claim of a father-son (or at least a first-degree relationship) between individuals at two of Sligo's megalithic tombs. The two monuments are very closely situated, just a few kilometers apart, and in use at a very similar time, so it is not that surprising that a kin relationship was discovered, yet it is still very useful to have direct evidence.

He added, "Overall, this is valuable and intriguing research, even if some of the larger claims made in the paper are not commensurate with the relatively small amount of data at the author's disposal."

Sligo Champion