In Search of our Ancient Ancestors by Anthony Adolph
Book Review by SJA Turney
I will say from the outset that the reason I took on this review copy was because I found the concept interesting enough to draw me in to read, so I started on good terms.
I am, for those who don’t know me, a historian and author with a solid bent towards the classical world (especially of Rome and the successor world of Rome.) I am a scientific dunce. I cannot change a light bulb, or even explain how one works. But just ask me about the religious policy of Maxentius, I dare you. So it turns out that there’s only a small amount of this book that I can say deals even remotely with my area of expertise.
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. Nothing too grand, then…. I would say the book can be neatly split into perhaps 6 parts (which clearly do not correspond with the 5 parts into which the author divides it!)
1. Adolph begins by spending perhaps a third of the book on dealing with the creation of our world, from a fairly in-depth look at the big bang, down through our evolution with legs and lungs, right to sloping foreheads, Neanderthals, Homo-everything etc. I personally found this section fascinating, as it examined a subject about which I am vague at best, and did it in an engaging and clever manner.
2. The evolution of humanity from our earliest stages down to the city-builders and farmers was equally interesting to me, as it filled in a lot of blanks in my knowledge and did so, again, in a engaging way.
3. Sadly, for me, the third part was a seemingly endless investigation of genetics. I coped with the subject until about the thirtieth use of the world ‘haplotype’, but after a while the science section really blurred for me, and I had to fight to keep my interest. Did I mention I am about as scientifically-oriented as a cheese and onion baked potato. Now don’t get me wrong – there will be people who love this section, and good for them. But not I.
4. Aha… suddenly we’re back to the fun stuff for me, with an investigation into the world of the Neolithic through to the iron age. Troy, Sumer, Greece, Rome, Egypt, ancient Britain etc. Now, to be honest I was a little taken aback here by some of his precise claims in the text. ‘Hallstatt culture – a social order dominated by violent warriors whose faith in the druidic concept of reincarnation…’ is a prime example. The only records of the druids are from Roman authors and are heavily influence by Roman views. We simply have no idea what the druids’ concepts actually were since they had no written record.
5. An examination of the creation myths around the world, attempting to put them into a unified perspective and setting 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 the most. I will take away with me pieces of this research as life knowledge. Moreover, without wanting to annoy avidly religious readers, my own views lean heavily away from organised theologies and I smiled at the following lines: ‘We can recognise them as the products of active, questing human minds, sometimes stimulated by religious trances and religious drug use. We can relax and enjoy them for the fantastic stories they really are.’
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6. A conclusion and then a dip, briefly, possibly just to befuddle me, into the whole haplogroup science again. 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.
ANTHONY ADOLPH has been a professional genealogist for over a quarter of a century. His interest in the past started with his own family, whose story led him back into the nineteenth century, and then further back, up lines of aristocratic and ultimately royal ancestry which ran far back into the Dark Ages before terminating with mythological heroes; and also up genetic lines which lead back inexorably to the origins of the human race, and beyond.