By the beginning of the 6th Millennium cal BC, the first farmers reached the Carpathian Basinwhere the last transition to food production and sedentary life took place. The early neolithic groups became restructured both in their cultural and genetic composition in the 6th and 5th Millennium BC, affected by at least five major Northern Balkan impulses. The western part of the area became a major communication zone, mediating between South Eastern and Central Europe. Our working group has been focusing on this early population history of Eastern Hungary and of Transdanubia, developing and comparing ancient DNA, stable isotope, osteological and archaeological data gained from not less than 600 neolithic skeletons (6000–4300 cal BC).
In the session we would like to give an account of the DNA and stable isotope (SR, N, C) analysis, carried out within the frames of a three-year interdisciplinary project funded by the German Research Foundation along with the co-evaluation of these results with osteology and zooarchaeology, as well as giving a comparative interpretation of this data within our present socioarchaeological knowledge.The megalithic past of the Bronze Age kurgans of the North Pontic Region
The Early Bronze Age (EBA) burial mounds (kurgans) in the western part of the North Pontic Region (NPR) display a tendency to be erected over earlier megalithic ritual constructions. The initial purpose of these megalithic structures might have been cosmology-related. In succeeding time periods the initial astronomic purpose could have been forgotten and these megalithic sites became designated at sacred places suited for distinguished burials. Megalithic elements comprising the initial constructions became incorporated into the subsequent burials. The Revova kurgan from western NPR is one such construction. It was erected over a megalithic structure in a shape of a tortoise with the stone elements of the construction being astronomically aligned. An assembly of disarticulated human remains deposited in the center of the construction dated to the Eneolithic (4200 BC). On the other hand, the layout of stones comprising the “Tortoise” appears to most accurately line up with the movement of celestial objects as they appeared on the sky around 6300 BC. Mitochondrial DNA lineage extracted from the remains was characteristic to the Mesolithic/Neolithic hunter-gatherer populations from northern Europe as well as Bronze Age groups from south Siberia.The spread of domestic pig in the central and Eastern part of the Romanian territory described by the ancient mithochondrial DNA
Previous genetic analysis showed the presence of two different haplotypes for domestic pigs from 11 different sites in the South-Eastern part of Romania: the Near-Eastern haplotype ANC-Y1-5A, for 18 individuals, and ANC-Aside european haplotype, for 8 individuals. This study reveals the genetic signature for other 52 samples (5000–3500 BC, from 7 archaeologic sites) covering the central and Eastern parts of Romania. After the DNA extraction, PCR, and sequencing, no ANC-Aside haplotype was found, but, apart from the Near-Eastern ANC-Y1-5A haplotype, identified in the majority of domestic pig samples, the european ANC-Cside haplotype (generally identified in the wild boars), was also found in three domestic pigs from Poduri, Ghigoiesti and Trusesti. The wide spread of the wild boar with the ANC-Cside haplotype not only on the entire Romanian territory, but also, as previously shown, in it’s close proximity, and the emergence of this genetic signature in both wild and domestic pigs from three different sites could support the idea of a local domestication of the wild boar after 4500 BC, in this specific area.The genetic make-up of the Linear Pottery culture
The Linear Pottery culture (LBK) is one of the first Central European Neolithic farming cultures marking the transition from a hunter-gatherer to a farming lifestyle. The LBK is thought to have originated from Early Neolithic cultures in the Carpathian Basin from where it extended across Europe over a vast distribution area spanning from the River Rhine to the Ukraine. Consequently, its role during the process of Neolithisation in Central Europe is subject of a long-standing debate in archaeology, anthropology and human genetics. Ancient DNA studies have provided direct insights into Mesolithic and Neolithic mitochondrial diversity indicating genetic discontinuity between Central Europe’s autochthonous hunter-gatherers and LBK populations. Comprehensive population genetic analyses utilizing large databases of present-day populations have disclosed genetic affinities of the LBK to the modern-day Near East, Anatolia and the Caucasus, supporting genetic influx from this region into Central Europe at the advent of farming and explaining the apparent genetic discontinuity between foragers and farmers. We will summarize the inferences that have been drawn from 108 LBK data to provide an overview of genetic diversity of the first farming communities in Central Europe, which represents an invaluable genetic perspective for the discussion of the Neolithic in the Carpathian Basin.Bell Beaker child burials and their gender identity in the light of DNA analysis
The DNA analysis of 53 child burials from the Bell Beaker cemetery at Hostice-I produced data on 21 sexed individuals. Out of 14 burials with male gender attributes were 12 individuals biologically male and two determinate as women. Cases of girls that were brought up as boys probably existed in 3rd Millennium BC burial customs. Out of seven children buried in the female position only 1 was actually biological female (juvenile 15–20 years) and 6 male (2 juvenile 15–19/20 years). That means four boys (aged 3–4, 7, 8–12, 15) were in fact buried as women. Such a result is in line with known demographic unbalance within Beaker cemeteries. Most young girls were not buried at the communal cemetery and considerable number of boys were buried in the female fashion. This is rather high number of cases when the masculine attributes were downplayed in the burial customs and it is hard to interpret whether they were boys supposed to be brought up as women or they had yet no right to act as men, unlike some other sub-adult boys, perhaps members of families with ascribed hereditary warrior status. It almost seems that some young boys were socially considered to be girls, perhaps until ceremonial rite of passage, social initiation of some kind.Ancient Human DNA – A problem of interpretation
The problem with ancient human DNA is not contamination with modern human DNA any more. This still happens, but aDNA scientists can now recognise it and deal with it. The problem is with the overinterpretation of results. Only a few mitochondrial and Y chromosome aDNA sequences may be obtained from a burial assemblage, but these are interpreted in a population genetics framework which incorporates DNA sequences obtained from present day populations. This type of analysis ignores the possibility that social structures can affect genetic outcomes, as is seen in traditional societies and has recently been recognised by evolutionary geneticists. Societies practising patrilocal exogamy versus endogamy have been studied and the mtDNA and Y chromosomal haplotype diversity analysed. Patrilocal societies show high mtDNA diversity while Y haplotype diversity is reduced. Endogamous societies do not show the reduction in Y diversity, but mtDNA diversity is maintained. Ancient DNA results from several Neolithic sites can therefore be interpreted to identify the type of social structure present. Patrilocal exogamy is the most parsimonious interpretation and this is corroborated by Sr isotope studies from LBK sites.Ancient DNA discloses multiple migrations into Central Europe during the Neolithic
The Central European Neolithic is characterised by a succession of differentiated archaeological cultures indicating a period of fundamental cultural change. A recurrent question in archaeology and anthropology is whether cultural change in prehistory was accompanied by variation in the gene pool of associated populations. Ancient DNA studies based on mitochondrial DNA revealed a discontinuity between Central Europe’s autochthonous hunter-gatherers and their early farmers and between the latter and the present-day population, suggesting further migration events after the initial Neolithisation. However, to date little attention has been drawn to cultural and potentially population changes in subsequent Neolithic periods. To investigate this issue, we conducted a large chronological study including a succession of nine cultures from the Mittelelbe-Saale region, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany to reconstruct a detailed temporal profile of cultural and genetic diversity in Central Europe. The presented diachronic study spans overall 3,950 years from the beginning of the Neolithic period and the introduction of producing subsistence strategies ~5,500 BC to the appearance of structured chiefdoms in the Early Bronze Age ~2,200–1,550 BC. This transect through time identified multiple population dynamic events during the Neolithic, which involved genetic influx from various regions in Europe.Ancient DNA and isotope analysis of the Starčevo graves at Alsónyék-Bátaszék
Between 2006 and 2009 at Alsónyék-Bátaszék a settlement with 26 graves of the Starčevo culture were unearthed. More than 400 various features belonged to this early Neolithic period on an extension of 80 hectares. The archaeological findings underline the significance of Alsónyék-Bátaszék, which is to date the largest Starčevo site uncovered in present-day Hungary. We analysed the 26 Starčevo burials from Alsónyék from ancient DNA and stable isotopic aspects, involving them in our three-year bioarchaeological Neolithic project. The excellent DNA preservation made it possible to gain reproduced mitochondrial DNA results from all skeletons, and we could additionally type the Y chromosome in 5 of the male individuals. The strontium (87Sr/86Sr) and oxygen (δ18Op) isotopic data obtained an insight into the mobility and kinship system of the population. The carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analyses of the skeletons supported a basis for a diet reconstruction, supplementing the archaeozoological proceedings of the site. Our results from the Alsónyék-Bátaszék Starčevo specimens, dated between ca. 5800-5500 cal BC, denote a milestone of the early Neolithic bioarchaeological studies in Transdanubia.6–5th millennium BC cultural changes in Western Hungary tested by ancient DNA
Western Hungary (Transdanubia) was one of the key regions at the process of Neolithisation in Central Europe. The Starcevo culture, representing the earliest farmers on this region, settled down at latest 5750 cal BC south of the Lake Balaton. It had a major role in the formation of the Linearbandkeramik culture in Transdanubia. The following Sopot, Lengyel cultures of the late Neolithic and Early Copper Age Transdanubia show repeated cultural influences from the Balkan, besides local extant cultural traditions.
The focus of our study is the process of these cultural changes in Transdanubia, in the view of ancient DNA, investigating mitochondrial and Y chromosomal lineages and markers. A total of 292 skeletons were sampled and processed, with an overall success rate of 89% for mitochondrial DNA. Comparing the mitochondrial and Y chromosomal results with other published data and evaluating them with population genetic analyses, we gained a peerless insight into the population history of Western Hungary.
Our study may give an additional help to prehistoric archaeology, for a better understanding of the nature of cultural changes, supporting it with a new type of evidence, in order to see Transdanubia as a mediating area between South East and Central Europe.