Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Keeping it in the family

We are told, often with nerve tingling intensity and sentimentality, that Christmas is a time for families. Seeing one’s family becomes, seemingly, the be-all and end-all of this time of year. We are also told every year that that this is the most likely time for family quarrels and marriage break downs, due to the pressures of being family….

Now do not misunderstand me. I value and esteem family ties, my own and those of others, but one does need to be realistic about the foibles of one’s relatives, and it can be an opportunity to exercise charity and true goodwill.

Families are nothing new, they are integral to the human condition, to the human experience.
Evidence for this has been demonstrated by the analysis of the bones revealed in the excavation of a Neolithic barrow in Gloucestershire, which is thought to be about 5,700 years old. This has revealed a complex pattern of burials of an extended group over five generations from one family, plus others who may have married in to it, or been assimilated to it. 

This use of a family tomb, beginning with the patriarch his presumed, four wives, and burial according to both patrilineal lines - sons near thei fathers - and matrilineal ones - grouping descendants near the matriarch of that part of the family, indicates a hierarchical family structure, a stability of farming the area, and a sense of identity in terms of shared descent from that common patriarch.

There are good summaries of the study, which is published in Nature, and its use of DNA sampling, from BBC News at World's oldest family tree created using DNA

A Neolithic family Christmas is, ipso facto, an oxymoron, but this study does show the dynamic of family life in building societies from the earliest times.

1 comment:

Matthew F Kluk said...

A very good post! Merry Christmas!