A new preprint on mitochondrial DNA from Grave Circle B in Mycenae. Unfortunately, the authors report that they could not get any autosomal or Y chromosome DNA, however they did manage to obtain four mtDNA sequences (out of 22 individuals) which appear to be authentic, and which belonged to haplogroups UK ("heart-shaped face" individuals Γ55 and Γ58, possibly brother and sister), U5a1 or U5a1a ("long-faced" individual Ζ59) and the Cambridge Reference Sequence ("heart-shaped face" individual Α62), which is "compatible in the region sequenced
with various haplogroups including H, HV1, J, U, U3 and U4 (but not UK, U5a1 or U5a1a)." The pictures of the individuals are from Making faces : using forensic and archaeological evidence, by John Prag and Richard Neave, College Station : Texas A & M University Press, 1997 (ISBN 0890967849), first row: Γ55, Γ58, second row: Ζ59, Α62.
UPDATE: Certainly, the brother-sister inference is plausible, but strangely there was an observed case of a married couple from Sicily which also happened to be both in haplogroup U5a1a. Perhaps we'll never know.
UPDATE 2: I think this woman will be pleasantly surprised.
UPDATE 3: A nice podcast with Keri Brown, where she talks a lot about ancient DNA and its challenges (not about the Mycenaean work though). Also, a previous publication by the same group on the challenges of authentication of ancient DNA.
In the current paper they were able to distinguish some of the contaminant DNA of the lead author who handled the work because it had one of her unusual mutations, and conclude that while it is possible that the discovered sequences may be contaminants, it is more likely that they are not. It would certainly make a good detective story to try to find out the mtDNA sequence of the late J. Lawrence Angel who handled the remains extensively, or any other individuals associated with them.
UPDATE 4 (From the supplementary material). This confirms that by UK the authors mean the haplogroup more commonly known as K:
Γ55: "Positions 16224 and 16311 characterise haplogroup UK. Position 16093 is not characteristic of any haplogroup so may be either an artefact or a private mutation."
Γ58: "The endogenous DNA that is not AB therefore belongs to a haplogroup that differs from the CRS at 16224. The only possibilities are Z, which should also display mutations within MtC at 16185, 16223 and 16260, and UK. We therefore conclude that Γ58 contains endogenous DNA of haplogroup UK."
Z59: "MtF sequences were also obtained from the second Ζ59 extraction, and all six of these
differ from the CRS at 16256, 16266 and 16270 (highlighted in red in sequences 2f77, 2f78, 2f79,
2f80, 2f81, 2f82). Position 16266 is associated with haplogroup Y, and positions 16256 and 16270
with U5a1 and U5a1a. ... On balance, we conclude that Ζ59 contains endogenous DNA of
one of either haplogroup U5a1 or U5a1a, although Y remains a possibility."
A62: "The single MtC sequence that could be obtained (2c49) lacked the mutation at 16172 suggesting that this bone was not contaminated with AB DNA. Elsewhere the sequences conformed with the CRS, consistent in the region sequenced with various haplogroups (e.g. H, HV1, J, U, U3 and U4). None of the positions within this region diagnostic of UK (16224, 16311), U5a1 (16192, 16256, 16270), U5a1a (16256, 16270) or Y (16231, 16266) were mutated: hence there is no evidence for the presence of endogenous DNA of these haplogroups."
Journal of Archaeological Science doi:10.1016/j.jas.2008.04.010
Kinship between burials from Grave Circle B at Mycenae revealed by ancient DNA typing
Abigail S. Bouwmana, Keri A. Browna, N. W. Prag A.Johnb and Terence A. Brown
The richness of the burials in Grave Circle B at Mycenae, Greece, indicate that the 35 people interred there held elite status during their lifetimes 3500 years ago. It has been speculated that the groups of burials represent different dynasties or branches of the same family. To test this hypothesis, we carried out an exhaustive ancient DNA (aDNA) study of 22 of the skeletons. We
were unable to identify nuclear aDNA in any specimen, but we obtained authentic mitochondrial aDNA sequences for four individuals. The results were compared with facial reconstructions and interpreted within the archaeological context represented by the organisation of the graves and the positions of the burials within the graves. We conclude that the contemporaneous male Γ55 and female Γ58 skeletons, which both possess the UK mitochondrial haplogroup, were brother and sister. The implication is that Γ58 was buried in Grave Circle B not because of a marital connection but because she held a position of authority by right of birth. The results illustrate the difficulty in using aDNA to study kinship relationships between archaeological specimens, but also show that aDNA can advance understanding of kinship when used to test hypotheses constructed from other evidence.