An international team of archeologists has conducted DNA analysis on 15 skeletons discovered in a mass grave in 2011 near the city of Koszyce in Southern Poland. Thanks to the genomic information, the team was able to reconstruct the relationships between the skeletons as well as what may have happened 5,000 years ago.
The deceased individuals were part of the same extended family group that belonged to the Globular Amphora culture, known for placing spherical pottery in their graves. They died between 2880-2776 BCE at the beginning of the Bronze Age. The people in the mass grave were all brutally killed with blows to the head and yet they were buried with great care. This paints a particular picture for the archeologists.
Among the victims, there were five adult females, four adult males, two girls, and four boys. They all had brown eyes, brown or dark blond hair, and medium-to-dark skin. Based on how they were placed next to each other, they were all closely related, with several first- or second-degree kinships among them. Siblings were buried next to each other and one of the mothers was placed cradling her young son, which the archeologists estimated to be between 1.5 and 2 years old.
Absent from the grave are fathers and older men. The researchers believe they were the ones who carefully buried the bodies in the grave, suggesting nuclear and extended families were crucial structures in prehistoric societies.
“Brutal events such as the family massacre documented in the Koszyce burial may have been all too common in the unstable, tumultuous centuries at the beginning of the third millennium BCE,” wrote the authors in the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“However, along with all the violence and aggression illustrated by the Koszyce find, our study also demonstrates the strong sense of family affiliation and cohesion that prevailed among this group of people. From the careful positioning of the bodies in the grave, it is clear that both nuclear and extended family relations were key to how people organized their lives, and that these relations represented major, normative values in Globular Amphora communities of this period.”
Researchers found little evidence for who the assailers were, but they have possible suspects in mind. The age of the mass grave is consistent with the decline of the Globular Amphora culture and the rise of the Corded Ware culture, which eventually ended up dominating large areas of prehistoric Europe. The massacre might be the gruesome ending of a conflict between neighboring groups.