It must have been terrible: One of the babies died shortly after giving birth. The others a few more weeks. Both were buried in the same place. But it happened 31 millennia ago. In the old stone age. It is the grave that was found in Austria. The grave with the oldest twins in history.
Where was the funeral found? At the archaeological site of Krems-Wachtberg on the banks of the Danube. The babies’ remains were covered in ocher. This red pigment was often used in burials of the time.
A third three month old baby was found in the same grave. He was buried about 1.5 meters from both of them. This is detailed by research published in the journal Communications Biology. The tomb also contained 53 mammoth ivory ornaments, a fox tooth and three perforated molluscs. Investigators believe they are the remains of a necklace. A mammoth shoulder blade was placed over the burial to protect the bodies. There was also a mammoth ivory pin. Possibly he was holding a leather dress at the time of the funeral.
The find hit the headlines shortly after its discovery 15 years ago. But there were still surprises. The research group decided to determine the age and gender of the babies. They looked at his upper second incisors and paid special attention to the so-called newborn line. It’s a dark band in the enamel.
Their family relationship was followed up thanks to a genetic analysis that was a milestone in itself.
Sufficient high-quality DNA was extracted from the babies’ fragile skeletal remains. It was thus possible to carry out a genetic analysis. It exceeded all of our expectations and can be compared to winning the lottery, “said Maria Teschler-Nicola, a biologist at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and lead researcher on the study.
It was thus established that the two babies buried together were twins. The third was a cousin to her. It is the grave with the oldest twins in history. This is stated by the study’s lead researcher Ron Pinhasi. He is a professor at the Institute for Evolutionary Biology at the University of Vienna.
The extent to which twins were often born in the Upper Paleolithic is not known. Twins are born for 85 births today, whether identical or not. Identical twins are born every 250th time they are born.
Researchers believe the hunter-gatherer group buried the first twin and then reopened the grave to bury his brother. It is not known exactly why these babies died.
“Babies were very important and respected within the group,” explains Teschler-Nicola. The extraordinary burials “seem to imply that the babies’ deaths were a great loss. And a blow to their survival,” he says.