Thursday, 5 August 2010

The Seven Daughters of Eve

The Seven Daughters of Eve was the title of the book written by Bryan Sykes, also famous for founding the company Oxford Ancestors, who offer DNA testing to genealogists.

Sykes was the first scientist to collect DNA from an ancient sample of bone and he has published studies about using DNA testing to find out more about ancient peoples. In 2001, he wrote about how DNA testing could be used to assign everyone to groups, who were descended from seven ancient women – whom he called the seven daughters of Eve.

Bryan Sykes tried to explain an extremely complex subject – human genetics and evololution – in a simple way but it still gets difficult to grasp. For example, the seven daughters of Eve did not all live at the same time, but they were all descended through the female line from one single women, called the mitochondrial Eve. Some of the women are descended from each other – but through the male line.

Very convoluted! However, the main take home message is that testing anyone’s mitochondrial DNA can tell them which of the clan mothers they are descended from. This gives some valuable clues about regional and ethnic origins.


Ursula is the mother to a clan founded 45000 year ago in Europe. Up to 11% of European people are descended from Ursula, many of them now living in the west of the UK and in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.

Xenia lived more recently than Ursula, about 25000 years ago, just before the deepest, darkest cold period of the last Ice Age. Only 7% of people in Europe are descended from Xenia – these live either in Eastern Europe, or in central Europe. A further 1% of native Americans are descended from Xenia’s clan.

Helena lived more recently still – about 20 000 years ago – and is clan mother to 41% of people who now live in Europe. Not surprisingly, this enormous clan has many sub-branches but it is notably frequent in the Basque regions of France and Spain. Helena lived in southern France, around the Dordogne and Vezere regions.

Velda’s clan represents the other end of the spectrum from Helena’s – only 4% of Europeans belong to this clan, making it the smallest. Velda’s descendants live now in the west and north of Europe and make up a large proportion of the Saami people from Norway and Finland.

Tara lived 17000 years ago in northern Italy, in Tuscany. Her descendants, who represent 10% of Europeans alive today are mainly found in the south and west of Europe and there are a lot of the Tara clan in Ireland and the west of the UK.

Like Tara, Katrine also lived in the north of Italy, but nearer to the Alps. Katrine lived 2000 years after Tara and the 10% of Europeans in this clan are found all over central and northern Europe.

Jasmine is the most recent of all the clan mothers, living 8500 years ago. She lived in the Middle East originally, but her immediate descendants travelled into Europe during the agricultural revolution, bringing farming into mainland Europe. About 12% of modern Europeans are descended from her.

Ulrike lived 18000 years ago, in the Ukraine and her descendants, only 2% of today’s Europeans live in the east and north of Europe, with many of them still living in the countries near to the Ukraine.

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