Tag Archives: ancestor work

Walking with the Ancestors Part 6-A

I just wanted to take this moment to acknowledge two things.

First, this blog is coming up on 900 subscribed followers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you to all my readers. You folks are amazing!

Second, I am creating a master index page for both this series and it’s companion, Walking with the Spirits. The reason is ease of navigation. If you want to read multiple chapters from these two series, I have now made it easier to do so.

Onward!

In the last chapter of this series, I mentioned that we would be moving east across the globe following in the foot steps of my ancestors. For this part of the journey, we have moved across the Beringia Land Bridge, and into North America. It is here we will meet up with the people from the Clovis Culture

clovismap2

Map of the Beringia Land Crossing (From Crystal Links)

So, for context of the Clovis Culture, we turned first to Wikipedia for a brief overview;

“The Clovis culture is a prehistoric Paleo-Indian culture, named after distinct stone tools found at sites near Clovis, New Mexico, in the 1920s and 1930s. The Clovis culture appears around 11,500–11,000 uncal RCYBP (uncalibrated radiocarbon years before present), at the end of the last glacial period, and is characterized by the manufacture of “Clovis points” and distinctive bone and ivory tools. Archaeologists’ most precise determinations at present suggest that this radiocarbon age is equal to roughly 13,200 to 12,900 calendar years ago. Clovis people are considered to be the ancestors of most of the indigenous cultures of the Americas.”

However, it must be said that this particular part of my story does not take place in New Mexico, but in Montana, with the bones of a infant boy. To get a little more context, here is a short excerpt from the BBC article;

“Scientists sequenced the genome of a one-year-old boy who died in what is now Montana about 12,500 years ago.

Some researchers have raised questions about the origins of early Americans, with one theory even proposing a link to Ice Age Europeans.

But the Nature study places the origins of these ancient people in Asia.

The infant was a member of the Clovis people, a widespread, sophisticated Ice Age culture in North America. They appeared in America about 13,000 years ago and hunted mammoth, mastodon and bison.”

anzick-2

(We are at the Lime Green dot in North America, ca 13 kya)

Some of the finds from the Clovis culture in North America are pretty fascinating. Go ahead and type Clovis Culture into Google and just look at some of the things that come up. The artifacts of particular note are the stone points associated with this culture.

I can picture it, this small boy sitting in his mother’s lap, while his father nearby is working away at a stone point for the next mammoth hunt. Which is something to keep in mind over the coarse of this series. We are just talking about artifacts here, but ancestors. Their way of life would have been very different, but they would have been as human as you or me.

Moving on, with a little more context from the BBC;

“The boy’s remains, uncovered at the Anzick Site in Montana in 1968, were associated with distinctive Clovis stone tools. In fact, it is the only known skeleton directly linked to artefacts from this culture…

Eske Willerslev, from the University of Copenhagen, and his colleagues were able to extract DNA from the bones of the Anzick boy and map his genome (the genetic information contained in the nucleus of his cells).

The researchers found that around 80% of today’s Native Americans are related to the “clan” from which the boy came.”

There is quite a bit in this tiny little little paragraph. First off, it tells us a little more about the site when the boy was found in 1968, the Anzick site. The baby boy was found alongside other Clovis-type artifacts, and this connects the boy to the Clovis people, which is a cultural complex that stretched at the time from the state of Washington to Florida.

I have to say that the most exciting part, is how this small boy was related to 80% of living Native American’s today. That would indicate that relatives of this child spread far and wide, in both space and time. His ancestors and relatives would go on to populate parts of both North America, as well as some in South America as well.

However, the Clovis Culture was short lived, though its people lived on. As NPR states;

“The artifacts from this culture (Clovis) are found from Washington state to Florida and many places in between. But the culture also disappeared suddenly, around 12,600 years ago. “

As the article goes on to point out, one of the possible reasons for this disappearance might have been climate change. Right around the time of the end of the Clovis Culture, the Younger Dryas period set in, a time when the climate turned much colder. The Clovis people would have to adapted to this change.

Certainly, there are some parallels to our own time, as we too face a changing climate. I wonder what adaptations we will have to make? What technologies we might have to leave behind? Perhaps that is a post for another time.

Before wrapping this post up, there is one more point I want to raise. In order to continue these studies, more data and research will have to be done. As NPR points out;

“That (the research) will require, among other things, cooperation with native peoples.

In the case of the Clovis child, the archaeologists worked closely with modern tribes to make sure the scientists were treating the remains appropriately. The Clovis infant is to be reburied later this year, on the property where he was unearthed.”

I think this is important to explore for a bit, since we are talking about dead ancestors here. I am thrilled that the archaeologists are working along Native American’s in this work, as I think it should be. As an animist, there is a lot more to working with the dead than just digging up bones. The remains should be treated with respect.

That being said, I do struggle with the idea of reburial. From an animistic perspective, the dead should be respected, and reburial would be the proper thing to do. However, I am also trained in archaeology, and I realize that the techniques and tool of tomorrow’s science may be different than those today. There might be more to learn from these remains, but that would require them being dug up again and again, or housed in a museum.

Honestly, the jury is still out on that one. Perhaps museum/reburial is something we should determine on a case by case basis. In this case, and in cooperation with the local Native Americans, I think they made the right call.

Besides, we are not just talking bones here, but a distant relative of mine as well.

Anzick Boy: 27.85% Match

Thanks for reading!

Sources/References;

NPR

BBC

Wikipedia (Clovis)

Clovis Culture

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Walking with the Ancestors Part 2-A

You know what, I am feeling generous, so you folks get a two-fer today! (Plus I am well into the future parts of this series, and really want to move things along!)

The Ape-Descendants (1)

It would be too much for me to detail the long history of life on Earth, over the billions of years from the first organisms to now. Such a topic is way too complex for a simple blog series such as this one. Suffice to say, that over much of the history of this planet, organisms have grown and thrived. Many of these were simple organisms, single cellular, but over time new and diverse forms of life came to inhabit Earth. Plants, animals, trilobites, dinosaurs, and eventually mammals and primates. It was from the latter that our own ancestral lines started to evolve and diverge, and about 8 million or so years ago, the earliest members of our ancestors start to appear in the fossil record.

Our story starts with those that are called the Pre-Australopithecines. In the book by Larsen, he highlights the finds of two fossils, one from Sahelanthropus tchadensis which was found in modern day Chad, and which dates from 7 – 6 million years ago. The brain was small, and much more like that of apes. That being said, it did have a couple of traits that have more in common with more modern hominids. First, it is likely that it was bidpedal, walking upright just like ourselves. Second, it had non-honing teeth. Whereas apes have teeth that have a habit of sharpening themselves, this first fossil did not, which is a characteristics of our own teeth. Several of the remains found with this fossil indicated it lived in a forest by a lake.

The other fossil found in Kenya, Orrogin tugensis, has been dated to about 6 million years ago. The remains of several different skeletons were found, most of which have indications of early traits of our own species, but also some that are reminiscent of apes. Several partial femurs indicate bipedalism, and the canines were once again non-honing. However, a hand phalanx had traits like those of apes, a curvature typical of those apes that live in trees. The indication too, that this creature evolved in a forest setting.

There were also fossils found in Ethiopia, Ardipithicus kadabba and Ardipithicus ramadis, both of which were found in an area were many other important fossils have been found, and have contributed to our knowledge of early hominid ancestry. These two fossils date from about 6 million years ago to about 4.5 million years ago. Just like the two earlier fossils, these two also showed mixed characteristics of both hominids and apes. Their fossils indicated bipedalism, and non-honing chewing, but also plenty of ape like traits that indicate a life in a forest setting.

As we move through time from about 4 million years ago, to about 1 million years ago we come across the Australopithecines, represented by hundreds of fossils spread across at least seven different species, all of which belong to the genus Australopithecus. I will not take the space to detail all these fossils, as there is plenty other of material out there for those that are interested.

However, in general as we move through time from 8 millions years ago, to about 1 million years ago, there is evidence of several changes moving through the fossil records. Brains increase in size slightly as we get closer to Homo. In addition, bone move away from more ape-like traits, towards those we see in our modern species. In addition, the teeth of our ancestors lose the honing trait that is present in apes.

Many of the same trends continue as we move from the Australopithecines to the earliest members of genus Homo. Our brains continue to increase in size, and overall the size of our faces and teeth shrink. By the time we come to about 2.5 million years ago, the first of our own genus has appeared side by side the Australopithecines, and which shares many of the same traits as those early fossils. The name of this being was Homo habilis and it was the first species in our ancestral lineage.

Homo habilis is the first hominid species associated with the use of stone tools, the so called Oldowan Complex stone tool culture, though it is possible that the contemporary species, Australopithecus ghari may have also used the stone tools. As such A. ghari is often seen as the ancestor to Homo habilis and the bridge between the early Australopithecines and the genus Homo.

Homo habilis in turn gave rise to Homo erectus, and this is where our ancestry gets really interesting. For in Homo erectus we see the first globalization of our species, as it is the first of Homo to leave its cradle in Africa, and spread across the planet. As we move closer to our own modern species, we see a continued decrease in the size of our teeth, face and jaws. Our brains continued to increase in size, as did the browridge on our skulls. There is also a generalized overall increase in our body size, the lengthening of our legs and height. Between 2.5 and 1 million years ago, stone use continued to grow and develop, and we also see the first controlled use of fire. The development of fire only aided early humans in the expansion across the globe. And it was from Homo erectus that our own modern species would evolve.

But I want to stop here. I know that this post might be a little more dull. There have been entire books written about the development and evolution of our species, and I have only recounted the smallest selection of that here. I don’t want to go on and on with endless listings of fossils and species, because that is not the point of this post. There are some resources below, and I can always provide more if you want to read more about all these topics.

The point is, in these earliest fossils we can see very distant branches of my own family tree. It is amazing to think that in the hills and valleys of Africa, are the fossils of beings to which I am related. In the shape of my skull, the size of my brain, and the hands with which I am typing, all of those things connect me back to those earliest times. I wonder if I would still be able to type this if my hands were still curved, likes those of apes? I mean, I have seen apes type just fine, but it is something that is amazing to think about.

Plus, through all the literature and artist renderings, I can kind of understand what life might have been like for the earliest of hominid ancestors. In some way, I can almost reach out and touch them. That is what all the research is about, that is what this series is about. It is about reaching out to my ancestors, and remembering them. It is about telling their stories and bridging the gap between our world and theirs. It is about learning from them, and that even after millions of years, we still carry them with us.

In our thoughts, in our blood, in our bones, and in our hearts.

So far, I have really just been “setting the stage”, so to speak. In the next chapter, we really get into the meat of this series. I will be talking more about Homo erectus, and of course, neanderthals and modern humans. That will be where my own story starts to unfold.

Thanks for reading!

Notes;

1) This is more of a pun, inspired by The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. In reality, apes and men are more like “cousins”, as we share a common ancestry.

Sources, references;

Essentials of Physical Anthropology: Discovering our Origins. By Clark Spencer Larsen

Wikipedia (Human Evolution)


Walking with the Ancestors Part 1-B

The boy sat by the fire with the old woman, and the two of them started up at the night sky. So many lights danced across the sky, and the boy had marveled at them night after night. He knew the woman besides the fire was a wise old lady, and so he asked the question that had been perched on the edge of his tongue.

“Why are there lights in the sky?” The boy asked. The woman responded with a chuckle.

“That is a long, and a very old story.” The woman said.

“I would like to hear it all the same.” The boy responded. The woman chuckled again.

“I want you to picture the world around you blackness, as black as the sky is above you.” The woman said.

“But the sky is not black, it is filled with light!” The boy said.

“This is true now, but that is not how things once were. All of this, all that you see, there was nothing in its place but black and cold. There was no light in the world, nor anywhere throughout all the worlds. At the beginning of time, there was nothing to be seen or heard, no songs or stories, and no rivers or birds in the sky, nor sky for the birds to call home.

And then there was a fire, small beyond all measure. It was small enough to fit into the palm of your hand.” The woman said.

“Why so small?” The boy said.

“Because all seeds are small at first. That small fire was the seed of everything to come, all the worlds, and all the lights in the night sky would grow from that little seed. Over the long stretches of time, the little seed started to grow. It was in that time that people came into the world.” The woman said.

“What kind of people?” The boy asked.

“They were not people like you and I, but people all the same. They grew and multiplied and so did the seed. More fires appeared in the world, and because they brought warmth and light into the cold black, the people carried them with them. The people came to be in many forms and kinds, and they carried the fires with them wherever they went. That is how the sky came to filled with light, as the fires of the people still burn in the heavens.” The woman said.

“But what about the land and the sky? Where did the forests, the plains, and the high mountains come from?” The boy asked. The woman smiled.

“I will tell you child, if you have but a little patience. As the people set across the darkness, they went about building homes for themselves. That is how this world came into being, as the dwelling for a great many peoples. They became greatly gifted in skill and art, and so they went to work and shaped a home for themselves. First they brought forth the fire from their own camp, and we call that fire the sun. They shaped the world from its burning core, and they were pleased with their work.

But in time, they found the world too hot to bear, and so they sought out ways to cool their fiery home. They found ice in the darkness, and so they brought it to the world. And so the world was cooled, and they found it to be a lot more pleasant. Something else too happened that they did not intend, because as the world cooled the land came forth from cooling fire, and the steam rose up above the land. They saw these things, and went to work once more. That is how the land came into being. So too did the sky form in those days.

That is how the earth and the rivers came into being, and the world was covered by the sky. Mountains grew high and strong, and the oceans became very deep in those days. All the while the people watched and worked, and soon they found their new home to comfortable, and so they set up homes for themselves.

The fish people loved the waters, and so they grew and multiplied in the rivers, lakes and oceans.

The bird people loved the sky and the feel of the wind, and so that is where they made their home.

The tree people found the soil to their liking, and the they too loved the wind. So they buried their roots deep in the earth, and stretched out into the sky.

And so, in kind and form did each of the people find a dwelling that suited them. The forests grew across the world, the rivers ran from the mountains, and the wind blew across the plains. The river people welcomed the fish, and the trees welcomed the birds, and the great plains loved the sounds of the herds as they crossed them.” The woman said.

“And what of people like us? We are not the same kind as the fish or the birds, or the wolves and bears of the forest. Where did our people come from?” The boy asked.

The woman smiled they widest of all smiles.

“That child; is a story for another time.” The woman said.

Commentary;

I have always enjoyed creation stories, and at the same time found them very frustrating. I think all creation stories need to be taken with a grain of salt. I don’t think any of them should be taken as literally true, and I do think such a literalism would probably be a detriment in the long run.

What also needs to be considered, is that our understanding of the world and the universe has changed quite a bit. When many of the old stories were written down, the state of knowledge was very different. In addition, when I read some of the creations stories, I am amazed at how they arose to meet the needs of a certain people, in a certain time, in a certain place. The Bible tells of Yahweh, and the stories of the Jewish People. The Norse stories tell of a land of ice giants, and of fire and ice. It has always been curious to me how the stories of many lands, have a striking resemblance to the context they arose in.

And that broad understanding was part of the inspiration for the form of this story. Not as a creation story of one being, or even a family of beings. But a story where the world was deliberately shaped by a diversity of beings. Taken separately, a lot of creation stories are about how one “god”, or a family of them, were or became the masters of everything. Yahweh alone claims that he created the whole of the universe and humanity. The Nordic stories tell of how the gods overthrew Ymir, and set themselves up as rulers, and also created humanity. I could go on and on. However, something that always struck me, that when taken together you get a world that had a lot of hands in the pot. It makes me skeptical that any one being or family of beings “created” humanity, or the universe as a whole, the universe being a complicated place after all. However, once more taken together, you certainly get a plurality of beings each invested in “making space” for their respective peoples. That is something that I really tried to capture in this story. More on this in a bit.

The Saami, Finnish, and Norse stories is from where that I took most of my inspiration, along with a healthy serving of animism and science. I want to discuss that a bit more.

Fire was the logical place to start with all of this, because in most of the sources I consulted, fire is kind of a big deal. In the Norse Creation myth, Muspelheim is the world of fire, and one of two primordial worlds. In the Kalevala, water is considered the “eldest brother” and fire the “middle brother”. The Saami creation story is a little bit different, and revolves more around the Sons of the Sun, and how they were the ancestors of the Saami. I wrote about that more in my own piece on these topics, which is linked below.

I wanted to try and fit all those inspirations in with a generalized Big Bang narrative, which in and of itself is a kind of creation story. It is a scientific narrative to be sure, which means it has been tested over and over again and generally accepted, but it is still a narrative. As such, I mixed all these ideas together and this is the result. I found that the idea that the universe started as a kind of “fiery singularity” fit in nicely with the fire metaphors. I also through some tree and “organic” imagery in their by calling it a “seed”. I am hoping a kind of “world tree”/”tree of life” metaphor becomes a bit of a theme as this progresses, because that is a concept I have always related to.

I tried my best to leave it a kind of “open narrative”, with plenty of room and diversity for other interpretations and other narratives as well. That is part of the reason I opted for the use of “people” in most cases, as opposed to “spirit” or “god.” I wanted to leave space for “others”, even if they are not the main focus of this overall story.

Eventually, my own ancestry will be the primary focus of this narrative, and as such this will move from broad things like creation stories, towards a much more focused narrative of my own ancestry. Though I do think that even that story is going to be really complicated, and leaves plenty of room as well. That is one thing I have learned over the years of compiling my own story, that ancestry is really, really complicated.

But we haven’t gotten to that part just yet.

Thanks for reading!

Sources/references;

My post on creation stories.

Poetic Edda, by Carolyn Larrington

Kalevala, translated by Francis P. Magoun.


Walking with the Ancestors – Foreword

So I am starting a new project series here on the blog, for the simple reason that it has been dwelling in my head for some time. It tried to come out in the Wanderings of Dekloka, and it failed in a spectacular fashion. There was so much that was wrong about it that I had to axe that project. The more I looked at it, the more I hated it. The sources were bad, the facts were bad, the writing was bad. Bad bad bad!

As such, that project is getting recycled and remade in a new form here. Put plainly, a good portion of it is getting thrown out. I doubt that this project will really resemble that one at all when I am through, and I will be happy if that is the case.

There are many other reasons I have for wanting to this as a blog project. It may become a book someday, but it may not. It depends on how I feel about it when I am done, and whether I not it deserves refining/expanding into a book. It will be a longer project, that is for sure. I want to share this project with you, freely and as a kind of “open access.” This is not to say that I don’t believe my time is valuable, because it is. I just don’t want this kind of work locked up behind a pay barrier. I am doing this because I want to.

And, in some way I think I am doing it because I have to. This is a story I have worked on for several years now, and I want to share the story as much as the process behind it. I think it is important. More than that, I have landed in a kind of a strange spiritual situation lately. I have been pulling myself away from “community” in the more general sense of the word. It is time for me to really reevaluate my beliefs, and the labels I once used to describe myself.

I have had a strange and winding spiritual path so far. I was raised in a kind of agnostic household. Both my mom and dad I would say believed in something greater than themselves, but that was something that we just didn’t talk about as a family. I don’t think I ever went to church as child.

I am kind of grateful for my upbringing. I didn’t have a lot of the baggage associate with being a “recovering Christian”. A little still seeped in of course, as I recited the Pledge of Allegiance every day just like every other child. The monotheism was there, but I never really considered it and we never talked about it at home. It was always something other people did. At the same time, sometimes I feel I might have missed out on something.  All the same, while other people went to church, I spent my time in the forest. I spent much of my childhood in the woods, and in many ways that is where my animism took root. I quickly learned that there were other beings out there than me, other forms of life.

My spiritual search didn’t start in earnest until high school and after, when I was more or less an adult. I went to church then, but that didn’t last long. I discovered quickly that it was not right for me. I also started to develop my interest in genealogy around the same time. My understanding of my own ancestors took root slowly, and around the same time I was introduced to paganism.

I circled through the same phases a lot of pagans do, “Wiccan” inspired forms, neopaganish things, and so on and so forth. But as my understanding of my ancestors has grown, so has my spiritual path. When I discovered my Celtic ancestors, my attention turn to Celtic forms of spirituality. When my ancestors said, “look North”, I did, and that is where I have been for the past few years. But now that is starting to wobble.

It has left me in an odd place. Constant questioning of my beliefs is an uncomfortable practice, and certainly filled with its cycles of euphoria and depression. To use a metaphor, I feel like I am in unexplored territory. I have learned a lot over the years from writers and my mentors, people that are very near and dear to my heart. But in many ways, I feel like I have come to the end of the marked trails, and the explored paths. I have come to the place where the footsteps of others have started to disappear, and I have to find my own way through the woods.

The explorer in me relishes the idea of it. In some ways it feels like a homecoming.

It also means there is quite a bit of work ahead of me. Exploring a new territory is not easy, nor it is simple. In many ways, the ancestors have always been the center and foundation of my own path. As I outlined above, the steps along my path so far have been largely inspired by my ancestors, and now it feels like they are telling me to go get lost for a while, in order to find myself and my own way again.

And maybe, just maybe leave a few footsteps for others. That is part of the reason I decided to do this publicly here, so that others can see the process.

Which brings me back to the purposes behind this project. In no small way, it is meant to help me reorient myself with my ancestors, which are very central to all that I do. The genealogy has only grown over the years, as has my understanding of genetic ancestry, archaeology and the folklore and stories associated with my ancestors. The big purpose is to pull that all together. The one thing I have always loved about animism is how compatible it is with science. I think that is a fantastic thing, and that the understanding of both has only helped me grow.

As such, what I am hoping to do with this is to try and inter-weave scientific narratives and my own understanding of animism into a form of co-evolving narrative. The current plan is to have every part of this series to be posted as two parts, an A and a B. There may even be a part C, if I feel some kind of expanded commentary is warranted.

Part A of each post will typically deal with the “science”. Each “A” will be a blog type essay, talking about things like cosmology, physics, genetics, genealogy, archaeology or any of the other assorted studies that I feel are relevant.

Part B of each post will be a short story that draws from part A. It would be best to view Part A as the logic, and part B as a kind of interpretation. The idea being to work through this project with a balance of intellect and creativity.

Without further ado, I’ll see you all in Part 1 – A, which will be coming out soon!

Thanks for reading!