An ancient tomb in Austria may represent the oldest twin burial ever recorded, according to a new study.
The 31,000-year-old burial dates back to the Upper Paleolithic (a period from 40,000 to 10,000 years ago), also known as the Old Stone Age. One of the babies died shortly after birth, while the twin brother lived for about 50 days, or just over 7 weeks, according to both babies’ analyzes.
A third baby, a 3-month-old baby, buried in a burial about 5 feet (1.5 meters) away is likely their cousin, according to research, published online Nov. 6 in the journal Communications biology.
Researchers found the oval burial of the twins at the Krems-Wachtberg archaeological site on the bank of the Danube River near the city center of Krems in 2005. The remains of the twins were covered with ocher, a red pigment often used in ancient burials throughout. the world.
The double burial also contained 53 pearls made of mammoth ivory that were likely once strung on a necklace, and a perforated fox incisor and three perforated mollusks, which were possibly necklace pendants, the researchers said. A gigantic shoulder blade placed above the burial protected the small bodies buried under it over the millennia.
The other child’s nearby burial also contained ocher, as well as a 3-inch (8 centimeter) long mammoth-ivory pin, which may have pinned a leather garment together at the time of burial, the researchers said.
The discovery made headlines shortly after its discovery, and researchers even created a replica of the twins’ burial, which was exhibited at the Natural History Museum in Vienna in 2013.
However, scientists still had a lot to learn about the ancient burial. Then, in the new project, an interdisciplinary group of researchers collaborated to decipher the relationship between these three children and to determine their sex and age at death.
The study is the first ever recorded to use ancient DNA to confirm twins in the archaeological record, the researchers said. And not just any twins, but identical twins.
This is the “first evidence of twin birth,” study senior researcher Ron Pinhasi, associate professor in the Department of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Vienna, said in a statement (translated from German with Google Translate).
Researchers don’t know how common twin births were during the Upper Paleolithic (the rate varies by region and time), but today twins (both identical and fraternal) occur in about one in 85 births, while identical twins are born in about one in 250 births.
“Discovering a multiple burial from the Paleolithic period is a specialty in itself,” study lead researcher Maria Teschler-Nicola, a biologist at the Vienna Natural History Museum, said in the statement. “The fact that sufficiently old, high-quality DNA could be extracted from the skeletal remains of the frail child for a genome analysis exceeded all our expectations and can be compared to a lottery ticket.”
A genetic analysis of the third child revealed that he was a third-degree male relative, likely a cousin, the researchers found.
To determine at what age the children died, the researchers examined each child’s upper second incisor. The team paid particular attention to the so-called “newborn line,” a dark line in tooth enamel that separates prenatally formed enamel from that formed after birth, Teschler-Nicola said.
Those neonatal lines, as well as the children’s skeletal development, suggested that the twins were either full or near term infants. It appears that the hunter-gatherer group of the children buried the first twin, then reopened the tomb when they buried his brother.
This discovery confirms the cultural-historical practice of reopening a tomb for burial purposes, which had never before been documented in a Paleolithic burial, the researchers said.
The team also analyzed chemical elements, including carbon, nitrogen and barium isotopes, in the tooth enamel, revealing that each of the twins were breastfed. Although the twins’ cousin survived for three months, the “stress lines” in her teeth suggest she was having difficulty feeding, perhaps because her mother had a painful breast infection known as mastitis, or perhaps because she did not survive childbirth. .
It is not known exactly why these babies died, but the deaths of these twins and their cousin were likely painful events for this group of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers, who long ago encamped and buried their babies on the Danube.
“The children were obviously of particular importance to the group and highly respected and esteemed,” Teschler-Nicola told LiveScience.
The extraordinary burials “seem to imply that the death of the children was a great loss to the community and their survival.”
This article was originally published by Live Science. Read the original article here.