September 11, 2012

Ancient mtDNA from late Neolithic collective burials in Germany

Journal of Archaeological Science doi:10.1016/j.jas.2012.08.037

Collective burials among agro-pastoral societies in later Neolithic Germany: Perspectives from ancient DNA

Esther J. Lee et al.


Ancient DNA research has focused on the genetic patterns of the earliest farmers during the European Neolithic, especially with regards to the demographic changes in the transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture. However, genetic data is relatively lacking after this earliest transition period, when societies had fully adapted to new agrarian lifestyles specific to their local environment. During the later central European Neolithic (ca. 3600 - 2800 cal BC), large-scale collective burials and monumental architecture appeared within the landscape of many agricultural societies. This phenomenon has been argued to represent the emergence of a “collective” identity. With the aim of exploring genetic-based relations among individuals collectively buried, we obtained human skeletal remains of nearly 200 individuals from four later Neolithic collective burial sites in Germany: Calden, Odagsen, Großenrode, and Panker. We successfully reproduced reliable mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes from eight Neolithic individuals, which were assigned to haplogroups H, HV0, and X2. Shared haplotypes observed among individuals within Calden and Odagsen suggest genetic relations may have shaped the arrangement of the deceased within later Neolithic agricultural groups.



eurologist said...

Odagsen and Großenrode are located in the rich Loess soils east of the Harz mountains, at (low) elevations of around 100m (~200m for Calden - which is on Loess soils but not quite in a major river valley, and protected by hills and the steep Fulda river banks - consistent with the Wartberg culture). All are sufficiently high and removed from the rivers to be protected from major flooding. Panker is on very sandy soils just adjacent to the Baltic - usable for grazing but not so much for grains without fertilizer, but has near good fishing grounds (including local lakes). The dates are towards the end of TRB, with some early Globular Amphora influence (at least the latter is often assumed to be IE). The three southern sites are bordering a region that unlike typical TRB had no megalithic influence - in particular, Calden.

Sadly, as often in these studies, resolution is insufficient to create a clear picture.

X2 is of course intriguing given the recent discussion of Native American autosomal contribution to Northern Europeans. IMO the present study seems to suggest that X2 subbranches are much older than previously thought.

H1 as far north as Panker (close to the Danish border - ~3,000 BCE) is noteworthy.

eurologist said...

Sorry, the above should be "just west of" the Harz mountains.

andrew said...

X2 is interesting as a consequence of it being the odd man out in terms of Native American mtDNA hgs.

The 3600 BCE to 2800 BCE date is very far removed from the ca. 14000 years BP founding population of North America, but given that X2 is particularly high in the Na-Dene who are increasingly seen as later arrivals (possibly via the admixture of a previous Paleo-Eskimo population of Siberian affinities that was replaced by the Inuits with indigeneous North Americans) at a time much closer in time to this early Neolithic sample and possibly related in some way. The view that X2 dispersal must be very old because it is found in North America may be inaccurate.

eurologist said...


I agree with you that X2 most likely was not originally present in Beringia - I was just referring to the result that the ~5,400 - 5,000 ya X2 from Calden was found to be at a tip of an X2 median-joining network, while most modern representatives are at the center or only one step removed.

Clearly, high-resolution or full mt-DNA analysis is required to get more insight. The most likely scenario seems to be that it migrated East just after LGM, and then was picked up in the Altai (where it is still present today) by people moving further into Siberia due to the warming climate. Alternatively, it could already have been present in a South-Siberian refugium during LGM. Still a fascinating story.