I recently had an opportunity to spend a weekend exploring Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age sites on the Wessex Downs. Britain’s “oldest road”, the Ridgeway, runs 87 miles (137 kilometres) across the Wessex Downs eastward to the Berkshire Downs and the River Thames. It has been in use for over 5,000 years and I briefly visited it over 30 years ago.
West Kennet Long Barrow, an early Neolithic grave.
West Kennet Long Barrow
At the western end of the Ridgeway, a couple of miles from Avebury, I visited West Kennet Long Barrow which was built during the early Neolithic period around 3,650 BC. There are five stone burial chambers in the eastern end, and at least 46 people were buried here over a 1,000 year period. The entrance consists of a concave forecourt with a facade made from large slabs of sarsen stones which were placed to seal entry towards the end of its life.
Large sarsen stones guard the entrance to the Barrow
I have had a longstanding interest in megalithic monuments since I was a teenager. In part sparked by my interest in astronomy as a teenager, since the megalithic monuments of Europe show that Neolithic humans had sophisticated astronomical skills. And in part, by my interest in deep ancestry (see previous post https://mountainsrivers.com/2014/03/11/maternal-ancestors-bronze-age-iron-age-roman-britain/). And also by their connection with the barrowdowns of Middle Earth. On my first extended trip to Britain, I visited various megalithic stone circles in England and explored the barrows around the Ridgeway near Oxford.
This is the last of a series of posts on my deep maternal ancestors, identified through analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which is passed only from the mother to the child and so provides a trail of maternal ancestors identifiable through the mutations accumulated in the mtDNA. In this post I summarize the “recent” maternal ancestors who lived through the beginnings of agriculture in Britain, the British bronze age, the British iron age, the Roman occupation, and post-Roman Britain.
One of my deep maternal ancestors, Una, probably lived in the Basque region or perhaps a little further north around 12,000 years ago, which would make her my great*780th grandmother (give or take a few generations). She may well have been part of the Magdalenian culture in the foothills of the Pyrenees who produced the stunning cave paintings at sites such as Roc-de Sers, Lascaux, and Niaux. I have visited the Grotte de Niaux twice, once in 1992 and again in 2011. It is one of the few caves with Paleolithic paintings that can still be visited.
In my previous post on my deep maternal ancestors (https://mountainsrivers.com/2014/02/16/deep-maternal-ancestors-out-of-africa-into-ice-age-europe/) I summarized the “grandmothers” who contributed specific mutations to my mtDNA that allow me to trace them (and approximately when and where they lived) all the way back to Mitochondrial Eve, the most recent common maternal ancestor of all living humans. These women were real and specific individuals, and Sykes and others have given the older ones specific names (usually starting with the letter of the haplogroup they founded). I have followed this by giving names to the founders of the subgroups to which I belong. In this post, I give a brief biography of each of these ancestral grandmothers, starting with Mitochondrial Eve, placing them in evolutionary, geographic, and climatic context. Continue reading →
I have only been able to trace my maternal ancestors back to my great-great-grandmother, Amelia Buckmaster, who was born in 1809 in Hounslow, Middlesex, England and who died in 1892 in Wallingford, Berkshire, England. I recently had my mitochondrial DNA tested (see an earlier post for more on mtDNA) and the results indicated that my mtDNA haplogroup is U. I did some research on the specific mutations identified in my mtDNA and identified my subgroup more specifically as U5a1a1.This means that I now know quite a lot about specific maternal ancestors and where and when they lived, all the way back to Mitochondrial Eve who lived in Africa 192,400 years ago.
Mitochondrial Eve is the name given to the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of modern humans. In other words, she was the woman from whom all living humans today descend, on their mother’s side, and through the mothers of those mothers and so on, back until all lines converge on one person. Mitochondrial Eve is estimated to have lived around 192,400 years ago ago in southern Africa(which makes her approximately my great*9,650th grandmother). Continue reading →