The mtDNA profile of Merovingian rulers of the 7th – 8th century AD are known and available for comparison to individuals who are curious whether they may have descended from the same lineage. The story below outlines how the mtDNA profiles of the Merovingian rulers were discovered.
A Merovingian necropolis is an ancient burial ground for the Merovingians who ruled the Franks for nearly 300 years from the 5th to 8th centuries. Necropolis translates to ‘city of the dead’ and many ancient Merovingian necropoli do appear as small cities containing elaborate tombs with multiple chambers and intricate details.
The burial practices of the Merovingians are currently unknown. The aim of a recent study of the Jau Dignac et Loirac necropolis was to determine if the skeletal remains within specific sections of the tomb were from biologically related individuals. The most conclusive way to determine any biological relationships between these skeletal remains is by genetic analyses.
Genetic analyses of Merovingian remains
Recent excavations of a Merovingian necropolis in Jau Dignac et Loirac, France enabled researchers to use genetic analyses to determine the relatedness of nine individuals buried there. The mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) profile for each skeleton was determined, as the high copy number (hundreds of copies per cell), rapid evolution rate and strict maternal inheritance of mtDNA make this DNA type the most suitable and informative for the analysis of ancient human remains. There are three regions of the mtDNA that can be analyzed – two hypervariable regions (HVR1 and HVR2) and the coding region. The researchers in this study were able to obtain the full HVR1 sequence from six skeletons and a partial HVR1 sequence for three other skeletons.
These analyses showed that a man and young female in one sarcophagus (coffin) were maternally related to each other but not the remains of a third individual within the same sarcophagus. Two women in a separate sarcophagus were maternally related but the two males in the third sarcophagus were not maternally related.
Although mtDNA has numerous advantages over nuclear DNA for the analysis of ancient remains, it also has a distinct disadvantage, as only maternal relationships can be determined by this technique. This study was able to determine that maternal relationships did exist between some of the skeletons in the shared coffins, but others showed no maternal relationships. It is possible that there are paternal relationships between the other individuals buried in this necropolis but this was not determined in this study.
DNA Database Comparisons
The DNA tests conducted in this study have identified six different mtDNA HVR1 sequences from the Merovingian rulers of the 7th – 8th century AD. If you have taken the mtDNA HVR1 (Standard Maternal Ancestry) test, you can compare your mtDNA against these six types to see if you share a similar mtDNA profile.