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Skeletal remains of an adult and a child at Altwies "Op dem Boesch". Source: photo/©: Foni Le Brun-Ricalens, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques, Luxembourg/JGU

Bronze Age Burial Study Links Peoples of Britain and Luxembourg


An illuminating study published in late 2023 has found evidence of family links in the western European Bell Beaker communities, linking Britain to Luxembourg in the Bronze Age. The research delved into the genetic and cultural connections through the examination of unique double burial sites. These sites featured the poignant burials of adults and children in close embrace, suggesting significant familial ties. This discovery has led to a deeper understanding of the social structures and burial practices of ancient European communities, revealing potential patrilineal descent systems.

The study, focusing on Bell Beaker communities in Northwest Europe, marks the first genetic evidence indicating that children were buried alongside their biological mothers and other close relatives during this period.

Two Sites with Much to Glean

Researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the University of Ferrara, and other European institutions undertook a comprehensive re-examination of two remarkably similar double burial sites dating back to the Bronze Age. They published their research in late 2023 in the journal Scientific Reports.

The first site was discovered in 2000 during a highway construction project in Altwies, Luxembourg. It contained the skeletons of a woman and a 3-year-old boy buried facing each other, with the woman cradling the boy's head in her hand.

The second site was unearthed in 1887 at Dunstable Downs, England, more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) away. The study incorporated archaeology, anthropology, and ancient DNA techniques to investigate the four sets of human remains and search for cultural and genetic connections among these early Bell Beaker people. The results offer amazing insights into family dynamics and burial practices during the transition from collective to individual burials in Western Eurasia around the 3rd millennium BC.

Skeletal remains of an adult and a child at Dunstable Downs (ill./©: illustration from the book "Man, The Primeval Savage" (1894) by Worthington Smith/JGU)

Skeletal remains of an adult and a child at Dunstable Downs (ill./©: illustration from the book "Man, The Primeval Savage" (1894) by Worthington Smith/JGU)

Dr. Maxime Brami of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz initiated the investigation to explore the connections between these two distant burials, explained a JGU Mainz press release. Their team comprised archaeologists, anthropologists, and geneticists. They collaborated with institutions like the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques (INRA) and Luton Cultural Trust.

Through the examination of skeletal remains and grave goods from both sites, they aimed to decipher the significance of the double burial and unravel questions surrounding the relationship between the individuals, the circumstances of their deaths, and the similarities in burial rituals.

Dr. Nicoletta Zedda from the University of Ferrara conducted anthropological analyses, while geneticists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz performed DNA analysis on all four individuals from the two graves.

 "The skeletons from Altwies were of a woman and a boy of around three years of age, and DNA analysis revealed that they were indeed mother and son," explained Dr. Nicoletta Zedda. "The picture looks different for Dunstable Downs: a young woman and a girl about 6 years old, but DNA revealed they are in fact paternal aunt and niece."

Shared Ancestry and Cultural Similarities

The genetic data provided intriguing insights into the shared ancestry and cultural connections of the Early Bronze Age populations in Europe. Despite the geographical distance between the graves, the individuals exhibited genetic ties to steppe populations that migrated from Eastern and Central Europe during the 3rd millennium BC. Moreover, the genetic evidence suggested familial relationships among the buried individuals, indicating a practice of burying children with their biological mothers and close relatives within Bell Beaker communities.

“The data might hint at a patrilineal descent system for western Eurasian Bell Beaker people," affirmed archaeologist Dr. Maxime Brami. "And our findings suggest that – at least in some Early Bronze Age communities – extended families lived and buried their dead together, placing emphasis on biological and kin relationships."

So, this finding suggested that in some Bell Beaker communities, kinship and hereditary descent may have been traced through the male line. More evidence supporting this hypothesis came from the strict orientation rules observed in Bell Beaker graves, which were based on the deceased's gender. In the Luxembourg burial, the orientation of the boy's grave followed his male sex rather than that of his mother buried beside him.

When considering over 100 similar Bronze Age burial sites found across Eurasia, some broader patterns began to emerge. It appeared that the practice of interring an adult holding or embracing a subadult child was widespread between 3000-2000 BC, though, the meaning and reasons behind this practice remain unknown.

Although the direct causes of death for the individuals could not be definitively determined, possibilities such as violence, infectious diseases, or pandemics were considered. However, what became evident was the deep symbolic significance attached to the ritual treatment and positioning of the bodies during burial, a significance that was consistently adhered to across different regions.

While various explanations were proposed for the practice of joint burial and simultaneous death, such as violence, infections, or pandemics, the remarkable similarities observed between the burials in Luxembourg and Britain suggest that communities, possibly even families, in Bell Beaker Europe mourned their deceased in accordance with widely held and closely followed formal rituals.

"The body of a woman, lying as though sleeping, clasping a child in her arms, is poignant and emotive. Although that peaceful image may be deceptive, it still reflects a lost meaning retained across thousands of miles and amongst many diverse cultures," concluded Dr. Brami.

Top image: Skeletal remains of an adult and a child at Altwies "Op dem Boesch". Source: photo/©: Foni Le Brun-Ricalens, Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques, Luxembourg/JGU             

By Sahir Pandey


Altuntas, L. 2024.  Infinite Embrace: New research sheds light on Bronze Age family relationships that link Britain to Luxembourg. Available at:

Carvajal, G. 2024.  More than 100 Eerie Bronze Age Tombs Similar to the Embrace One Discovered Across Europe. Available at:

Zedda, N.,  et al. 2023.  Biological and substitute parents in Beaker period adult–child graves. Scientific Reports, 13. Available at:



So the possibility that the deaths of the co burials could've happened at different times hasn't been considered? For example, mother dies, then three years later three yo then buried with her, mother providing guidance and company in the afterlife. That scenario has to be a strong possibility

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I am a graduate of History from the University of Delhi, and a graduate of Law, from Jindal University, Sonepat. During my study of history, I developed a great interest in post-colonial studies, with a focus on Latin America. I... Read More

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