Research ArticleANTHROPOLOGY

Ancient genome-wide analyses infer kinship structure in an Early Medieval Alemannic graveyard

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Science Advances  05 Sep 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 9, eaao1262
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao1262

Abstract

From historical and archeological records, it is posited that the European medieval household was a combination of close relatives and recruits. However, this kinship structure has not yet been directly tested at a genomic level on medieval burials. The early 7th century CE burial at Niederstotzingen, discovered in 1962, is the most complete and richest example of Alemannic funerary practice in Germany. Excavations found 13 individuals who were buried with an array of inscribed bridle gear, jewelry, armor, and swords. These artifacts support the view that the individuals had contact with France, northern Italy, and Byzantium. This study analyzed genome-wide sequences recovered from the remains, in tandem with analysis of the archeological context, to reconstruct kinship and the extent of outside contact. Eleven individuals had sufficient DNA preservation to genetically sex them as male and identify nine unique mitochondrial haplotypes and two distinct Y chromosome lineages. Genome-wide analyses were performed on eight individuals to estimate genetic affiliation to modern west Eurasians and genetic kinship at the burial. Five individuals were direct relatives. Three other individuals were not detectably related; two of these showed genomic affinity to southern Europeans. The genetic makeup of the individuals shares no observable pattern with their orientation in the burial or the cultural association of their grave goods, with the five related individuals buried with grave goods associated with three diverse cultural origins. These findings support the idea that not only were kinship and fellowship held in equal regard: Diverse cultural appropriation was practiced among closely related individuals as well.

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