Category: The Seven Daughters


The final  and most recent of the seven remarkable women was Jasmine. Unlike every other clan, the descendents of Jasmine came from a long like of farmers. This is also the clan from which Sykes’ opponents had (partially) incorrectly claimed had overrun Europe. Sykes imagines Jasmine’s band having developed one of the first systems of agriculture, which, one thousand years after Jasmine, has spread all over eastern Europe. Today, just under 17 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Jasmine.

Time Period: 10,000 years ago

Band Type: Farmers

Climate: Much warmer—with the Great Ice Age officially over, temperatures rapidly climbed towards present-day levels

Ancient Location: Syria, along the Euphrates River

Modern Location: Unlike the other clans, descendents of Jasmine are not evenly dispersed across Europe. Descendents of Jasmine are found along the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Portugal, western Britain, Whaleys, western Scotland, and throughout northern Europe


The second most recent clan mother turned out to be Katrine. Aside from provided a somewhat superficial description of Katrine, Sykes manages to work in the beginning of humankind’s greatest interspecies relationship: dogs. He actually does a really good job of working in a believable example of wolves joining bands of hunter-gatherers into Katrine’s narrative. Other than this, we know that about 6 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Katrine. Sykes also makes sure to note that, ten thousand years following the life of Katrine, one of here direct descendents died crossing the Alps—that descendent was the corpse that Sykes was called to examine thousands of years after his death, “Iceman.”

Time Period: 15,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Warmer

Ancient Location: Northern Italy

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Katrine are well represented along the Mediterranean, but also found all throughout Europe


Sykes presents Tara’s existence as more labored and difficult in comparison to the first four daughters. The warmer temperatures of northern Italy, he explains, meant that the landscape was heavily wooded; instead of tundra animals, there were red deer and wild boar, which were hard and dangerous to hunt. As a result of this ‘poverty,’ the growth in artistic expression and social behaviors in bands such as Tara’s were stifled, and groups were constantly on the move. In this chapter, Sykes presents a reasonably believable narrative recounting how Tara’s tribe incidentally discovered boats. According to Sykes, just over 9 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Tara.

Time Period: 17,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Even warmer

Ancient Location: Northwest Italy

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Tara are numerous west of Britain and in Ireland, and also along the Mediterranian and the western edge of Europe.


Velda, or at least her imagined person, is my favorite of the seven daughters. Sykes describes a strong woman who defied expectations when she chose to not mate with another “man” after her previous mate’s tragic death, instead working harder herself to support her three children and the rest of her band. Indeed, the most imaginative, the picture of Velda is ultimately unclear. However, what we can be certain of is that, today, approximately 5 percent of Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Velda.

Time Period: 17,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Warmer than at the peak of the Ice Age (20,000 years ago), but still very cold

Ancient Location: Northern Spain

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Velda are found throughout western Europe, with a few descendents in Finland and northern Norway.


The third of the seven women was Helena. During her spotlight, Sykes takes time to imagine extensive tool making, including knives, scrapers, spear points, spear throwers, and sewing needles. It is also in this chapter that we get the first mention of cave art and ceremonies. Sykes describes the clan of Helena as becoming among the most prolific, reaching every part of the continent. Furthermore, Sykes notes that the Helena sequence serves as the “reference sequence” to which all mitochondrial mutations are compared (and for some reason, I have a feeling that Helena is his favorite). Approximately 47 percent of modern Europeans are direct maternal descendents of Helena.

Time Period: 20,000 years ago

Band Type: Hunter-Gatherer

Climate: Freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall: the height of the Ice Age.

Ancient Location: Southwest France

Modern Location: Modern descendents of Helena are well represented all throughout Europe


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.  


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)!