Tomb No. 51, Carrowmore, Co. Sligo, Ireland. Photo Göran Burenhult.

— The megalithic constructions have been enigmatic and they have been extensively debated and discussed in Archaeology. The social structure of the groups that erected them and used them has remained largely unknown,  says osteoarchaeologist Jan Storå of Stockholm University and senior author on the study.

— We now see how archaeogenetic research in addition to resolving the general demographic development through time also provides new insights into regional and local social structures and dynamics, says professor  Anders Götherström of Stockholm University and senior author on the study.

Neolithic lifeways dispersed from the Fertile Crescent and into Europe around 9000 Before the Common Era (BCE), reaching northwestern Europe around 5000 years later. Around 4500 BCE, a new phenomenon of constructing megalithic monuments for funerary practices, emerged along the West Atlantic coast and from around 3500 BCE they appear in Scandinavia. The international team analyzed the genomes from the human remains of 24 individuals from Megaliths on Ireland, in Scotland, the Baltic islands of Gotland, Sweden, among them the Ansarve site. The team compared the genomic data to the genetic variation of Stone Age groups and individuals from other parts of Europe dating to between 3,800 and 3,000 BCE. The individuals in the Megaliths were closely related to Neolithic farmer groups in northern and western Europe, but also to some groups in Iberia. Interestingly, they were less related to farmer groups in central Europe.

— The people buried in the Ansarve tomb had a different demographic history than contemporaneous individuals from hunter-gather-contexts on the island, says archaeogeneticist Magdalena Fraser of Uppsala University and co-first author.

The team found an overrepresentation of males in the Megalith tombs on the British Isles and paternal continuity through time, including the same Y-chromosome haplotypes reoccurring over and over again. The genetic data show close kin relationships among the individuals buried within the megaliths. For the Listhogil Tomb at the Carrowmore site and Tomb 1 at Primrose Grange, about 2km distance away from each other, we found a likely parent-offspring relation.

— It appears as these Neolithic societies were tightly knit with very close kin relations across burial sites.”, says population-geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto, of Uppsala University and co-first author.

— However, female kindred members were not excluded from the Megalith burials as three of the six kinship relationships in these megaliths involved females, says archaeogeneticist Helena Malmström of Uppsala University and co-first author.

That we find distinct paternal lineages among the people in the megaliths, an overrepresentation of males in some tombs, and the clear kindred relationships point to towards the individuals being part of a patrilineal segment of the society rather than representing a random sample from a larger Neolithic farmer community.

 — In this study, for the first time, the megalithic phenomenon and particularly the role of these constructions within the societies that built them, is investigated using archaeogenomic data, says population-geneticist Federico Sanchez-Quinto of Uppsala University and co-first author.

— The patterns that we observe could be unique to the Primrose, Carrowmore, and Ansarve burials, and future studies of other megaliths are needed to tell whether this is a general pattern for Megalith burials,  says osteoarchaeologist Jan Storå.

The study is part of the Atlas project, a multidisciplinary effort to understand Eurasian and Scandinavian prehistory and demographic history, funded by Riksbankens Jubileumsfond and Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation.

The article “Megalithic tombs in western and northern Neolithic Europe were linked to a kindred society” is published in PNAS .

 

Contact Information

Jan Storå, Stockholm University (English, Swedish, Finnish)
Tel: +46 706 052 293, email: jan.stora@ofl.su.se

Anders Götherström, Stockholm University (English, Swedish)
Tel: +46 8 164972, e-mail: anders.gotherstrom@arklab.su.se

Federico Sanchez-Quinto (English, Spanish)
federico.sanchez@ebc.uu.se or federicosq@gmail.com

Magdalena Fraser, Uppsala University (English, Spanish)
e-mail: magdalena.fraser@arkeologi.uu.se

Helena Malmström (English, Spanish)
Tel: +46 18 4712600, +46 707 442444, e-mail: Helena.malmstrom@ebc.uu.se