Seven Daughters of Eve

One fine morning, 6:55am, while waiting for Charge Nurse to start our socially-distanced morning huddle, my well-read and whip-smart colleague, Sally, gave me a personalized book recommendation as we had been discussing the origins of life, evolution, and mitochondria for the past few minutes (and you thought all nurses did was gossip & play cards?) 

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes, Sally said. Read it
What genre? I asked. Anthropology? Historical fiction? 
Yes, Sally said. 

Took me five months since I was reading 5-10 other books ranging from garbage to textbook, but Seven Daughters is a fascinating read that combines genetics and anthropology with fictional poetic license. 

We'd discussed previously that mitochondrial DNA (present in all of us) only passes from Mom's side because eggs delete mitochondrial DNA from sperm, so after a lot of sampling, including making "soup" from old toes, skull and teeth fragments to extract ancient DNA, human geneticist Bryan Sykes and his team were able to identify seven female ancestors who are our great, great, great,...great, grandmothers. He calls them daughters of Eve because there is a mitochondrial Eve all of us are descended from, a woman who lived in Africa about 150,000 – 200,000 years ago.

Incidentally, we're looking at statistical prevalence of mitochondrial genes in regional populations, which is not an indicator of race or ethnicity. Race is a social construct and not based on genes.

These, according to Sykes, are the seven daughters of Eve:

Ursula (Latin for she-bear): 45,000 years ago, clan of the first modern humans in Europe. Descendents all over Europe, esp. western Britain and Scandinavia. Also, Central, Western, & South Asia.

Xenia (Greek for hospitable):  25,000 years ago, second wave of modern humans in Europe prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Descendents common in Eastern Europe & central Europe as far as France and Britain. Also includes Western Asia, North Africa, 1% of Native Americans.

Helena (Greek for light): largest European native clan, 20,000 years ago. Descendents widespread in Europe, esp. Basque people of northern Spain and southern France. Also: Siberia, Africa, Inner Asia.

Velda (Scandinavian for ruler): 17,000 years ago, descendents mainly in Western & Northern Europe, the Saami people of Finland and Northern Norway, and the Near East.

Tara (Gaelic for rocky hill): 17,000 years ago, descendents widely distributed throughout Southern and Western Europe, esp. Ireland and west Britain. Also: Near East.

Katrine (Greek for pure): 15,000 years ago, descendents in Italy, Central & Northern Europe, South and West Asia.

Jasmine (Persian for flower): only clan with origins outside Europe. 8,500 years ago, descendents include Middle East & 12% of Europeans. 

If you're curious which daughter of Eve your mitochondrial DNA came from, you can take a wild guess based on family history, and also there are tests for that. At least unlike 23 & Me, they don't make claims regarding "what" you are.

Sykes, Bryan (2001), The Seven Daughters of Eve:The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. New York: W. W. Norton.


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