Fossil - Family Life and Death

4,600-year-old grave yields genetic evidence of family life (and death)    NBC - November 18, 2008
A Stone Age burial in central Germany has yielded the earliest evidence of people living together as a family. The 4,600-year-old grave contained the remains of a man, woman and two youngsters, and DNA analysis shows they were a mother, father and their children. While tools and remains from the Stone Age have long been studied, there are few clues to the social relationships between people. By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe - to our knowledge the oldest authentic molecular genetic evidence so far. The researchers studied four multiple burials at Eulau, Saxony-Anhalt, all dated to the same time and containing adults and children carefully buried facing each other. Several of the skeletons showed evidence of injuries, suggesting a violent attack. There was a stone projectile point in the vertebra of one woman, and another had a skull fracture. Several had forearm and hand injuries, indicating attempts to protect themselves, the researchers said.

Earliest Known Nuclear Family Found; Died in Massacre?   National Geographic - November 18, 2008
The oldest known burial of a nuclear family, which includes a mother, father, and two boys, has been unearthed in Germany. The 4,600-year-old family, which was buried together in a deliberate huddle, may have died during a violent massacre. The find also gives scientists clues about the social organization of the late Stone Age period, which started around 10,000 B.C. The skeletons were uncovered in 2005 in a group of graves at an archeological site in the Eulau region. The excavation revealed four separate graves containing 13 bodies - 5 adults and 8 children. Within the group, DNA analysis confirmed a family of four, with the two children between 4 to 5 and 8 to 9 years old, respectively. Multiple burials occurred during the Neolithic, but individuals were usually buried at different times, sometimes years apart, Haak added.

Oldest nuclear family 'murdered'    BBC - November 18, 2008
The oldest genetically identifiable nuclear family met a violent death, according to analysis of remains from 4,600-year-old burials in Germany. Writing in the journal PNAS, researchers say the broken bones of these stone age people show they were killed in a struggle. Comparisons of DNA from one grave confirm it contained a mother, father, and their two children. The son and daughter were buried in the arms of their parents. In total, the four graves contain 13 bodies, eight children aged six months to nine years and five adults aged 25 to 60. In two graves, DNA was well preserved, which allowed comparisons between the occupants. One of these contained the nuclear family, while the other grave contained three related children and an unrelated woman. The researchers suggest she may have been an aunt or stepmother. These stone age people are thought to belong to a group known as the Corded Ware Culture, signified by their pots decorated with impressions from twisted cords. In their burial culture all bodies usually face south. In the family grave the adults did face south, but the children they hold in their arms face towards them. The researchers say an exception to the cultural norm was made so as to express the biological relationship.

Ancient Cemetery Found; Brings "Green Sahara" to Life   National Geographic - August 14, 2008
Paleontologist Paul Sereno and his team were scouring the rocks between harsh dunes in northern Niger in 2000 when they stumbled across the graveyard, on the shores of a long-gone lake. The scientists eventually uncovered 200 burials of two vastly different cultures that span five thousand years - the first time such a site has been found in one place. Called Gobero, the area is a uniquely preserved record of human habitation and burials from the Kiffian (7700 to 6200 B.C.) and the Tenerian (5200 to 2500 B.C.) cultures, says a new study led by Sereno of the University of Chicago. The "watershed" find also offers a new window into how these tribes lived and buried their dead during the extreme Holocene period, when a grassy Sahara dried up in the world's largest desert. One of the most striking discoveries was what the research team calls the "Stone Age Embrace": A woman, possibly a mother, and two children laid to rest holding hands, arms outstretched toward each other, on a bed of flowers.