Genetic histories and social organization in the Neolithic and Bronze Age in Croatia – sciencedaily

Today’s Croatia was an important crossroads for migrant peoples along the Danubian Corridor and the Adriatic coast, connecting east and west. “Although this region is important for understanding demographic and cultural transitions in Europe, the limited availability of human remains means that in-depth knowledge of the genetic ancestry and social complexity of prehistoric populations here remains scarce,” says first author Suzanne. Freilich, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the University of Vienna.

To this end, an international team of researchers set out to fill the void. They studied two archaeological sites in eastern Croatia – one containing mostly Middle Neolithic burials within the settlement site, the other a Middle Bronze Age necropolis containing cremations and burials – and sequenced the entire genomes of 28 individuals from these two sites. The aim of the researchers was to understand both genetic ancestry and social organization within each community – in particular, to study local residence patterns, kinship relationships, and to learn more about them. various funeral rites observed.

Middle Neolithic settlement in Popova zemlja

Dated around 4,700 to 4,300 BCE, the Middle Neolithic settlement of Beli-Manastir Popova zemlja belongs to the culture of Sopot. Many children, especially girls, were buried here, especially along the walls of pit houses. “One question was whether individuals buried in the same buildings were biologically linked to each other,” explains Suzanne Freilich.

“We found that individuals with different funeral rites did not differ in their genetic ancestry, which was similar to people in the Early Neolithic. We also found a high degree of haplotype diversity and, despite the size of the site, no very closely related individuals. Freilich adds. This suggests that this community was part of a large, predominantly exogamous population where people marry outside of their family group. Interestingly, however, the researchers also identified a few cases of endogamous mating practices, including two individuals believed to have been the offspring of first cousins ​​or the like, something rarely found in ancient DNA records.

Middle Bronze Age necropolis in Jagodnjak-Krčevine

The second site investigated by researchers was the Middle Bronze Age necropolis of Jagodnjak-Krčevine which belongs to the inlaid pottery culture of Transdanubia and dates from around 1800 to 1600 BCE. “This site contains burials that are largely contemporary with some individuals from the Dalmatian coast, and we wanted to know if individuals from these different ecoregions had similar ancestry,” says Stephan Schiffels.

The researchers found that the people of Jagodnjak actually had a very distinct ancestry due to the presence of significantly greater ancestry in Western Europe related to hunter-gatherers. This ancestry profile is present in a small number of other genomes studied further north in the Carpathian Basin. These new genetic findings support archaeological evidence that suggests a shared population history for these groups as well as the presence of trade and exchange networks.

“We also found that all of the male individuals at the site had identical Y chromosome haplotypes,” says Freilich. “We identified two first-degree relatives, second-degree men, and more distant men, while the only female in our sample was unrelated. This indicates a patrilocal social organization where women leave their own homes to join their husbands’ home. »Unlike the Middle Neolithic site in Popova zemlja, biological parentage was a selection factor to be buried at this site. Additionally, the authors found evidence from graves of wealthy infants that suggests they likely inherited their status or wealth from their families.

Filling the void in the archeogenetic archives

This study helps fill the void in the archaeological record of this region, characterizing the various genetic ancestries and social organizations that were present in eastern Croatia during the Neolithic and Bronze Age. It highlights the heterogeneous population histories of largely contemporary coastal and inland Bronze Age groups, and connections to communities further north in the Carpathian Basin. In addition, it sheds light on the subject of Neolithic intramural burials – burials within a settlement – which has been the subject of debate among archaeologists and anthropologists for some time. The authors show that on the site of Popova zemlja, this funeral rite was not associated with biological kinship, but more likely represented a selection of age and sex linked to the belief systems of the Neolithic community.

So far, few archeogenetic studies have focused on intra-community models of genetic diversity and social organization. “While large-scale studies are invaluable in characterizing patterns of genetic diversity on a larger temporal and spatial scale, more regional and single-site studies, like this one, are needed to better understand community organization. and social, which varies by region and even within a site, ”explains Freilich. “By examining the past with a narrower lens, archaeogenetics can shed more light on how communities and families were organized.”

Joel C. Hicks