for National Geographic News
The oldest known burial of a nuclear family, which includes a mother, father, and two boys, has been unearthed in Germany.
The 4,600-year-old family, which was buried together in a deliberate huddle, may have died during a violent massacre.
The find also gives scientists clues about the social organization of the late Stone Age period, which started around 10,000 B.C.
The skeletons were uncovered in 2005 in a group of graves at an archeological site in the Eulau region.
The excavation revealed four separate graves containing 13 bodies—5 adults and 8 children. Within the group, DNA analysis confirmed a family of four, with the two children between 4 to 5 and 8 to 9 years old, respectively.
"We were lucky to find a site like that," said lead study author Wolfgang Haak, from the University of Adelaide in Australia.
"Normally a family doesn't die at the same time and isn't buried in the same time."
Multiple burials occurred during the Neolithic, but individuals were usually buried at different times, sometimes years apart, Haak added. (See a burial dubbed the Stone Age embrace that was found in the Sahara desert.)
Radiocarbon dating showed the family lived around 2600 B.C. and belonged to the Corded Ware culture, named for the distinctive twisted impressions that decorated artifacts of the time.
However, archeologists rarely find Corded Ware settlements, so they rely on information from burial sites to piece together the culture of the ancient people.
The new find hints that family relationships played a hefty role in the society, according to the study published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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