Family portraits in the Neolithic: from family trees to social behavior

Family portraits in the Neolithic: from family trees to social behavior

Tue, 01/08/2023


Publication of the LGL-TPE in the journal Nature, on July 26, 2023. Communication of CNRS-INEE on August 1st, 2023.

Paleogenomic analyses carried out on individuals from the Neolithic burial site of Gurgy "les Noisats" (Yonne), in the Paris Basin, have enabled the family trees of two families to be reconstructed on an unprecedented scale. A team involving members of the Laboratory of Geology of Lyon: Earth, Planets, Environment (LGL-TPE- CNRS/ENS de Lyon/Claude Bernard Lyon 1 Univ.) has published the results of these analyses in the journal Nature, which, combined with archaeological, anthropological and isotopic data, shed light on the social organization of this 6,700-year-old community.


Social anthropology and ethnographic studies have described kinship systems and networks of contact and exchange in extant populations. However, for prehistoric societies, these systems can be studied only indirectly from biological and cultural remains. Stable isotope data, sex and age at death can provide insights into the demographic structure of a burial community and identify local versus non-local childhood signatures, archaeogenetic data can reconstruct the biological relationships between individuals, which enables the reconstruction of pedigrees, and combined evidence informs on kinship practices and residence patterns in prehistoric societies. Here we report ancient DNA, strontium isotope and contextual data from more than 100 individuals from the site Gurgy ‘les Noisats’ (France), dated to the western European Neolithic around 4850–4500 bc. We find that this burial community was genetically connected by two main pedigrees, spanning seven generations, that were patrilocal and patrilineal, with evidence for female exogamy and exchange with genetically close neighbouring groups. The microdemographic structure of individuals linked and unlinked to the pedigrees reveals additional information about the social structure, living conditions and site occupation. The absence of half-siblings and the high number of adult full siblings suggest that there were stable health conditions and a supportive social network, facilitating high fertility and low mortality5. Age-structure differences and strontium isotope results by generation indicate that the site was used for just a few decades, providing new insights into shifting sedentary farming practices during the European Neolithic.


Extensive pedigrees reveal the social organization of a Neolithic community. PMaïté Rivollat, Adam Benjamin Rohrlach, Harald Ringbauer, Ainash Childebayeva, Fanny Mendisco, Rodrigo Barquera, András Szolek, Mélie Le Roy, Heidi Colleran, Jonathan Tuke, Franziska Aron, Marie-Hélène Pemonge, Ellen Späth, Philippe Télouk, Léonie Rey, Gwenaëlle Goude, Vincent Balter, Johannes Krause, Stéphane Rottier, Marie-France Deguilloux, Wolfgang Haak. Nature, July 26, 2023. 
DOI : 10.1038/s41586-023-06350-8

illustration credits: Elena Plain - PACEA (CNRS/Ministère de la Culture/Univ. Bordeaux)