The mother of all mankind, known as “the genetic Eve” or “mitochondrial Eve,” was a woman living in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.  Her existence was predicted in the original scientific paper on mitochondrial DNA and human evolution in 1987.  All members of the species homo sapiens are her direct maternal descendants.  She was the only woman, from a world population of about a thousand women living over 150,000 years ago in Africa, to pass on her genes to posterity.

          Everyone gets their mitochondria from only one parent - their mother.  By analyzing numerous samples of DNA, geneticists have found that they converge into one female progenitor in the distant past.

          All modern human beings had their origin in Africa, and they left that continent about 100,000 years ago to colonize the rest of the world.  The species halted in the Near East for about 50,000 years before spreading north and west into Europe.  At that time Europe was already inhabited by the Neanderthals.

          Archæological sites of sophisticated hunting bands in Mongolia have been dated to 35,000 years ago, and it was from there that the colonization of the Americas was launched.  There were land bridges between Siberia and Alaska in two periods: 1) from 50,000 to 38,000 years ago, and 2) from 25,000 to 13,000 years ago.  The second period is the most likely one for the crossing.  There is evidence of a continuous settlement after 12,000 years ago.  The genetic evidence from Siberian and Mongolian lineages also favors the later migration.  Judging by the dates of archæological sites, the settlement of the whole of North and South America was accomplished within only a thousand years.

          People from mainland China reached Japan about 12,000 years ago, and others from Korea came across to Japan only 2,500 years ago.

          Many anthropologists once believed that agricultural civilization was introduced to Europe by very early invasions of inhabitants from the Fertile Crescent.  DNA evidence, however, shows that most Europeans trace their ancestry back to hunter-gatherers who lived before the dawn of the Neolithic and the coming of agriculture.  The Upper Palæolithic gene pool was not much diluted by the Near Eastern farmers.  There is more of the hunter in Europeans than originally postulated - about 4/5 of their genes.  The push through central Europe from the Balkans, in fact, began later, about 7,500 years ago.  The original Indo-European language was spoken in Anatolia, in central Turkey, and was then spread to Europe by the first farmers.  Languages that cannot be linked to Indo-European are Finnish, Estonian, Lapp, Basque, and Hungarian.

          Recently a new book on this subject has been published entitled The Seven Daughters Of Eve (Norton paperback, 2002).  The author is Bryan Sykes, and the subtitle to the book is “The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry. ” The author of the book is a professor of human genetics at Oxford University.  After examining the remains of the 5000-year old Ice Man in Italy and comparing his DNA to modern samples on file, Dr. Sykes was able to identify a woman living in Great Britain as the genetic descendant of the Neolithic hunter.

          All those interested in their own family genealogy will be naturally fascinated with the possibility of tracing their roots all the way back to prehistoric times.  And this can now be done, because the particular strand of genetic material called the mitochondrial DNA passes back through the maternal line unbroken, to the first mother of us all.

          Sykes has concluded that European DNA falls into seven distinct strains, such that almost all people of European descent can trace their ancestry back to seven women - termed “the seven daughters of Eve” and provided with fictitious names according to the letter-designations of their groups.  He has given the name “Helena” to Cluster H and “Jasmine” to Cluster J, for example.  Sykes’ other names of the “clan mothers” are “Katrine,” “Tara,” “Ursula,” “Velda,” and “Xenia.”  These matriarchs all lived during and after the great Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago.

          Besides his studies in ultimate origins, Sykes has been busy in related areas.  He has shown that the modern European shared a common ancestor with the Neanderthals about 250,000 years ago, but that there is no evidence of mixing between the two types of human beings.  The Neanderthals became extinct, probably in Southern Spain, where the most recent skeletons have been found, and they are not the ancestors of modern man.  There is a complete absence of any Neanderthal DNA in modern Europe.  What happened there has also occurred in other parts of the world, where a dominant race replaces another one and drives it to extinction.

          DNA is not easily extracted from fossils, because any exposure to oxygen breaks it down.  It may be protected inside the calcium wall of bones and teeth, but most organic molecules are lost in the desert because of the scorching sun and in peat bogs because of the acid.  The cool, calcified environment of caves is best suited for preservation.

          Because population levels were so low in ancient times, there was a great deal of interbreeding.  This means that people are closely related to each other.  In any given crowd of people of the same race and country, most of them are related.  One authority stated that “there is more diversity in one social group of fifty-five chimps than in the entire human population.”

          The domestication of animals has had its drawbacks, because people living in close proximity to their livestock led to the crossing of species barriers by disease germs.  Measles, tuberculosis, and smallpox came from cattle.  Influenza, whooping cough, and malaria were transferred from pigs, ducks, and chickens.  The same process has produced AIDS today.

          In an amazing feat of genetic detective work, Sykes proved that the Polynesian islands were populated by explorers originating in Taiwan and Southern China beginning over 3,000 years ago.  After settling all the other islands, these voyagers reached Hawaii and Easter Island just 1,500 years ago, and, finally, New Zealand about 1,200 years ago.  What made the finding so astonishing was that these early people had sailed against the prevailing Pacific winds and currents across so many miles of empty water.   By contrast, when the Spanish explorers set out on this ocean many years later, they only went in one direction, from east to west.

          Mixed with the predominant Polynesian strains there is a very minor one, that of dark-skinned, broad-nosed migrants from New Guinea, which also made up the majority of native Australians.  Voyaging canoes were double-hulled for stability and could be over 30 meters long.  It is speculated that a boat load of proto-Polynesians may have carried one or two passengers of the Austroloid type.

          Most anthropologists were convinced of the Pacific islanders’ American origins, and one of them, Thor Heyerdahl, provided evidence for this view by sailing his reed-boat Kon-Tiki from South America to the Tuamotu islands near Tahiti.  DNA has since proved him wrong.  The Polynesians are not directly related to native Americans.

          In another bit of scientific sleuthing, Sykes proved that there were no survivors from the Bolshevik’s slaughter of the family of the last Tsar.  The myth that a daughter named Anastasia was not killed has been dispelled.  Sykes’ analysis of a biopsy taken from the chief claimant, Anna Anderson, showed that she was not in the DNA lineage of the Romanov family.  Also, the authenticity of other claims has been similarly disproved in the laboratory.  (One will recall the 1956 film Anastasia with Ingrid Bergman in the leading role, which concluded that the claimant was genuine.)  DNA has the power to set the record straight.

                                                                                       Richard L. Atkins


            Since the Eve of the Bible was believed to have lived in the Near East, she would have had to be one of the immigrants to that region about 50,000 years ago, and the only female of that area who successfully passed on her genes to succeeding generations.  As can be seen from the scientific evidence, however, she was not the only female of the species homo sapiens alive in the world at that time.

            One study, published in the American Journal of Human Genetics in 2006, concludes that about half of the Jews of Europe are descended from just four women who lived 2,000 years ago.  These women may have lived in Europe or the Near East at that time.  Ashkenazi (European) Jews can be traced back to Jews who migrated from Palestine to Italy in the first and second centuries.  Eventually they moved to Eastern Europe in medieval times and expanded greatly, reaching about ten million just before World War II.  The four Ashkenazi mothers can be traced by their genetic signatures to female ancestors who lived in the Near East.