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Parents clasp hands of children in ancient graves

by Staff Writers
Chicago (AFP) Nov 17, 2008
Parents clasped the hands of their children in a 4,600 year-old grave which researchers believe to be the oldest evidence discovered so far of the nuclear family in early human development, according to a study published Monday.

The remains of 13 people believed to have been killed during a violent raid were laid out in an unusual pattern for the Neolithic period in a gravesite discovered in Germany in 2005.

Several pairs were buried face-to-face with their hands and arms interlinked in four nearby graves which researchers believed were once covered in burial mounds.

Two of the gravesites were sufficiently well-preserved to allow for DNA analysis.

In one, researchers from Britain and Australia were able to determine that the man and woman clasping the hands of two boys were indeed their parents.

"Their unity in death suggests a unity in life," wrote lead author Dr Wolfgang Haak of the University of Adelaide.

"By establishing the genetic links between the two adults and two children buried together in one grave, we have established the presence of the classic nuclear family in a prehistoric context in Central Europe - to our knowledge the oldest authentic molecular genetic evidence so far," he wrote.

"However, this does not establish the elemental family to be a universal model or the most ancient institution of human communities."

In the other grave, a woman was buried with three children, one which was facing her and two others which were facing each other.

Typical burial patterns of the period and region placed females in an east-facing direction and males in a west-facing direction.

Haak and his team were able to determine that the two children who faced each other were siblings but were not the biological children of the woman they were buried with.

"Although the genetic results rule out any close maternal relationship, they either were buried with just another adult victim or, more likely, were paternally (aunt) or socially (step-mother) related to the woman."

Researchers discovered numerous signs of violence on the bodies. One female had a stone projectile point embedded in one of her vertebra, another had skull fractures and several bodies also had defensive injuries on the forearms and hands.

The care with which they were buried indicated that several members of the tribe survived the raid and returned to bury them according to family groupings, Haak wrote.

Women and girls were buried with flint tools or animal tooth pendant while the men and boys were given stone axes. Butchered animal bones gave evidence of at least one food offering per grave.

By analyzing their teeth, the researchers were also able to establish that the females had spent their childhood in a different region than the males and the children, which suggested it was typical for women to leave their tribes and move to the location of their male partners.

"Such traditions would have been important to avoid inbreeding and to forge kinship networks with other communities," said Alistair Pike, head of archaeology at the University of Bristol and co-director of the project.

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Firms scan brain waves to improve ads in Japan
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 12, 2008
US research firm Nielsen and its partner NeuroFocus said Wednesday they would offer a new service in Japan to scan the brain waves of potential customers to help companies improve their marketing.

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