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30 June 2011
Communal burials in ancient Turkish settlement

Human remains discovered beneath the floors of houses at one of the world's first permanent settlements were not biologically related to one another - a finding that paints a new picture of life 9,000 years ago on a marshy plain in central Turkey. At the famous site of Catalhoyuk, researchers found that even children as young as eight were not buried alongside their parents or other relatives.
     "It speaks a lot to the type of social structure that they might have had," study researcher Marin Pilloud, a physical anthropologist with the United States military at Joint Accounting Command, in Hawaii.
     The settlement covered 10.5 hectares (26 acres), and its people - as many as 10,000 - made a living by growing crops and herding domesticated animals. When archaeologists first dug up the site in the 1950s and '60s, they found that the settlement contained no streets. Its plastered mud-brick houses were bunched up against each other, and the inhabitants entered them by way of a ladder on the roof. Inside the homes, the people drew art on the walls and created spear points and pottery. They also buried their dead (up to thirty per house) beneath the floors.
     The skeletons' DNA being old and contaminated, Pilloud and Clark Spencer Larsen of Ohio State University (USA) analysed the next best thing: the size and shape of their teeth. Since people who are related should have similarities in tooth shape, the researchers compared the remains of 266 individuals from the site. They found that the people buried beneath the floor of each house were, in general, not related to each other. With the possible exception of one building, this occurred throughout the entire site for as long as the settlement existed.
     Professor Ian Hodder of Stanford University, who directs current excavations and research efforts at Catalhoyuk, feels the people's move to adopt an urban lifestyle based on agriculture could have altered their view of family relationships, implying Catalhoyuk was a more complex society than has been thought. "I think that as society becomes more sedentary and complex that kinship itself doesn't seem to be sufficient to hold it together."

Edited from Live Science (29 June 2011)

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