Researchers from Europe and the United Kingdom have successfully used DNA analysis to determine the identity of 15 ancient skeletons uncovered in 2011.
In a study featured in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, archeologists from several different organizations have worked together to examine 5,000-year-old human remains that were unearthed near the city of Koszyce in Poland.
The team used genomic information to reconstruct the blood relations between each of the skeletons found in the burial site.
Bronze Age Family
The scientists discovered that the human bodies belonged to the same extended family. These individuals were part of an ancient culture called Globular Amphora, whose members were known for placing spherical pottery when burying their dead.
Results suggest that the family may have died at the start of the Bronze Age, sometime between 2880 and 2776 BCE. They were likely the victims of a brutal killing as evident in the blows found on the individuals' heads. However, each body was carefully placed in the mass grave.
The uncovered bodies were made up of five adult females, four adult males, four boys, and two girls. All of them had dark blond or brown hair, brown eyes, and medium-to-dark skin.
The researchers believe the individuals were all closely related based on how they were laid right next to each other in the grave. Their kinship may be to the first or second degree.
Siblings were found to be buried next to each other, while one of the mothers was placed in the grave while still cradling her young son. The team estimated that the child was between one and a half to two years of age.
The archeologists did not find any of the fathers or older men in the family in the burial site. It is likely that they were the ones who carefully laid their slain relatives to rest. This suggests that prehistoric societies gave much importance to nuclear and extended families.
"Brutal events such as the family massacre documented in the Koszyce burial may have been all too common in the unstable, tumultuous centuries at the beginning of the third millennium BCE," the researchers wrote.
"However, along with all the violence and aggression illustrated by the Koszyce find, our study also demonstrates the strong sense of family affiliation and cohesion that prevailed among this group of people."
Importance Of Nuclear And Extended Families
Based on how each of the skeletons were placed in the grave, the researchers believe these early people used nuclear and extended family relations to organize their society. The study shows how these relations help shape many of the major and normative values present in Globular Amphora communities of the time.
There is little evidence in the burial site to point to who may have attacked the ancient family. However, the archeologists may have an idea on who the suspects were.
Dating of the mass grave suggests that it was made during the decline of the Globular Amphora culture and rise
Members of the Corded Ware culture ended up taking much of the territories of other groups in prehistoric Europe. The scientists believe the family in the grave site was massacred because of an ongoing conflict between the Globular Amphora culture and those of the Corded Ware culture.