Solving the Mystery of Conjoined Twins at Angel Mounds
In 1941, an archaeologist named Glenn Black and his crew of WPA workers uncovered an unusual single burial of two infants, both about three months old, at a Middle Mississippian site (11th-15th c AD) called Angel Mounds near Evansville, Indiana. Because of the positioning of the skeletons, Black suggested the burial might be that of conjoined twins.
|Diagram of skeletons W11A60 and W11A61 from Angel Mounds|
In order to shed light on this mystery, Charla Marshall, Patricia Tench, Della Collins Cook, and Frederika Kaestle undertook aDNA analysis, with the idea that conjoined twins would share mitochondrial genotypes because they have the same mother. In a brief communication to AJPA, Marshall and colleagues (2011) report that their DNA sequencing clearly showed no maternal relationship. It is still possible the infants were related, but they were not twins, conjoined or otherwise. The question remains: why were these two infants buried in this manner?
This study, of course, would have been more interesting had the authors found conjoined twins, but they showed that certain interpretations about burials are now better made in a laboratory setting through the addition of chemical analysis of osteological data.
Marshall C, Tench PA, Cook DC, & Kaestle FA (2011). Brief communication: Conjoined twins at Angel Mounds? An ancient DNA perspective. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Early View. PMID: 21834072.