Month: November 2019

Xenia

Of the seven clan mothers, next came Xenia. Sykes imagines Xenia as giving birth to twins, which would have presented an awfully tricky situation for her band of hunter-gatherers. Approximately 6 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Xenia.

Time Period: 25,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Frigid, with winter temperatures commonly reaching 20 below zero for weeks at a time

Ancient Location: The great plains of Europe, stretching from lowland Britain to Kazakhstan

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Xenia are represented all throughout Europe. Interestingly, because successive generations moved further and further east, descendents of Xenia are also prevalent throughout central Asia, Siberia, and can even be found in 1 percent of native American mitochondrial DNA.  

Ursula

Presenting the women in chronological order, Sykes engages in an exercise of imagination first with Ursula, the oldest of the seven women. The Ursula clan, he explains, would go on to become the first modern humans to successfully colonize Europe, ultimately replacing Neanderthals as they receded into extinction. Approximately 11 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Ursula.

Time Period: 45,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Colder and colder as the Great Ice Age reached its climax

Ancient Location: Central Greece

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Ursula are well represented throughout western Britain and Scandinavia 

“The Seven Daughters”

Having let the genetics direct me to the times and places where the seven clan mothers most likely lived, I drew on well-established archaeological and climate records to inform myself about…these seven women, Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine. They were real people, genetically almost identical to us, their descendents, but living in very different circumstances. What lives they must have led” (201). 

After spending a number of chapters providing the narrative behind an intensive and stressful defense of the methods upon which his research was based, Sykes finally gets to what the readers have all been waiting for (or, at least, what one would have assumed that we have all been waiting for, given the literal title of the book)—the seven daughters of Eve! 

Except, as much as it might hurt to say, what you come to realize upon finishing the book is that this next section serves those with the more imaginative minds and is more or less completely fictional. Now, this is not to say that I did not thoroughly enjoy this half of the book, but rather that, between my moments of annoyance and discomfort (let’s just say that some of his descriptions of primitive women seem borderline creepy at times—I’m looking at you, Ursula), I found myself engulfed in the theoretical lives of the seven clan mothers. 

In seven chapters, each titled a different clan mother, Sykes provides brief life narratives of the seven women. Aside from offering useful information such as time period, climate, tool usage, and geographic location, Sykes spends the majority of his time imagining the theoretical details of each mitochondrial mother’s life, such as personality, relationships, and deaths. For the sake of brevity, I will be providing the snippets of seemingly nonfictional details regarding each of these seven women in the following sections. If you want to imagine what they were each like on a personal level, use your imagination (or just read these chapters yourself)!

The Seven Daughters of Eve

“In 1994 Bryan Sykes was called in as an expert to examine the frozen remains of a man trapped in glacial ice in northern Italy for over 5000 years―the Ice Man. Sykes succeeded in extracting DNA from the Ice Man, but even more important, writes Science News, was his ‘ability to directly link that DNA to Europeans living today.’ In this groundbreaking book, Sykes reveals how the identification of a particular strand of DNA that passes unbroken through the maternal line allows scientists to trace our genetic makeup all the way back to prehistoric times―to seven primeval women, the ‘seven daughters of Eve.'”

In 2002, Dr. Bryan Sykes published The Seven Daughters of Eve, a nonfiction book detailing his remarkable research into the ancestral roots of what he claimed was most of modern Europeans. In his book, Sykes describes the process by which he came to discover that most Europeans can trace their lineage back to one of only seven haplotypes, or clans, which can be each be attributed to one of seven maternal ancestors. The remainder of this website will be dedicated to the review of this book, so come along and learn with me!

Who is Bryan Sykes?

Before diving into the details of The Seven Daughters of Eve, it is first important to know the author of this work, Bryan Sykes. Dr. Sykes is an Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics at the University of Oxford and currently a Fellow at Wolfson College. Dr. Sykes is popularly know for being the first to successfully recover DNA from ancient bone, as well as his work detailing “the colonization of Polynesia, the fate of the Neanderthals, the early settlement of Britain and the link between genetics and surnames” (Wolfson College).

Over the course of his career, his has published a number of notable books for a general audience, including The Seven Daughters of Eve and Blood of the Isles. Both works are based on the scientific phenomena of mitochondrial DNA, which is maternally inherited and therefore useful in Dr. Sykes’ ancestral research.

Reviewing the Reviewer

I know what you are thinking: who is HE to be giving ME an educated, respectable review of a nonfiction book detailing significant, well researched, and carefully thought-out information?

My response to this is that I am simply an undergraduate Biological Sciences major at Notre Dame, and that this is my first attempt at Anthropology, ever. So quite honestly, I would primarily recommend that at the very least you stick around for the sake of humoring yourself as I (attempt to) take you on a journey through this glorious narrative of our ancestral roots; but also, read on to learn a number of fascinating tidbits about our roots as modern human beings, all without ever having to wade through hundreds of pages of a book!

For those of you who have stuck around this far (kudos to you), allow me to make my appeal to some good old fashioned ethos. My name is Nick Iovino, and I am a 21 year-old from Columbus, Ohio, and I am in my third year of studying Biology at the University of Notre Dame. I have always loved sports (specifically soccer), and I am an avid musician, playing drums and percussion in more ensembles than I can count at ND. While at school, I work as a TA for a genetics course and in a research lab investigating the role of hydrogen sulfide in the body. When I am home for the summer, I can almost always be found working the register, stocking pallets, or pushing carts at Costco.

I have two dogs, Lola and Millie, and two siblings, Anthony and Anne. Anthony is my older brother who is in graduate school at WashU in St. Louis  studying Architecture, and Anne is my younger sister who is in high school and spends most of her free time perfecting the art of ballet. 

In the near future, I plan on pursuing a career in medicine, but for now, I am busy pursuing a degree in Biology!

Well, that’s enough about me. Go check out the background on the real star of this blog, Bryan Sykes!