29    Oct 20126 comments

Grandmothers: Their place in history

Our grandmothers! What do we remember best about them?

It may be special treats found in their refrigerator each time we visited. Making macaroni necklaces. Teaching us to crochet. Allowing us to do what our parents never did. The always-available baby-sitting provided. The list can go on forever about the nurturing of our grandmothers and the importance of that in our individual development, as well as their place in our families.

Even more interesting is a new study based on computer simulations that supports the "grandmother hypothesis:" That we couldn't have done it without them!

The theory is that humans evolved longer adult lives than apes because grandmothers helped feed their grandchildren over some 24,000 to 60,000 years of development.

According to University of Utah professor anthropology Kristen Hawkes, author of the new study that was just published on October 24, "Grandmothering was the initial step toward making us who we are." It was published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

According to the study, when grandmothers help feed their grandchildren, after weaning, the daughters can have more children at shorter intervals.

By allowing their daughters to have more children, a few ancestral females who lived long enough to become grandmothers passed their longevity genes to more descendants, who had longer adult lifespans as a result.

Hawkes, along with University of Utah anthropologist James O’Connell and UCLA anthropologist Nicholas Blurton Jones proposed the grandmother hypothesis in 1997, and it's been debated ever since.

In the 1980s, Hawkes and O'Connell lived with Tanzania’s Hazda hunter-gatherer people and watched older women spend their days collecting tubers and other foods for their grandchildren. Except for humans, all other primates and mammals collect their own food after weaning.

However, over the past 2 million years, the environment changed and grew drier, with fewer forests where very young children could collect and eat fruits on their own.

“So moms had two choices,” Hawkes says. “They could either follow the retreating forests, where foods were available that weaned infants could collect, or continue to feed the kids after the kids are weaned. That is a problem for mothers because it means you can’t have the next kid while you are occupied with this one.”

The authors also say that evidence that grandmothering increases grandchildren’s survival is seen in 19th and 20th century Europeans and Canadians, and in Hazda and some other African people.

Tell us about your grandmother. How did she contribute to your development? What are (or were) your favorite memories of her?  Share them in the comments below. Don't worry, we'll give equal time to grandfathers in a later post!

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Comments (6) Trackbacks (0)
  1. My Grandmother is the reason I am searching my family tree. If it was not for her and the resources that she had to show my 24 years ago, I dont think that I would be that interested in the research. I do wish tht I could let her know how many of our ancestors I have found for her, she would be so excited... I am sharing them with my aunt as she show the same kind of excitment that my grandmother did.
    She also was the caring grandmother who I went to every sunday for dinner, and she taught me how to crocet, she would be proud of how I have learned to read a pattern... :)
    I just want her to know that my life would not be the same with out the time I had with her before she left this world...
    Love you Grandma
  2. No me recuerdo mi abuela (not hispanic, but speak spanglish. lol). I was one when she passed away on this very day - 24 years ago. She raised me since my mom was only 17, but had a stroke. I most likely would have lived with my grandmother for a while if she had lived says my mom. My mother doesn't talk about my mother very much; but I do know she was caring and one of those people who opened her heart and home to many people. Unsurprisingly, I'm studying social work now. :) Happy Dias de Los Muertos a todos abuelos.
  3. My grandmother is a caring, loving, amazing woman, i love her to pieces. She taught me a lot, and still does. She's a very happy woman still together with my grandfather.. There are so many i can say about my grandmother, i prefer not to write them down, they are kind of personal stories.. God Bless you, Grandma, i love you forever...

    My other grandmother is also a very caring woman.

    Both of you thank you for helping me building my family tree.
  4. My great grandmother's American experience has stimulated my interest to search for my family history. In the days when women were not allowed to have public life, she left her home town, by herself, to go to America. Until I became an Ancestry Member, I didn't know any details of her life in USA. Now I know a lot more" where she lived, her grandchildren names and their offspring. I found a couple of second cousins with whoom I shared informations and photos.
    I grew up not having grandmothers in my every day life, but by learning who they were I feel I had never lost them.
    My grandmother, also alone and not knowing any English, at age 65 borded a ship and crossed the ocean to visit her mother's resting site. They were women of the Victorian days and yet independant. God Bless your souls!
  5. My grandmothers were amazing women. They left favorite recipes that made good meals. Stories. They were the quiet mainstay of their families, giving strength to others.

    It is the reason I do our family tree. Much of what I am today is what I have been taught by my forebears amongst them strength in adversity.
  6. My grandmother was so amazing, she could make the best pies ever. Every year on my birthday she would make me a banana cream pie. I remember when she turned 80 she said she could no longer make pies but for me she never failed. Maybe because I was her favorite grandchild (so I have been told many times by my siblings). There has been no other woman in my life like her.

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