Biological and social kinship reflected in genomes from medieval Swedish multiple burials

SNIC 2017/7-271


SNAC Small

Principal Investigator:

Maja Krzewinska


Stockholms universitet

Start Date:


End Date:


Primary Classification:

10609: Genetics (medical to be 30107 and agricultural to be 40402)




Abstract: Multiple burials have been of much interest to archaeologists and social-scientists. During the Middle Ages in Scandinavia such burials were rare but not unheard of. They often contain adults of the same sex; however burials including or consisting of children are more common, provoking discussions concerning childhood, the age of transition to adulthood and the social status of children in the past. Hence, sex but also kinship analyses of sites where apparently affiliated individuals were interred together can yield valuable information about mortuary practices, local traditions, beliefs, social and legal status of the deceased, etc. Until recently the lack of reliable sexing (especially in children) and kinship identification tools rendered analyses of similar demographics impossible. However, the latest developments in molecular genetics and bioinformatics provided tools which can now with confidence be applied in testing concrete hypotheses rooted in such features. The proposed project aims at applying those techniques to the analyses of over 100 individuals from Viking Age and medieval multiple burials from Scandinavia in order to characterise mutual relations of persons buried together. Analysis of kinship patters for boys and girls in multiple burials offers the possibility to understand socio-cultural contexts and to avoid unsubstantiated assumptions about biological relationship, making it relevant for future research. The proposed project aims at systematic genetic analysis of ca 100 individuals from multiple medieval burials in Sweden and elsewhere with focus on kinship and sex identification based on ancient DNA (aDNA) genome-wide data. It will make use of the latest developments in genotyping and bioinformatics, bridging the classic gap between aDNA studies (often method oriented) and humanistic approaches focused on interpretation of the finds. In-depth exploration of the character of multiple inhumations will focus on the analyses of: • biological vs. social identity (sex vs. gender) • social structure in multiple burials • aspects of childhood archaeology