Updated: Feb 11
I have been watching a documentary presented by the archeologist Neil Oliver called ‘A History of Ancient Britain’. Now bear with me because I think this fascination with artifacts and monuments from prehistory and the people that created them has relevance to you and I; relevance to the need we have to discover and share our families’ stories.
As Oliver says, the human story is one of identity. Who were these people of ancient times and how have they shaped our land and our view of ourselves?
Oliver tells a gripping story of the curious finds and monuments found in the British and Irish landscape. Apart from his evident enthusiasm for the subject, why is this story so compelling? Well obviously there is the human fascination for solving mysteries, but tied into that is a very human desire to understand ourselves, where we have come from and what has shaped the people we are today.
The story of Ancient Britain begins 8,500 years ago as the last ice age retreated and Britain and Ireland were still part of the European continent. Gradually as sea levels rose our islands emerged and the outline of Great Britain and Ireland as we now know them came to be.
As Oliver visits various paleolithic, mesolithic and neolithic sites he talks passionately about ‘Our Land’. The people who lived on ‘our land’ in ancient times left incredible monuments in our landscape, monuments we don’t entirely understand. These people lived on ‘our land’ and by extension they’re ‘our people’.
Now I don’t know if people of modern day Britain truly are descended from the people of Ancient Britain but there’s no doubt that we feel a connection to our ancient ancestors and a certain pride in the mysteries they left behind. In exploring the Britain of 3,000 - 8,500 years ago and talking about ‘our land’ there is a suggestion that these early people, ‘our people’, have shaped our present day identity.
What this does for me is to highlight the importance of our family stories in helping us to understand where we’ve come from and who we are. Yes, these stories, like the stories exploring our ancient landscape, are primarily stories of identity.