A research project of the Department of Archaeology.
What’s in a house? Exploring the kinship structure of the world´s first houses is a collaborative research project between researchers at Durham University and the University of Liverpool. The project team comprises Dr. Eva Fernandez-Dominguez (Project PI, Department of Archaeology, University of Durham), Prof. Jessica Pearson (Co-I, Department of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology, University of Liverpool), Dr. Jo-Hannah Plug (PDRA in Bioarchaeology, Department of Archaeology, Classics, and Egyptology, University of Liverpool) and Dr. Kelly Blevins (PDRA in ancient human genomics, Department of Archaeology, Durham University). In close collaboration with archaeologists from Syria, Jordan, Spain, France, the Netherlands and the United States, the team aims to explore the role of biological kinship in the organization of PPNA through to PN communities in the Northern and Southern Levant using a combination of ancient DNA and stable isotopes of mobility (Strontium and Oxygen).
The research project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust. The duration of the project is from May 2021 to March 2025.
One of the most dramatic changes in the human past was the transition from a hunter-gatherer to a farming, settled way of life. Starting in Southwest Asia ~12,000 years ago, this new, Neolithic mode of economic subsistence triggered an unprecedented level of population aggregation: mobile or semi-mobile societies became sedentary and houses and villages emerged on a scale that had not previously been seen. This transition brought with it fundamental changes in economic relationships, symbolic behaviour, and social structure. Houses appear to have played a new, central role in these early farming communities and frequently formed the main foci of daily and ritual practice. For example, these structures were often rebuilt several times in the exact same position, suggesting strong ties to place and perhaps some sort of transmission of property. Most crucially perhaps, they provided not only space for the living, but also for the dead, which were frequently interred beneath the floors of houses during or shortly after their use.
Skeletal remains at the PPNB archaeological site of Tell Halula, Syria. Photo credit: SAPPO (Seminari d´Arqueologia Prehistorica del Proxim Orient, Barcelona)
Nonetheless, the composition of the social groups using these houses and the relationship between both their living and dead inhabitants is still a matter of debate. Whereas some scholars maintain that membership was mainly based on biological kin ties, others maintain that the house had a more practical function, hosting unrelated individuals that cooperated in joint work activities. At present, most research into the composition of the Neolithic social groups has been undertaken by looking at architecture and settlement structure, variations in intra-group mortuary practices, and by drawing ethnographic parallels with existing agricultural societies. Comparatively, few attempts have been made to gather evidence directly from the human remains. By integrating evidence of biological relatedness (ancient DNA) and human mobility (Strontium and Oxygen stable isotopes) from several Pre-Pottery to Pottery Neolithic sites with the evidence gained through more traditional avenues of archaeological investigation, the research project What’s in a house? Exploring the kinship structure of the world´s first houses aims to fill in this gap and contribute to a better understanding of the social changes that accompanied the emergence and development of the world's first sedentary societies.
Fernández-Dominguez E. (2022). Ancient DNA of Near Eastern Neolithic populations: the knowns and the unknowns. In: Whittle A., Pollard J., and Greaney S. Ancient DNA and the European Neolithic. Oxbow books.
Fernández-Dominguez E. (2023). Human populations: origins and movements. Handbook of Archaeological Sciences. Pollard M. Eds. Wiley.
Fernández-Domínguez E. Tracing the origin and spread of the Neolithic in Europe using ancient DNA: state of the art and future work. NeoNet: Origin, development and consolidation of the Neolithic in the Mediterranean region. 14h September 2021.
Fernandez-Domínguez E. Ancient DNA of Near Eastern Neolithic populations: the knowns and the unknowns. Neolithic Study Group Seminar Series 2021 “Ancient DNA and the Neolithic”. 1st November 2021.
Fernández-Domínguez E. Ancient DNA migration, admixture and kinship in European and Near Eastern prehistoric populations. 1st interdisciplinary workshop on ancient and historical DNA. Newcastle University, 17th January 2022.
Blevins K.E., Plug H., Pearson J., Bach A., Molist M., Fernández Domínguez E. (2023, submitted). A test of pretreatment and DNA extraction methods for revealing endogenous content in Neolithic human remains from the Near East. ISBA10: New horizons in Biomolecular Archaeology. Tartu, Estonia. September 2023.
Ancient DNA Laboratory. Photo credit: Jeff VeitchPPNB archaeological site of Tell Halula, Syria. Photo credit: SAPPO (Seminari d´Arqueologia Prehistorica del Proxim Orient, Barcelona)