Thursday, August 07, 2008

Family tree goes back 3,000 years in Germany

Two Germans share the longest proven family tree in the world. The men, Manfred Huchthausen and Uwe Lange, had known each other from living in the same village. But they never knew they were related through a 3,000-year-old shared ancestor. They only recently found out they are both true descendants of Bronze Age people who lived in the area three millenniums ago.

Thanks to a DNA test on well-preserved Bronze Age bones found in the Lichtensteinhöhle cave in the foothills of the Harz Mountains in Germany's Lower Saxony, the men can now claim to have the longest family tree in the world. "Before the discovery, I could trace my family back by name to 1550," Lange said. "Now, I can go back 120 generations."

A local team of archaeologists discovered the Lichtensteinhöhle cave, which had been hidden from view, in 1980. But it wasn't until 1993 that they found the Bronze Age remains. The cave was used between 1,000 and 700 BCE, according to archaeological investigations conducted by scientists at the nearby University of Goettingen. One of them, anthropologist Susanne Hummel, confirmed that Huchthausen and Lange share the longest proven family tree.

They found the bones of 23 people - nine females and 14 males -along with what appeared to be cult objects, prompting speculation among scientists that the cave was a living area and a sacrificial burial place. Scientists found that the bones had been protected from the elements by calcium deposits: water dripping through the roof of the limestone cave had helped to create a sheath around the skeletons. The remains turned out to be from the same family group that had a distinctive and rare DNA pattern. When 300 locals were tested with saliva swabs as part of the archaeological research, the two local residents turned out to have the exact same genetic characteristics. "I could not believe this at first, but I think it's truly fascinating," said Huchthausen, whose family has lived in the area since the 18th century.


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