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Scientists reveal world’s oldest known single extended family

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Happy family with dream house

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

The world's oldest known single extended family has been revealed in England by scientists.

It was made up of Stone Age Britons who occupied the West Country - about 5,700 years ago.

Mapping DNA extracted from bones and teeth showed 27 of the the 35 individuals were close biological relatives.


They included five continuous generations that descended from four women - who had all had children with the same man.

It sounds like a plot from EastEnders. Polygamy and adoption were rife, say an international team.

The group lived around 3700 to 3600 BC - a century after farming was introduced.

They were entombed in a burial monument - known as a long cairn - on the edge of the Cotsworlds at Hazleton near Cheltenham.

"This study gives us an unprecedented insight into kinship in a Neolithic community,"said first author Dr. Chris Fowler, of Newcastle University.

"The tomb at Hazleton North has two separate chambered areas, one accessed via a northern entrance and the other from a southern entrance.

"Just one extraordinary finding is that initially each of the two halves of the tomb were used to place the remains of the dead from one of two branches of the same family.

"This is of wider importance because it suggests the architectural layout of other Neolithic tombs might tell us about how kinship operated at those tombs."

Hazleton family tree. (Newcastle University via SWNS)

It's the best-preserved Neolithic tomb in the UK. The study is the first to reveal in detail how prehistoric families were structured.

The findings in the journal Nature shed light on the kinship and burial practices of our Neolithic ancestors.

The cairn - more than 350ft long and up to 6 ft high - had two L-shaped areas north and south of the main "spine."

Bodies were laid to rest inside these chambers - men generally with their father and brothers.

It suggests descent was patrilineal. Later generations buried at the tomb were connected to the first entirely through male forefathers.

There were also two female members of the lineage who died in childhood.

A complete absence of adult daughters suggests they were placed in the tombs of male partners with whom they had children - or elsewhere.

Hazleton Long Barrow. (Cotswold District Council via SWNS)

The choice of burial in the north or south chamber initially depended on the first-generation woman from whom they were descended.

It indicates these women were "socially significant" in the memories of the community.

There are also signs stepsons were adopted into the family, say the international team.

There were males whose mother was buried in the tomb - but not their biological father.

These women had also had children with a man descended through the male line.

But the eight who were not biological relatives of those in the family tree shows relatedness was not the only criterion for inclusion.

However, three of these were women who may have had a partner in the tomb.

They either did not have any children or had daughters who reached adulthood and left the community.

"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 analyze it to understand something profound about the social structure of these ancient groups,"said co first author Dr. Inigo Olalde, of the University of the Basque Country in Spain.

The study hints at a polygamous society where adoption was common and paternal and maternal lines of descent were important.

Co-author Prof David Reich, of Harvard University in Boston, said: "This study reflects what I think is the future of ancient DNA: one in which archaeologists are able to apply ancient DNA analysis at sufficiently high resolution to address the questions that truly matter to archaeologists."

The Neolithic was a period of human advancement seen across the world as farming took hold and sedentary civilization became feasible.

It was introduced in Britain by migrants from Europe around 4,000 BC - enabling the abandonment of hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

They brought with them agricultural techniques - and the previously untamed landscape of quickly became more ordered.

The period ended around 2500 BC - leading into the Bronze Age.

Co-author Prof Ron Pinhasi, of Vienna University, said: "It was difficult to imagine just a few years ago we would ever know about Neolithic kinship structures.

"But this is just the beginning and no doubt there is a lot more to be discovered from other sites in Britain, France and other regions."

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