| 7 January 2021
Earliest known identical twins found in Upper Palaeolithic grave
DNA analysis of a grave from the Upper Palaeolithic containing the remains of two newborn babies has reveals they were identical twins - the earliest confirmed monozygotic twins. Uncovered at the Gravettian site of Krems-Wachtberg in Austria, the twins were buried next to a 3-month old infant who was a third-degree male relative, possibly a first cousin.
Immature human remains from the Upper Palaeolithic are extremely rare, so to find three that reveal new insights into the funerary practices of early humans is a unique and significant discovery.
Krems was home to traveling groups of hunter-gatherers around 40,000 to 30,000 years ago. The site at Krems-Wachtberg where the graves were found is exceptional for its well-preserved organic materials. The grave contained mammoth ivory beads, a perforated fox incisor, and three perforated mollusk shells.
Key features found 5 metres beneath the surface include a large hearth with connected pits, the infant burials, and artefacts including art objects and personal adornments that relate the settlement to the Pavlovian culture, a variant in the earlier Gravettian.
The first grave was oval-shaped and contained the remains of two infants, each embedded in red ochre and placed next to each other on their left sides facing east with their heads to the north. The bodies were laid to rest with 53 mammoth ivory beads which had once been threaded on a string. The beads are uniform in size and show no signs of wear.
After the infants had been placed in the grave, it was sealed using the shoulder blade of a mammoth that shows signs of being chipped into shape. DNA analysis of the twins' teeth revealed the they were full-term newborns - one died at birth, the other lived about 7 weeks. The grave of the first was reopened and its contents arranged to make room for the second.
A third infant was found in a longer and narrower grave pit, also containing evidence of adornments including a suspected mammoth ivory clock pin. This grave was backfilled with soil, so the body was poorly preserved.
Edited from IFL Science (8 November 2020)
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