Wednesday, September 11, 2002

LexiLine Journal #26 - 2002 : The Seven Daughters of Eve (by Bryan Sykes)


The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes (Bantam Press, Corgi Books, ISBN 0-552-14876-8) is recommended as a good read for everyone although you may be interested in a strong criticism of the book at, a criticism which in its diffuse "science-pretending" jargonism is
as bad as what is being criticized. That book review exemplifies a regrettable misunderstanding in university education which presumes that learning or writing "big words" like phylogeneticist or empty meaningless catch phrases like "'African replacement model' versus the multiregional hypothesis" makes you a scientist. On the contrary, it just confuses the issue because everyone then concentrates on the interpretation of such idiotic man-made catch phrases rather than on the actual EVIDENCE as such. Hence, the book review is a criticism of style - not of content. Unfortunate. [Update: See the book review of Robin McKie of the Observer at the Guardian Online as a contrast].


In his book Sykes gives a popular synopsis of modern genetic maternal mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) results for human populations, explaining that 95% of all Europeans can trace their origins back to only seven women in prehistoric days and showing that nearly all peoples of the world can trace their origins back to ca. 33 women - though I think the most recent estimate is ca. 36 women, and some even say there are 22 ancient "clans" for Europe. It just depends on where you put the dividing lines. And as Sykes writes, new evidence will surely change these numbers. Nevertheless, the point is that we all go back to common ancestors, and not so long ago.

Sykes writes that these seven daughters can allegedly be "dated" chronologically and "located" geographically. They allegedly did not all live at the same time, based on mutational algorithms for DNA - where the mutational timeline used by Sykes is disputed. I personally think the mutations involved are more recent than currently assumed, but I am sure that the chronologies will get better as more genetic evidence comes in.


Although there is no doubt from the genetic evidence that man's origins are in Africa, the genetic evidence paints a different picture for Europe than that we are accustomed to reading in our
history books.

To make these seven daughters of Eve easier to remember, Sykes has given them individual names - and here they are, with their alleged date, alleged location, and percentage of today's European population:

- allegedly 45,000 years ago - Greece, 11% (especially
prominent today in western Britain and Scandinavia)
Xenia - allegedly 25,000 years ago - between the Black Sea and
Caspian Sea, Ukraine, 6% (mostly Eastern Europe)
Helena - allegedly 20,000 years ago - Southern France, Dordogne,
Lascaux, 47% (continental Europe)
Velda - allegedly 17,000 years ago - northern Spain, Cantabria,
Santander, Altamira, 5% (one group allegedly went north as the Saami
of Finland and northern Norway)
Tara - allegedly 17,000 years ago - Tuscany, northwest Italy, La
Spezia, 9% (Mediterranean, western edge of Europe, particularly
numerous in the west of Britain and in Ireland
Katrine - allegedly 15,000 years ago - Venice, northeast Italy, 6%
(Italy, Mediterranean)

- allegedly 10,000 years ago - Near East - 17%, Sykes writes :
"One distinctive branch follows the Mediterranean coast to Spain and Portugal, whence it has found its way to the west of Britain where it is particularly common in Cornwall, Wales and the west of Scotland. The other branch shadows a route through central Europe taken by the farmers who first cultivated the fertile river valleys and then the plains of northern Europe. Both branches live, even now, close to the routes mapped out by their farming ancestors as they made their way gradually into Europe from the Near East. "

Of course each of these seven is also related to each other, as Sykes writes: "The clans of Helena and Velda are close to one another. They share a common ancestor.... Jasmine and Tara also have a common ancestor, as do Ursula and Katrine.... "

Sykes data, however, show some weaknesses either in analysis of the evidence or in chronological errors relating to interpretation of the genetic timeline of the data (this dating is made on mutational timeline assumptions which may not be accurate).

As Sykes states, "the common ancestor of all Europeans ... is near to where the Xenia branch leads off from the rest of the daughters. " He continues: "Through this woman [one mutational ancestor prior to Xenia] the whole of Europe is joined to the rest of the world. " That is a very significant statement.

If that is so, then the age of 25,000 years to Xenia is misleading since in terms of mutations, Xenia is only one ancestral DNA mutation removed from a "mother" who is connected to all the rest of the people of the world, not just the Europeans. By the same token, Helena and Velda are 3 mutations removed from that woman, Tara and Jasmine are also 3 mutations removed from that woman and Ursula and Katrine are also 3 mutations removed from that woman. Since all six of these daughters are 3 mutations removed, all of these daughters once surely comprised one group at the same time and place.

This may look like nitpicking, but it is crucial to the issue of who was where when first. If Xenia is closest (only 1 DNA mutation) to the rest of the peoples of the world, then Xenia (the Europeans of Eastern Europe) represent the "older" DNA form - whereas all the other six daughters of Eve, being 3 mutations removed, are "younger" DNA forms, and that is really nothing new,.

By correcting the position of Xenia, things begin to make sense, also in terms of linguistic analysis of Indo-European language.

Looked at in this manner, Syke's genetic data are to some degree just a modern repeat of what we already know from previous blood type distribution analysis at

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