Genetics and kinship at the Gurgy burial site

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Rivollat et al, “Extensive pedigree reveal the social organization of a Neolithic community”, Nature, vol. 620, August 2023.

In prehistory, the kinship systems that may have existed within communities can only be studied thanks to the archaeological and biological remains discovered during excavations. The study of isotopes, sex and age of buried individuals can provide information on the demographic structure of the population studied when it constitutes a funerary community. Genetics also plays a role in these studies, making it possible to determine family relationships, for example.

This is the conclusion of a study recently published in the journal Nature, which analyzed the genomes of over 100 individuals from the Gurgy “les Noisats” burial site (France). The site has been dated to between 4850 and 4500 BC.

The study highlighted several aspects of the community’s social organization. Thus, there are 2 main family groups: Group A, comprising 64 individuals, all related to each other and spanning 7 generations, and Group B, comprising 12 individuals, also all related to each other and spanning 5 generations.

The different generations are mainly linked by male ancestry. In fact, all descendants are linked by the paternal line of the first generation. Furthermore, with the exception of 2 individuals, no adult mothers have relatives or ancestors buried in this community. This, coupled with the fact that very few female individuals are descendants of the two main groups, suggests that this community was patrilineal, with an exogenous origin of the women in the group.

As far as the organization of burials is concerned, it has been shown that family ties influenced their layout. For example, burials between a father and son are physically much closer than those of other family members. The same applies to relationships other than father-son. The4th generation siblings were all buried close together. In another example, an adult mother’s son was buried above her. In this way, the spatial organization of burials forms organized groupings according to the more or less close kinship links between individuals.

Finally, the high number of adult siblings suggests a relatively low mortality rate among children.

This burial site was only occupied for a few decades.

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