IN SEARCH OF OUR ANCIENT ANCESTORS
From the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth
‘Unusual and fascinating’ – Your Family Tree.
‘All-encompassing… uplifting’ – Family Tree.
‘Will get you thinking’ – Lostcousins.com
Family Tree magazine’s TOP CHOICE of books in January 2016
‘Easy to follow and largely compelling’ – Genealogists’ Magazine.
‘Among the best treatments I have read that puts the science of Y-DNA into a rich and readable narrative’ – The American Genealogist
Published in October 2015, a month after my celebration of a quarter century as a genealogist, this book is the result of a decade’s genealogical investigation into what both mythology and, separately, science, can really tell us about our ancestry. Its main focus is the scientific explanation, and traces our story from the origins of life right down to our evolution into humans, and how the ancestors of the British survived the Ice Age in Europe and, in doing so, ignited the sparks of curiosity which led to our own perennial fascination with who we are and where we come from. The book includes an explanation of how genetics helps and how it roots each of us in this magnificent story of Life on Earth in the most meaningful way imaginable.
Published by Pen & Sword in hard back in October 2015, 266 pages, with line illustrations and charts in the text and a set of black and white plates.
ISBN 978 1 47384 921 1, price £19.99/$39.95
Order from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or direct from Pen and Sword (if you quote 291042 in the ‘Submit Voucher’ box on the final ‘field’ of the Pen and Sword order form you will receive a discount: you can also order by telephone from Pen & Sword on 01226 734222).
This book is supported by a series of short films. The first, made in May 2016, is about our evolutionary family history and can be seen here (Ancient Origins reviewer Petros Koutoupis commented ‘this was a very enjoyable video. It really starts to bring the publication of the same name to life’). The second, about our ancient ancestors in Stone Age Britain, was completed in July 2016, and is here, and the third, about our Neolithic, Bronze and Iron Age ancestors in Britain, which I completed in September 2016, is here. Although I have been a TV presenter for many years now, the process of film-making is new to me and you will see, I hope, a gradual improvement in the films, as I learned the various techniques and skills of using the editing software, and of editing itself. The films are intended to support and even add to the book, but it is the book which remains the heart and soul of my work, and I do hope they will encourage you to buy and read it.
My book In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth is the result of eleven years’ genealogical research aimed at fashioning a coherent, readable narrative about the ancestry of the modern British, from the start of the world onwards, out of the complex findings of scientists. It also compares this modern scientific view with the myths our ancestors told themselves about their origins, before they knew what we know now.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors follows the model for genealogies pioneered almost 3,000 years by the first named genealogist, Hesiod, whose Theogony started with the creation of the world and then related the genealogy of the gods, which was really a metaphor for the development of the world as he understood it in his own time.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors is divided into five books, of Life, Man, Ice, Grain and Myths. The Book of Life explains how, in the sixteenth century, the British had lost faith in their Medieval origin myths which connected them back to Adam and Eve via Britain’s mythical founder, Brutus of Troy: when people stopped believing in him he left a void which seventeenth century intellectuals attempted to fill using Natural Science, which relied on direct observation of the natural world. This new scientific quest for understanding was ‘a colossal act of genealogical research’ which led to the theory of evolution, Charles Darwin’s discovery of Natural Selection and Gregor Mendel’s understanding of genetics in the nineteenth century. The next chapters tell the story of the world, starting with the Big Bang, the forming of the solar system and the appearance of the first, single-celled life.
Most books on this subject might then describe the evolution of life in general: plants, fungi, insects, dinosaurs, birds and elephants are all cousins who share ancestors in common with us, but In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors focuses relentlessly on the life-forms which were our great-great-grandparents through 3,500 million years. Our ancestors were single-celled, then multi-celled, then worm-like until at last evolved into fish. We follow our ancestral story as our fishy ancestors became amphibians and crawled out onto dry land to become first amphibious labyrinthodonts, then reptilian synapsids; then small, furry mammals and then tree-dwelling primates. Along the way the book chronicles the great events in the Earth’s history, the mass extinctions by comet and volcano which our ancestors survived, the forming and fragmenting of the super-continents and the complex process which created the British Isles.
The Book of Man chronicles the evolution of our own, human species out of the savannah-dwelling australopithecuses, the ‘southern-apemen’. The human family tree branches early on, with Homo erectus colonising Britain almost a million years ago. Their descendants became Neanderthals, whilst our branch in Africa evolved into Homo sapiens. But genetics proves now that, later, when our ancestors left Africa about 70,000 years ago, they interbred with Neanderthals, making both these branches of the human family tree ancestors of us all today. This section also chronicles changing attitudes towards this ‘Out of Africa’ theory and explains the way genetics has revolutionised our understanding of this important phase of our ancestral story through the discovery of the ‘Genetic Adam’ and ‘Mitochondrial Eve’. It explains the branching off of the Denisovans and H. Floresiensis, who were so small that they have been nicknamed ‘Hobbits’.
The Book of Ice focuses on the modern human colonisation of Europe during the Ice Age from about 40,000 years onwards. For most of the Upper Paleolithic, as this period is known, Britain was too cold to be inhabited so action focuses on our ancestral homes in the caves of Germany, Spain and, mainly, France. It was here that Ice Age art flourished and, by implication, human brains made their final transition to become the imaginative, ingenious and intensely inquisitive organs they are now. It was here, then, that our ancestors are likely to have started wondering who they were and where they came from. We follow their story through the Aurignacian, Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian cultural phases, exploring caves full of paintings of mammoths, bison and even some of our human ancestors, and try to understand our forebears’ minds. We explore the places in Britain were humans came, following herds of reindeer, in the brief spells when the ice relented.
The Book of Grain tells the story of humanity after the Ice receded, ten thousand years ago. Mesolithic hunters, descended from cave-painting forebears, settled permanently in Britain and were cut off from the Continent by rising sea-levels. Meanwhile, humans in the Middle East developed Neolithic farming. Some remained, building cities and giving rise to the great civilisations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and, ultimately, Greece. Others migrated west, erecting standing stones along the Atlantic seaboard and crossing the English Channel to mix with the existing population and build stone circles and long barrows on Britain’s hills. This section follows Britain’s story down, briefly, to the Norman Conquest of 1066.
That much we know through science. The final section of In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors, the Book of Myths, explores what our ancestors thought about their origins before any of this was known. It breaks down the origin myths of cultures all around the world, from Genesis to the oral traditions of the Aboriginals and Siberians, into their component parts – how the world emerged out of nothing; who the gods were; what existed first (usually, a primal sea); how land emerged (usually, out of the primal waters) and how it was shaped; how life appeared and how the first humans were made. Origin myths from around the world share so much in common that a common origin for them all, perhaps in Ice Age Europe, is possible. Some common themes, such as great floods, can be explained (in terms of two stories about watery origins being fused together). By understanding these common themes we may speculate on the otherwise entirely lost beliefs of the early, barrow-building inhabitants of Britain.
Most cultures with origin myths tend to fill the gap between the first humans which they have imagined, and the living, using genealogy. Most such genealogies are partly made-up, but whilst the myths themselves were believed, these family trees served the purpose of connecting the living back to a story which starts with the beginning of the world. That, the book argues, was the original purpose of genealogy.
The mythological pedigree which linked the British to Adam and Eve is the subject of another book which I have written, Brutus of Troy.
The book ends with an epilogue explaining how genetics serves the same human psychological need today, for it links anyone who takes a genetic test into the family tree of all humanity, as defined by genetics, which in turn links into the greater story of life, as told in this book. An example of this, using my own family history as an example, is here At the very end are some blank pages, like those in old family bibles, for you to add details of your own family history to the magnificent results of what we found when we went In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors.
ISBN 978 1 47384 921 1, price £19.99
“Any book which includes a picture of a trilobite, captioned as a “distant cousin” of humans, is destined to offer a different perspective on history from most in the genealogical sphere. Here genealogist Anthony Adolph celebrates his own quarter century in the field with this unusual and fascinating book, taking a long view of who we are and where we come from. His aim is to look at both science and myth in the process. The first four sections explore the former, taking in the growth of natural science, and evolution in particular, and how it has informed our understanding of that shared heritage between trilobites and us. It offers a good grounder in anthropology and prehistory, although it can feel a little breathless at times – the civilised era from the 1st century BC to the present is gone in a blink of four pages [because it is covered in so many other books – AA]. The last section then looks at myth, exploring common patterns in human origin myths and how they have filled the gap between our ancient past and the genealogies we trace today. An interesting epilogue gives readers a good sense of what DNA means to genealogy, and even offers a new way to present our ancestral lines. Don’t expect a genealogy ‘how to’ here – but enjoy a rollercoaster through human existence, which may help give a bigger picture as to why we do genealogy at all” -Your Family Tree magazine, issue 161, October 2015, p. 88 (accompanied on p. 89 with a full-page interview with me, quoted below, about why I wrote the book).
Your Family Tree magazine (issue 161, October 2015, p. 89) also carried an interview with me about the book, which they have kindly allowed me to reproduce here in full (below).
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors was noticed on Nick Thorne’s excellent Nosey Genealogist blog on 18 October 2015: “I was very pleased to hear from Anthony Adolph this week, about his new book In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors: from the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth especially as I had just been reading all about it in Your Family Tree Magazine and was intrigued as the magazine review called it ‘unusual and fascinating’ “.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors was noticed on 23 October 2015 on the ARCHI UK (Archaeological & Historical Sites Index) Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/archiuk
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors was noticed on 23 October 2015 on the Pen and Sword Facebook page. They commented, “This book charts not only the extraordinary story of our ancient ancestors but also our 40,000 year-long quest to discover our roots, from ancient origin myths of world-shaping mammoths and great floods down to the scientific discovery of our descent from the Genetic Adam and the Mitochondrial Eve. Our complete ancestry down from the earliest life on earth, in one book!”
“Takes the genealogy hunt back 3,500 million years!” – The Highlander, November/December 2015, p. 66.
“It’s good to read as a whole; but is also a perfect dip-into book” – Rosemary Kingsland, author of Hold Back the Night, The Secret Life of a Schoolgirl, &c.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors was noticed in November 2015 as a recommended book ‘for prehistoric, mythical and genetic genealogy’ on Don Stone’s ancient genealogies website.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors became in November 2015 one of the select “Recommended Books and Videos” on Family Tree DNA‘s website.
In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was featured ‘in the spotlight’ in Pen & Sword’s Christmas 2015 circular, along with my other new book, Brutus of Troy.
In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was ‘Book of the month’ in The Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies’s December 2015 newsletter (no. 172), which described it as “A Christmas gift for the genealogist who has everything”.
“Marvel at our shared family trees going back millions of years and the beginnings of human history and beliefs in Anthony Adolph’s all-encompassing book, 11 years in the making. Subtitled ‘From the Big Bang to Modern Britain, in Science and Myth’, this does exactly what is says on the tin – opening our eyes to our individual places ‘within the greater family tree of humanity’. Anthony has taken an unusual cross-field approach to genealogy, examining what science tells us of early life on our beautiful blue planet alongside origin myths from around the world. This joint genetic and theological approach is an attempt to reveal what our origins are alongside how humans developed the consciousness and intelligence to question who we are and what – and where – we came from. Exploring what our ancient and not-so ancient ancestors believed and thought about themselves makes for interesting reading as we see how and why origin myths developed – and how, in fact, they are all part of the same story. But this is a practical read as well as a thought-provoking one. If you’re trying to get to grips with genetic genealogy or to understand the results of a DNA test, for example, you’ll find this explained in layman’s terms. In addition, the book’s epilogue comes with ideas for organising and writing your own narrative pedigree so you can see how you fit into the great family tree of humanity. The story, of course, is still being written but it’s uplifting, especially at a time of turbulence and uncertainty in the modern world, to look beyond our individual trees and remind ourselves how we are all connected” – Family Tree magazine, January 2016, p. 44, who voted it OUR TOP CHOICE of reviewed books.
In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was recommended in Dr Diane Brook’s article “How far back can you get?” in Family Tree, January 2016, p. 33.
In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was supported by an article by myself entitled “Getting to know our ancient ancestors” in Family Tree in January 2016, with a reader offer.
“Anthony Adolph is a professional genealogist who has written many family history books, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from his latest book, In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors. Having read it I’m still slightly shell-shocked by the range of topics that he covers, from the origins of the universe and life on Earth to the present day DNA analysis that aims to answer some of our questions about our past. And everything in between! Underlying the book is the simple truth that his ancestors are also our ancestors – we all share the same ancestors, which means that the history of the human race and its predecessors is equally relevant to all of us. This isn’t a book for the average family historian – at times I felt as if I was on University Challenge – but then LostCousins members aren’t average family historians. If you’re looking for a book that will get you thinking – and, perhaps, challenge some of your preconceptions about who we are and where we came from – then this could be for you” – Peter Calver, Founder, LostCousins, Lostcousins.com newsletter, December 2015.
“Explores the full story of our family tree dating back 3,500 million years”, Federation of Family History Societies newsletter, January 2016, which featured In Search of our Ancient Ancestors in their prize competition.
“Most enlightening, especially from a genealogists point of view” – Catherine Moir, Ancestry.co.uk, February 2016.
In March 2016, In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was one of the recommended books (along with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997) and Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014)) on Don Stone’s Stone DNA and chart.
In the week of 28 March -3 April, In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was a featured book on the front page of the Ancient Origins website.
“Great book on our ancestors, going back to the big bang. Well written and very interesting. Want to know where we really come from and how we got to be who we are today. This is as up to date as any book can be. What happened to the Neanderthal? Where’d the Cro-Mangon come from? Here it is. – G2, on Amazon.co.uk, 21 February 2016.
In Search of our Ancient Ancestors was featured on p. 46 of the Spring 2016 edition of RU: St George’s [College] Reunite [Magazine], which wrote that it and Brutus of Troy “seek to take British genealogy back further than it has ever gone before”.
“Excellent book. Very well researched and covers lots of bases.The Author confronts the dichotomy between Science and Religion in a very balanced and sympathetic manner” – Anthony Weld Forester, Ancestry.co.uk, March 2016
“It is a clear desire and evidence of our enquiring minds that human beings need to understand our origins – who we are and where we come from. Without doubt, this desire is string in genealogists, explaining our efforts to provide the evidence we need to map out our ancestry from written records. This book takes the enquiring mind much further back – from ancient times and the theories of Hesiod outlining the continuous thread of the human family tree at the beginning of the world, through to the new scientific discovery of genetic testing and DNA through which our male-line Y chromosome can be identified. The journey from Adan and Eve, to Neanderthals and the ‘thinking man’, i.e. Homo Sapiens, is laid out for the reader…. Given the complex nature of the subject matter in this book, particularly with reference to the author’s enlightening family tree for Her Majesty The Queen, using a combination of male genetic signatures and genealogical data, going back to Homo Erectus, the narrative is easy to follow and largely compelling in its arguments…” – Barbara Jarvis, Genealogists’ Magazine, vol. 32, no. 2, June 2016, pp. 84-5.
“If you are seeking answers about who you are and your origins then this thought-provoking book could be useful” – Essex Family Historian, no. 159, 2016.
“Adolph has set out on the grandest of missions: to explain to the layman how the universe came into being, how life and eventually humans evolved and how they began to shape their world into one in which succession and descendency mattered…. in an engaging and clever manner”. Of the part concerning creation myths he wrote “An examination of the creation myths around the world, attempting to put them into a unified perspective and putting them against the background of evolution and descendency. This was, for me, the most fascinating part of the whole book, and the one which taught me most. I will take away with me pieces of this research as life knowledge”… “Overall, the book was a thoroughly engaging and interesting read, clearly not entirely suitable to everyone. A science duffer like me had to frown and count the floor tiles throughout the genetic investigations. A true believing follower of any religion will have some trouble with the pragmatism. But I think everyone will find something of interest within and I can guarantee that everyone will learn something” – Simon Turney on Goodreads.com (and also due to appear on www.unrv.com, the website about Roman history). (as an aside, Simon Turney took issue in his review with my statement that William the Conqueror’s descendants sit on the British throne to this very day. He wrote, “They do not. There is no direct blood link between the Norman Duke William and the house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, separated by a series of incoming bloodlines and usurpers”. I am not sure why he wrote that, because the Queen’s line of succession from William the Conqueror is a matter of fact and public record, and each line of ‘incoming bloodlines and usurpers’ , had impeccable ancestry back to the Conqueror (Cromwell excepted, and he is not part of the lineage in question). Even if some of the individual genealogical connections in the line of succession may be doubted, the Queen has so many other genealogical lines back to William the Conqueror (through her mother, for example) that the statement ‘there is no direct blood link’ is impossible to substantiate. More to the point, because of Most Recent Common Ancestor theories set out in my book, we must all be in direct blood lines back to William the Conqueror – Simon Turney included!)
“Fascinating. If you are interested in genealogy or just how do we fit in the world, this is a study of just that…understanding the science, the creation stories, and how they work together so that we can explain and understand our human story. It could fit as a companion to Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari” – Karin, on Goodreads.com, summer 2016
“In this publication, renowned genealogist, Anthony Adolph, tackles the difficult of tracing the origins of modern man through science and mythology, from as early the Big Bang. It is quite the ambitious undertaking, but I must admit that Adolph succeeded in accomplishing his goal” – Petros Koutoupis, Ancient Origins, June 2016.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors was the subject of talk which I gave at the Society of Genealogists in London on 20 July 2016 at 2pm.
“Just finished the above book, and wish to pass on how engrossing and enlightening I found it. The development of life from the Big Bang to now has been tabled in a lot of books, reports, documentaries, etc, but I found your approach most insightful, progressive, and engaging. Of particular note, your development of the origin myths, I found most enlightening; particularly insofar as how they were transmitted from one culture to another”- Paul Brady, via e-mail, 19 September 2016.
In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors features on Family Tree DNA’s page of recommended books – rubbing shoulders with the books Spencer Wells and Cavalli-Sforza, two great luminaries in this field whose findings I devoured long before my own book was published. And now they stand side by side.
Cited (‘This scholarship on ancient origins is ably digested by Anthony Adolph in In Search of our Ancient Ancestors) in “A long XY line”, Nathaniel Lane Taylor, FASG, The American Genealogist (‘an independent quarterly journal dedicated to the elevation of genealogical scholarship’ founded by Donald Lines Jacobus in 1922), July 2016 (released December 2016), p. 187.
“… pushes our genealogical connections further back into the remote biological past. Starting with the origins of life and the remotest phylogenetic tree of life on Earth, Adolph settles into an extended study which skillfully summarizes the last two decades of genetic research on our ‘deep ancestry’, using mitochondrial and Y-chromosome DNA to trace the human family over the last few hundred thousand years, with special attention to questions like the interaction of the Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, and Denisovan populations as we spread from Africa throughout the world. … among the best treatments I have read that puts the science of Y-DNA into a rich and readable narrative of human evolution and migration, with special emphasis on the waves of human colonization of Britain in prehistoric times. In Search of Our Ancient Ancestors ends with a speculative section on the development of human origin legends, including Biblical ones, setting the stage for Adolph’s next and most recent book, Brutus of Troy and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British.” – Nathaniel Lane Taylor, FASG, The American Genealogist (‘an independent quarterly journal dedicated to the elevation of genealogical scholarship’ founded by Donald Lines Jacobus in 1922), July 2016 (released December 2016), p. 237.
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This is the full text of the interview with me which appeared in Your Family Tree magazine (issue 161, October 2015, p. 89, and reproduced with their permission):
– what led you to pursue this 11-year project to understand our ancient origins and beliefs about them?
An urgent curiosity about how much other disciplines, particularly archaeology, fossil-hunting and genetics could bring to our subject, if we would but let them; a frustration that there was no clear explanation of this already, from those disciplines; a deep fascination with what origin myths had said about our beginnings before science came along; and a desire, bordering perhaps on obsession, to sort out not only my ancestry, but also all of our ancestries, as far back as could we can possibly go.
– have you explored your own ancient origins through DNA testing? if so, what did you learn?
Everything! Before genetics, I knew my male-line Adolphs back to the 1600s. Now I know that Otzi the Iceman, who died about 3,300 BC, was a cousin in that same male line, and I understand exactly how that line links into the greater family tree of all humanity, as defined by the male-line Y chromosome, right back to ‘the Genetic Adam’ – and beyond.
– how do you think understanding the ‘long view’ genealogy of mankind can help today’s family historians?
By giving us a sense of perspective. Instead of being overwhelmed by all the scientific and mythological attempts to explain what has gone before, we can use both to really start understanding the distant past and our relationship to it, and to comprehend the ancient origins to which all the family lines we’re busy tracing go back. And once you know there the ultimate point to which those lines lead, it becomes much easier to fill in some of the blanks along the way.
– which origin myths do you find most interesting?
The Greek ones are the most poetic, the most beautiful, the most compelling. It is in Hesiod’s reworking of the Greek origin myths, about 2,700 years ago, that western genealogy (and, eventually, this book) has its origins.
– what did you find most surprising in your research through all these millennia of human (and animal) development?
Five years ago, when much of the book was already researched, Neanderthal DNA was suddenly discovered in modern humans. My chapters on Neanderthals and their Homo Erectus ancestors in ancient Britain stopped being a side-line about distant cousins, and became family histories of direct ancestors of ours, taking our ancestral connection to Britain back almost a million years.
– what’s your next book or research project?
A book linked to this one, which is being published by Pen and Sword at the end of November this year: Brutus of Troy, and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British. It focusses on, decodes and celebrates Britain’s main, ancestral origin myth. And after that, taking this national family history project further back, I have in my sights Brutus’s (mythological) great grandfather, Aeneas of Troy.
[end of the interview – and many thanks indeed to Your Family Tree!]
The colour blue
In February and March 2016 the press was full of a story alleging that our ancient ancestors were oblivious to the colour blue. Anything so odd is probably incorrect, and on 3 March I made the following suggestion on the National Geographic website (which contained an article about this and the apparent lack of plants in Palaeolithic art):
Most ancient writings were concerned with events, not descriptions, so detailing colours was not a high priority. Homer had a smallish set of stock-descriptions, inherited from the Greek epic tradition, including his famous wine-dark seas, but we know he had problems with his sight so his own lack of mentions of blue may be connected to that. But the Mesopotamian epic Inanna’s descent into the Underworld, which is easily as old as Homer, if not much more so, provides an unusual description of the goddess Inanna dressing, and here we hear of her wearing a lapis lazuli necklace, and taking up a rod made of lapis lazuli. And lapis lazuli is blue. So maybe there are other mentions of blue out there, but ‘hidden’ because the poets concerned used terms for things which were blue, and not the word blue itself. As to the lack of plants in Ice Age art, the artists (male or female – we have no idea) tended only to paint animals which they hunted, and this was probably because they revered them, or believed that ancestral spirits inhabited them (or that they actually were ancestral spirits). In general, they tended to ignore almost everything else – mammals who were predators, birds, insects, landscapes – so it was not just plants they tended not to paint – Anthony Adolph, author of In Search Of Our Ancient Ancestors (which includes chapters on Ice Age art).
Order from Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com or direct from Pen and Sword (if you quote 291042 in the ‘Submit Voucher’ box on the final ‘field’ of the Pen and Sword order form you will receive a discount: you can also order by telephone from Pen & Sword on 01226 734222).