A woman´s grave at Aşıklı Höyük. Foto: Güneş Duru, Aşıklı Höyük Project Archive.

The earliest agricultural groups in Anatolia and the Middle East appear about 12,000 years ago, and then in the form of villages, where burials are often found under the houses. Some of these villages eventually developed into smaller town-like communities with thousands of inhabitants. Research at such a site Çatalhöyük, which UNESCO has declared a World Heritage Site, was what sparked the project. "We have been working on this project for several years together with Ian Hodder's team from Stanford in the USA and Mehmet Somel's team from METU in Turkey," says Anders Götherström who works at the Center for Paleogenetics at Stockholm University. How these societies were organized and what social structures existed has been discussed for a long time. “It is exciting when we can now start using archaeogenetic studies to shed light on social structures and their significance in e.g. this type of place”, says Jan Storå, osteoarchaeologist and active at the Department of Archeology and Classical Studies at Stockholm University.

In the earliest societies represented by sites such as Aşıklı Höyük and Boncuklu Höyük (which are about 10,000 years old), it seems that biological kinship had a certain significance in this type of burial custom. The study found several close kinship relationships between different individuals in the groups of burials. But this seems to have changed over time. "In the somewhat later site of Çatalhöyük (around 8000 years old), we do not find as many kinship relationships between the buried individuals", says Anders Götherström. Çatalhöyük, Barcın, and probably several of the somewhat later Neolithic societies do not seem to have been organized in the same way in terms of kinship structures. The Neolithic period stretches over thousands of years in Anatolia and probably the pattern of mobility and also the view of family and kinship structures changed over this time. At the same time, the growing societies and increased communication contributed to other and broader social networks between the societies.

Graves at Barcın Höyük during excavation. Foto: Fokke Gerritsen, Barcın Höyük Photo Archive.


A notable result at Çatalhöyük and some of the other sites is that the bones and DNA was better preserved in children than in adults. "It is surprising and indicates that children and adults were treated differently in the funeral ritual, where the bodies of adults may have been manipulated in a way that started and accelerated the decomposition process", says Jan Storå.

The study, which is published in Current Biology, is a collaboration between 57 researchers from 11 countries, and has been led by researchers from Middle East Technical University and Hacettepe University in Turkey and Stockholm University in Sweden