Were Europe’s megalithic societies patrilineal?
|sciencemag.org 15 Apr 2019 at 14:19|
It is without any doubt an interesting paper, says Bettina Schulz Paulsson, a prehistoric archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden who specializes in megalith origins . But, she adds, the numbers of sites and bodies are far too little to know the social structures of these early communities.
For decades, archaeologists have exhumed ancient remains at megalithic sites, from Carnac in the Brittany region of France to Swedens Ales Stones. In recent years, from some skeletons, revealing links down the female line that shed lightnot on familial relationsbut on early migration patterns. (Mitochondrial DNA is passed only from mothers to their children.) Recent improvements to DNA sequencing technology and statistical and collection methods have made it possible to sequence ancient nuclear DNA, which can also reveal relationships between male relations.
Paleogenomicist Federico Snchez-Quinto from Uppsala University in Sweden used these techniques on dozens of remains from four megalithic tombs in Ireland, Scotland, and Sweden that were first uncovered years ago. He and his team sequenced the nuclear genomes of those remainsmost of which have been dated to between 4500 B.C.E. and 3000 B.C.E.
Some anthropologists think burial in these monumental sites was likely a mark of high social status. The authors argue that, taken together, those results suggest European megalithic societies at the time were patrilineal , with social power invested in the male line across multiple generations, they report today in the
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
The findings are intriguing, says Thomas Kador, an archaeologist at University College London. He notes that even though men were more commonly interred in these sites, the women there seem to have been given identical burials. That suggests to him that even if these societies were patrilineal, women still played significant roles. Kadors team has also done a separate genome-wide analysis of ancient individuals at a different megalithic site in Ireland and found among the buried. Its possible that different megalithic societies on the island had very different social structures and funerary practices, he says.
Indeed, Robert Hensey, an archaeologist at the National University of Ireland in Galway, warns against drawing such sweeping conclusions about the many and varied Neolithic societies of northern and western Europe from a handful of sites and a few dozen people. It strains credulity.