DNA From Newgrange Tombs Show Incestuous Unions

Anyone can post and discuss breaking science news or science-related public policy, that interests them (please respect posting guidelines and be sure to reference properly).
Forum rules
Please be sure to check our forum's Rules & Guidelines

DNA From Newgrange Tombs Show Incestuous Unions

Postby toucana on June 20th, 2020, 8:11 am 


Prehistoric Standing Stone - County Meath Ireland

In the 11th century CE, someone in County Meath, Ireland, finally wrote out a salacious folktale that had been passed down for about 4,000 years. According to the story, an ancient king, who hailed from a tribe of gods, had slept with his sister on the winter solstice as part of a magic ritual to restart the Sun’s daily cycle and save the world from endless night. The couple supposedly did the deed in one of the county’s huge burial mounds, which the locals named Fertae Chuile, or the Hill of Sin.

Today, we know that hill as the Dowth passage tomb, a construction in which buried sections are reached through an entry marked by large stones. Dowth is a close neighbor of the more famous Newgrange passage tomb. And every winter solstice, the sun shines through the stone passage at Newgrange and lights up the innermost burial chamber. And nearly a thousand years after the local legend was first written down, ancient DNA suggests that at least part of the story—the most troubling part, naturally—was actually true.

“The magical solar manipulations in this myth already had scholars questioning how long an oral tradition could survive,” said Trinity College Dublin geneticist Ros Ó Maoldúin, a coauthor on the study. “To now discover a potential prehistoric precedent for the incestuous aspect is extraordinary.”


Maoldúin and her colleagues, led by Trinity geneticist Lara Cassidy, sequenced DNA from the disarticulated bones of a man interred in the chamber at the end of the Newgrange tomb’s passage. About a quarter of the man’s genome consisted of very long stretches of homozygous DNA: DNA where both copies of the genes were the same, instead of the mix-and-match pairs most people inherit from their parents. That strongly suggests that his parents were first-degree relatives—probably brother and sister.

That points to what study coauthor Daniel G. Bradley, also of Trinity College Dublin, described as “a hierarchy so extreme that the only partners worthy of the elite were family members.”

First degree royal incest of this type was known among the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the kings of pre-colonial Hawaii, and the Incan Emperors - apparently something they shared with the monumental tomb-building rulers of Ireland 5,000 years ago. The winter solstice myth probably helped these rulers support their claims of being gods and rally the effort it took to move 200,000 tons of rock to build passage tombs like Newgrange.
User avatar
Chatroom Operator
Posts: 1988
Joined: 20 Sep 2006
Location: Bristol UK
Blog: View Blog (10)

Return to Science News Discussion Forum

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 25 guests