Fossils of newborn girls are first recorded prehistoric twins

By Chelsea Whyte on June 1, 2012 1:27 PM EDT

Twins
Twin set of prehistoric bones, dubbed individual OL-2000-8245 (right) and OL-2000-8246 (left). (Photo: N. Molist)

A prehistoric grave found in the Iberian peninsula is cause for a double take. Researchers from the Autonomous University of Barcelona discovered remains of prehistoric newborn girls buried together with their legs intertwined.

After a blind test, in which researchers weren't aware the individuals were found together, they determined that the newborns were indeed twins. These sisters are is the first set of prehistoric twins ever recorded, according to Phys.org. Their bones, found in a site outside Barcelona, date back to between the middle of the 4th century B.C. and the beginning of the 2nd century B.C.

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"There has been much talk of possible twins but never has sufficient data been gathered in the field to determine whether findings belong to the same chronological moment in time, nor has data ever been found on the same stratigraphic level to guarantee with such certainty like in this instance," said Eulalia Subira, a UAB researcher and the co-author of a study published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology outlining the finding.

Subira's team used forensic anthropology methods to conclude the gender and age of the prehistoric pair. By examining the stage of bone hardening, the length of bones, and the tooth buds - tissue that includes the enamel organ that later grows into teeth - researchers determined that the newborn girls were between 38 and 40 weeks of gestation.

Subira says that "they also carried out DNA analysis but it was not possible to obtain DNA data on one of the individuals despite repeating sampling taking and analysis."

The study shows that none of the bone remains show pathological evidence of the cause of death, but says, "it could have been a consequence of difficult pregnancy or childbirth. Lack of sufficient hygiene could have lead to infant and maternal mortality in Prehistoric times."

These fossils shed light on the prehistoric society they were born into and the roles of women in the workplace.

"The burial ritual typical of the Iberian period was cremation. Children, however, were buried under the house," Subira said in an interview with the Scientific Information and News Service (SINC). The twins were found buried under a workshop where skins were tanned and dyed, which may suggest that mothers worked in the tannery, she said. 

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