Our roles as family historians, mentors, and role models can confer status and respect on us. Without grandparents, there is no tangible family line. Children who have had no contact with grandparents miss knowledge of their ancestry. They may not be able to muster a confident sense of the future as concretely represented by the fact that older people have seen their futures become the present and the past.
As grandparents we are the links to the past in our families. We can recall when the parents of our grandchildren were young, not always to their liking!
Herbert W Armstrong
We are the repositories of information about our genealogies we are well advised to record as much of that as we can. That information often becomes useful material for themes that our grandchildren write in school, and sometimes it flowers into full fledged writing about our family trees.
As grandparents we can provide advice to our children that is hopefully appreciated. That is best done tactfully and when asked for! We can bring our families together and foster and maintain communication between them. We can play healing roles in assuaging the challenges, hurts, and disappointments in our families. In doing so we need to carefully avoid stirring up difficulties, the potential for which especially lies just beneath the surface in in-law relationships. We are the conveyers of traditions in our families and in our cultures. We have much to offer our families and our communities.
We are the people who have been there. Whatever wisdom is should lie in us. We can see through the posturings of our everyday world. We can identify with the lifestream and the cycles of human existence. We know what really is important and what is not. We know that disappointments, heartaches, and pain are natural parts of life. We know that life goes on without us. We have been a part of history and often have an interest in learning more about the past. We have seen enough to know that everything is not sensible and rational.
We have had enough dreams and life experiences to know that the mystical may be more real than the rational. We have learned that whatever it is - good or bad - "it will pass.
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If we have been reasonably wise in the conduct of our own lives, we have attended to our physical health and to our spiritual and emotional needs. We know that our bodies age, that our minds fail, but that our inner I remains the same throughout our lives. This is why we feel old in our bodies and minds but not in our spirits. This is why we really do not feel that the image in the mirror accurately reflects who we are.
But we don't know how deep that love goes until we experience it. Biological or adopted, a grand-child fills our hearts and our arms, and with a pang we realize that new days and nights of wondering and worrying have begun. Grand-children's visits are times for watching and clapping for first steps again and re-installing baby gates. Taking walks around the block with toddlers who like to hold leafs and pound the pavement with tree branches and stop to watch squirrels climb trees.
Grand-children's visits are times for cooking a big meal again, or making cakes and cookies, pulling out recipes we may not have used for awhile since now meals are usually only for one or two. Grand-children's bright young faces are like flowers around the table, bringing back joyful memories of when our own children were young and growing boys or girls who ate every two hours. The refrigerator door opens and closes more often with permission of course and they know that the candy dish is their special kingdom to raid. The sibling jokes abound. The very air seems suddenly effervescent with new hopes and new dreams.
The bond between a grand-parent and a grand-child is a unique one. Oh, I know the jokes about how we have free rein to spoil our grand-children are only HALF true, but spoiling is not all that we do. We're the privileged ones who can share family history with them, not only about what their Dad or Mom was like at a certain age, but about what life and the world were like those eons ago when WE were young.
We have the opportunity to instill in them some of the "old-fashioned" values that society has discarded or forgotten. We grandparents have also acquired a wisdom and mellowness and strength of vision that we did not yet possess when our children were young. I sometimes think that God gives us the joy of grand-parenting so that we can get parenting right the second time around. Today I can look back with a pang at how short-tempered I was as a parent, how my mind was constantly preoccupied with a million concerns and pursuits.
Not as much bothers or preoccupies me now. I can be more tender, more relaxed, more aware of how miraculous a human life is, how short the time when children and grand-children are young and still at home. But this was not always the case. When did grandparents become prevalent, and how did their ubiquity affect human evolution? Research my colleagues and I have been conducting indicates that grandparent-aged individuals became common relatively recently in human prehistory and that this change came at about the same time as cultural shifts toward distinctly modern behaviors—including a dependence on sophisticated symbol-based communication of the kind that underpins art and language.
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These findings suggest that living to an older age had profound effects on the population sizes, social interactions and genetics of early modern human groups and may explain why they were more successful than archaic humans, such as the Neandertals. The first step in figuring out when grandparents became a fixture in society is assessing the typical age breakdown of past populations—what percent were children, adults of childbearing age and parents of those younger adults?
Reconstructing the demography of ancient populations is tricky business, however. For one thing, whole populations are never preserved in the fossil record. Rather paleontologists tend to recover fragments of individuals. For another, early humans did not necessarily mature at the same rate as modern humans. In fact, maturation rates differ even among contemporary human populations. But a handful of sites have yielded high enough numbers of human fossils in the same layers of sediment that scientists can confidently assess the age at death of the remains—which is key to understanding the makeup of a prehistoric group.
A rock-shelter located in the town of Krapina in Croatia, about 40 kilometers northwest of the city of Zagreb, is one such site. The large number of fossils found close to one another, the apparently rapid accumulation of the sediments at the site and the fact that some of the remains share distinctive, genetically determined features all indicate that the Krapina bones approximate the remains of a single population of Neandertals.
As often happens in the fossil record, the best-preserved remains at Krapina are teeth because the high mineral content of teeth protects them from degradation.
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Fortunately, teeth are also one of the best skeletal elements for determining age at death, which is achieved by analyzing surface wear and age-related changes in their internal structure. In , before I began my research into the evolution of grandparents, Milford H. Wolpoff of the University of Michigan published a paper, based on dental remains, that assessed how old the Krapina Neandertals were when they died.
Molar teeth erupt sequentially. Using one of the fastest eruption schedules observed in modern-day humans as a guide, Wolpoff estimated that the first, second and third molars of Neandertals erupted at ages that rounded to six, 12 and 15, respectively. Wear from chewing accumulates at a steady pace over an individual's lifetime, so when the second molar emerges, the first already has six years of wear on it, and when the third emerges, the second has three years of wear on it.
Working backward, one can infer, for instance, that a first molar with 15 years of wear on it belonged to a year-old Neandertal, a second molar with 15 years of wear on it belonged to a year-old and a third molar with 15 years of wear on it belonged to a year-old. These estimates have an uncertainty of plus or minus one year. This wear-based seriation method for determining age at death, adapted from a technique developed by dental researcher A.
Miles in , works best on samples with large numbers of juveniles, which Krapina has in abundance. The method loses accuracy when applied to the teeth of elderly individuals, whose tooth crowns can be too worn to evaluate reliably and in some cases may even be totally eroded. Wolpoff's work indicated that the Krapina Neandertals died young.
In , a few years after I began researching the evolution of longevity, I decided to take another look at this sample using a novel approach. I wanted to make sure that we were not missing older individuals as a result of the inherent limitations of wear-based seriation.
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Goldstein, Jeffrey A. Meganck and Dana L. Specifically, we looked at the degree of development of a type of tissue within the tooth called secondary dentin; the volume of secondary dentin increases with age and provides a way to assess how old an individual was at death when the tooth crown is too worn to be a good indicator. Our initial findings, supplemented with scans provided by the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, corroborated Wolpoff's results and validated the wear-based seriation method: the Krapina Neandertals had remarkably high mortality rates; no one survived past age This is not to say that Neandertals across the board never lived beyond A few individuals from sites other than Krapina were around 40 when they died.
By today's standards, the Krapina death pattern is unimaginable. After all, for most people age 30 is the prime of life.
And hunter-gatherers lived beyond 30 in the recent past. Yet the Krapina Neandertals are not unique among early humans. The few other human fossil localities with large numbers of individuals preserved, such as the approximately ,year-old Sima de los Huesos site in Atapuerca, Spain, show similar patterns.
The Sima de los Huesos people had very high levels of juvenile and young adult mortality, with no one surviving past 35 and very few living even that long. It is possible that catastrophic events or the particular conditions under which the remains became fossilized somehow selected against the preservation of older individuals at these sites. But the broad surveys of the human fossil record—including the material from these unusually rich sites and other sites containing fewer individuals—that my colleagues and I have conducted indicate that dying young was the rule, not the exception.
To paraphrase words attributed to British philosopher Thomas Hobbes, prehistoric life really was nasty, brutish and short. But a few years ago, before we hit on this technique, Sang-Hee Lee of the University of California, Riverside, and I were ready to start looking for evidence of changes in longevity over the course of human evolution.