Piecing it All Together

Over several years, Sykes and his team managed to obtain hundreds of DNA samples from Europeans all throughout the continent. By sequencing the mitochondrial DNA of each individual (sequencing refers to the process by which the individual base pairs making up the genetic code are parsed out), Sykes and his team were able to obtain side-by-side comparisons of each individual’s mitochondrial genetic code. Based on these side-by-side comparisons, he was then able to draw ancestral lineages.

But how? It all has to do with mutations, or changes in the individual segments of the DNA that simply appear as variations. Although perhaps obvious, unlike the hamster mitochondrial DNA, the sequences of the human samples varied—in the hundreds of bits and pieces of the mitochondrial control regions from all his European samples, Sykes and his team would find, one, two, or maybe eight, at most, differences (mutations) among all of the samples. It was ultimately based off of these differences that Sykes constructed his family trees. Except, what Sykes found was that these family trees didn’t resemble trees at all. Instead, Sykes found himself drawing groups—clans, as Sykes called them—of different mitochondrial sequences that more closely resembled networks than anything else. Sure enough, seven clans gradually became clearer and clearer. At the center of them? Seven sequences, each representing a different maternal ancestor whose mitochondrial DNA has persisted for tens of thousands of years through hundreds of generations of women (See “Mapping European Ancestry”). Sykes would go on to successfully defend the legitimacy of his claims against all sorts of skeptics, before endeavoring to name and imagine the lives of each of these seven women.

Enter the Seven Daughters of Eve: Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine.