Buried in each other’s arms: Scientists discover remains of world’s most ancient nuclear family
For more than four thousand years since their violent deaths they have lain together – a mother, father and their two boys.
They are, say archaeologists, the earliest known example of the nuclear family, carefully buried side by side, perhaps by grieving relatives or friends.
The find sheds tantalising light on the life of our prehistoric ancestors living at the dawn of civilisation in Europe. It also suggests that family values have been thriving since before the time of Stonehenge.
The family – who appear to have been slaughtered in a raid by a rival tribe – were identified from fragments of DNA in their skeletons. The boys were aged eight and four.
Dr Alistair Pike, head of archaeology at the University of Bristol, who took part in the study, said: ‘It is the first time we can conclusively prove a family has been buried together.
‘Graves which have been discovered pre-dating this find show collections of maybe hundreds of skeletons thrown together. Whoever buried the family obviously knew they were family and deemed it important they were buried together facing one another.’
The burials took place in what is now Eulau in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, around the same time that Stonehenge was being erected in England. They were discovered in 2005, but the DNA tests have only just been completed.
The mother was aged around 35 to 50 – old age for those days. She was carefully laid to rest on her left side with her head pointing towards the rising sun. The father – who was between 40 and 60 – was placed in a mirror position.
However, unusually for the period, the boys were positioned facing their parents, the scientists report in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Other couples nearby were buried face-to-face with their arms and hands interlinked. Each of the graves contained at least one child – ranging from newborn babies to children aged ten.
Many of the bodies had injuries – suggesting that they were victims of a violent raid, perhaps from warriors belonging to a rival village.