CM – Genetic history and social organization in Neolithic and Bronze Age Croatia


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August 18, 2021

from the Max Planck Society

The field of archaeogenetics has been instrumental in helping us better understand how the movement and intermingling of people across Europe during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages shaped genetic ancestors. However, not all regions are equally well represented in the archaeological records. To close this gap, researchers from the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) and Human History (Jena), the University of Vienna and Croatian employees from Kaducej Ltd. and the Institute for Anthropological Research now whole genomes from 28. sequenced individuals from two localities in what is now eastern Croatia and gained new insights into the genetic history and social structures of this region.

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Today’s Croatia was an important hub for mass migrations along the Danube corridor and the Adriatic coast, which connected east and west. « Although this region is important for understanding population and cultural transitions in Europe, due to the limited availability of human remains, well-founded knowledge of the genetic origin and social complexity of prehistoric populations remains sparse here, » says first author Suzanne Freilich, researcher at the Max- Planck Institute for Human History and the University of Vienna.

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

The Middle Neolithic settlement Beli-Manastir Popova zemlja, which dates back to around 4,700–4,300 BC. Is dated to the Sopot culture. Many children, especially girls, were buried here, especially along the walls of pit houses. « One question was whether people who are buried in the same buildings are biologically related to one another, » says Suzanne Freilich.

« We found that individuals with different burial rites did not differ in their genetic ancestry from the early Neolithic We also found a high level of haplotype diversity and, despite the size of the site, no very closely related individuals.  » Of course supplemented. This suggests that this community was part of a large, mostly exogamous, population in which people outside their kin group marry. Interestingly, however, the researchers also identified a few cases of endogamous mating practices, including two individuals who would have been the children of first cousins ​​or the like, something seldom found in the ancient DNA records.

The second The location that the researchers investigated was the Middle Bronze Age necropolis of Jagodnjak-Krčevine, which belongs to the Trans-Danubian crustal ceramic culture and dates back to around 1,800-1,600 BC. Is dated. « This site contains burials that are largely contemporaneous with some individuals on the Dalmatian coast, and we wanted to find out whether individuals from these different ecoregions have similar ancestors, » says Stephan Schiffels.

The researchers found that the people of Jagodnjak actually had very different ancestors, as there were significantly more Western European hunter-gatherer ancestors. This lineage profile is present in a small number of other genomes studied further north in the Carpathian Basin. These new genetic results support archaeological evidence suggesting a common population history of these groups as well as the existence of trade and exchange networks. « We also found that all male individuals at the site had identical Y chromosome haplotypes, » says Of course. “We identified two first-degree, second-degree and more distantly related male relatives, while the one female in our sample was unrelated. In contrast to the Middle Neolithic site in Popova zemlja, the biological relationship was a factor in the choice to be buried at this site. In addition, the authors found evidence of rich child graves, suggesting that they likely inherited their status or property from their families.

This study helps fill the void in archaeological records for this region, by characterizing the various genetic ancestors and social organizations that existed in eastern Croatia during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. It illuminates the heterogeneous population history of largely simultaneous groups of the Coastal and Inland Bronze Ages as well as connections to communities further north in the Carpathian Basin. In addition, she sheds light on the topic of Neolithic intramural burials, which has been discussed among archaeologists and anthropologists for some time – burials within a settlement. The authors show that this burial rite at the site of Popova zemlja was not associated with a biological relationship, but rather represented an age and gender selection in connection with the belief systems of the Neolithic community.

So far, only a few have archaeogenetic Studies focused on intra-community patterns of genetic diversity and social organization. « While large-scale studies are invaluable in characterizing patterns of genetic diversity on a broader temporal and spatial level, more regional and site studies like this are needed to gain insight into the regionally and equally varied community and social organization within a site « says of course. « By looking more closely into the past, archaeogenetics can shed more light on the organization of communities and families. »

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Related titles :
Genetic history and social organization in the Neolithic and Bronze Age Croatia
Reconstruction of the genetic history and social organization in Croatia of the Neolithic and Bronze Age
Reconstruction of genetics to shed light on the past of mankind


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