A groundbreaking study, recently published in Nature, has provided new insights into the social dynamics and family practices of Neolithic societies in Western Europe, around 7,000 years ago. Researchers performed their study on ancient human DNA sourced from a Neolithic site in Gurgy ‘les Noisats,’ France.
The Neolithic era, also known as the New Stone Age, is recognized as the transition period from a nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to a more settled existence of farming and agriculture. This era is dated roughly from 10,000 to 4,500 years ago and is known for advancements in agriculture, animal domestication, and polished stone tools.
Unraveling the social fabric of Neolithic societies has been traditionally difficult due to the scarcity of biological data and kinship practices of these early societies. Past research was heavily dependent on archaeological discoveries, which did not clearly establish genetic ties between individuals or their origins.
The current research, led by Maïté Rivollat, utilizes modern advances in ancient DNA technology to reconstruct intricate genetic relationships, blending genome-wide data with archaeological findings. The team examined the remains of around 100 individuals in Gurgy from roughly 4850–4500 BC. The data revealed a predominant trend of monogamy in reproductive partnerships, with lineage traced primarily through the male line.
The study also points out the absence of half-siblings and the presence of numerous full siblings, indicating stable health conditions, high fertility, low mortality, and a supportive social network.
Interestingly, the research suggests that this specific community lived on the site for just a few decades. The inhabitants were genetically interlinked through two main family trees that spanned seven generations.
These findings mark a significant advancement in our understanding of Neolithic societies in Europe. They pave the way for future studies by giving detailed insights into ancient kinship practices, residential patterns, and social structures.
The use of genome-wide data in this study to recreate ancient genetic relationships sets a valuable model for future research in other Neolithic sites in Europe.
As we continue to uncover more information about these ancient societies, we can anticipate gaining a deeper understanding of how they lived, interacted, and played a part in shaping the course of human history. Such insights enrich our understanding of our past, shedding light on the various cultures that once existed many millennia ago.