excerpts from:

The Seven Daughters of Eve

The science that reveals our genetic ancestry
By Bryan Sykes, 2001.

The Seven Daughters of Eve (2001, ISBN 0-393-02018-5) is a book by Bryan Sykes that presents the theory of Human mitochondrial genetics to a general audience. Sykes explains the principles of genetics and human evolution, the particularities of mitochondrial genetics, and analyses of ancient DNA to genetically link modern humans to prehistoric ancestors. Following the developments of mitochondrial genetics, Sykes traces back human migrations, discusses the out of Africa theory and refutes Heyerdahl's theory of the Peruvian origin of the Polynesians, which opposed the theory of their origin in Indonesia. He also describes the use of mitochondrial DNA in identifying the remains of Czar Nicholas II, and in assessing the genetic makeup of modern Europe. The title of the book comes from one of the principal achievements of mitochondrial genetics, which is the classification of all modern Europeans into 7 groups, the mitochondrial haplogroups. Each haplogroup is defined by set of characteristic mutations on the mitochondrial genome, and can be traced along a person's maternal line to a specific prehistoric woman. Sykes refers to these women as "clan mothers", though these women did not all live concurrently, and indeed some "clan mothers" are descended from others (although not maternally). All these women in turn shared a common maternal ancestor, the Mitochondrial Eve. The last third of the book is spent on a series of fictional narratives, written by Sykes, describing his creative guesses about the lives of each of these seven "clan mothers". This latter half generally met with mixed reviews in comparison with the first part.

Our maternal genome reveals the Eleanor Dankenbring maternal line to be part of the Helena clan, not surprisingly.

THE EUROPEAN CLANS – The Seven Daughters of Eve

The clan of Ursula (Latin for she-bear) is the oldest of the seven native European clans. It was founded around 45,000 years ago by the first modern humans, Homo sapiens, as they established themselves in Europe. Today, about 11% of modern Europeans are the direct maternal descendants of Ursula. They come from all parts of Europe, but the clan is particularly well represented in western Britain and Scandinavia.

The clan of Xenia (Greek for hospitable) is the second oldest of the seven native European clans. It was founded 25,000 years ago by the second wave of modern humans, Homo sapiens, who established themselves in Europe, just prior to the coldest part of the last Ice Age. Today around 7% of native Europeans are in the clan of Xenia. Within the clan, three distinct branches fan out over Europe. One is still largely confined to Eastern Europe while the other two have spread further to the West into central Europe and as far as France and Britain. About 1% of Native Americans are also in the clan of Xenia.

The clan of Helena (Greek for light) is by far the largest and most successful of the seven native clans with 41% of Europeans belonging to one of its many branches. It began 20,000 years ago with the birth of Helena somewhere in the valleys of the Dordogne and the Vezere, in south-central France. The clan is widespread throughout all parts of Europe, but reaches its highest frequency among the Basque people of northern Spain and southern France.

The clan of Velda (Scandinavian for ruler) is the smallest of the seven clans containing only about 4% of native Europeans. Velda lived 17,000 years ago in the limestone hills of Cantabria in northwest Spain. Her descendants are found nowadays mainly in western and northern Europe and are surprisingly frequent among the Saami people of Finland and Northern Norway.

The clan of Tara (Gaelic for rocky hill) includes slightly fewer than 10% of modern Europeans. Its many branches are widely distributed throughout southern and western Europe with particularly high concentrations in Ireland and the west of Britain. Tara herself lived 17,000 years ago in the northwest of Italy among the hills of Tuscany and along the estuary of the river Arno.

The clan of Katrine (Greek for pure) is a medium sized clan with 10% of Europeans among its membership. Katrine herself lived 15,000 years ago in the wooded plains of northeast Italy, now flooded by the Adriatic, and among the southern foothills of the Alps. Her descendants are still there in numbers, but have also spread throughout central and northern Europe.

The clan of Jasmine (Persian for flower) is the second largest of the seven European clans after Helena and is the only one to have its origins outside Europe. Jasmine and her descendants, who now make up 12% of Europeans, were among the first farmers and brought the agricultural revolution to Europe from the Middle East around 8,500 years ago.

The clan of Ulrike (German for Mistress of All) is not among the original “Seven Daughters of Eve” clans, but with just under 2% of Europeans among its members, it has a claim to being included among the numerically important clans. Ulrike lived about 18,000 years ago in the cold refuges of the Ukraine at the northern limits of human habitation. Though Ulrike’s descendants are nowhere common, the clan is found today mainly in the east and north of Europe with particularly high concentrations in Scandinavia and the Baltic states.

Chapter 17. Helena.

Whether just by chance or by the guiding hand of natural selection we do not know, but Helena’s clan has grown to become the most widespread and successful of the Seven Daughters of Eve. Her children have reached every shore, settled every forest and crossed every mountain range. Helena’s descendants can be found from the Alps in the South to the Scottish Highlands and the Norwegian fjords in the North, and as far east as the Urals and the Russian steppes.

Helena was born about 20,000 years ago on the strip of land that joins France and Spain, near what is now Perpignan. She belonged to a family of hunters, who harvested the rich oyster beds in the lagoons of the Carmargue to supplement their diet of meat. Helena’s clan arrived in Europe from the Middle East, pushing their way along the Mediterranean, constrained to the narrow strip of land that was still habitable.

Helena lived twenty thousand years ago at a time when the last Ice Age was at its most severe. Glaciers and permanent ic frields covered all of Scandinavia and stretched as far south as the present-day cities of Berlin and Warsaw. The Baltic Sea was permanently frozen, as was the North Sea from Denmark to the Humber. In the winter the Atlantic froze and there was pack ice as far wouth as Bordeaux. Britain, still joined to continental Europe by dry land, was buried under ice down to what are now the English midlands, central Wales an southern Ireland. Year by year the tundra, the bleak terrain which was nothing more than a thin layter of soil and vegetation.

Not long after she was born, the glaciers that covered the Pyrenees, which Helena could see on a clear day only thirty miles from her camp, began to draw back as, little by little, the summers grew warmer. Some of her clan moved south of the mountains, up the valley of the Ebro to the West to reach the lands of the Basque, where they remain to this day. The most adventurous of her children took advantage of the climatic improvements and journeyed ever northwards to join the great movement of hunters across the plains of France. We know that they reached England around 12,000 years ago because DNA recovered from a young male skeleton found in Gough’s Cave in Somerset shows that he too belonged to the clan of Helena.

Chapter 22. The World.

The imagined lives of these seven women raise many questions. Were they the only women around at the time? We have seen very clearly that they were not. They lived and died among many other women. At some point between then and now their maternal lines petered out as the women either had no children or had only sons. It is very likely that some of their genes which reside in the cell nucleus and which can swap between the sexes at every generation have made it through to today. But they will have arrived by a tortuous route which is impossible to trace.

Another frequently asked and reasonable question is whether there was anything special about these women, anything that woul make them stand out from the others around them. Sadly, the answer is no -- other thn the necessary condition that each had to have two surviving daughters, there was probably nothing remarkable about them. They were not queeens or empresses -- such titles did not exist. They may or may not have been especially beautiful or heroic. They were essentially ordinary. Their lives were very different from ours today, but within their own time and people they would not have been exceptional.

Figure 6 -- mitochondrial DNA sequences of the seven clan mothers -- Helena in BLUE
But perhaps the most intriguing enquiry is about the ancestors of the seven women themselves. Amazingly, we have also been able to discover the genealogy of these seven women. We can track back from the present day to reconstruct the mitochondrial DNA sequences of the seven clan mothers, then work out the ancestral relationship between them (Figure 6). Eash of the circles in Figure 6 represents a particular mitochondrial DNA sequence, an the area of each circle is proportional to the number of people who share this sequence. The lines joining the circles represent mutations in mitochondrial DNA, and the longer the line between two circles, the more mutations separate the seque3nces that they represent. The figure plots out the exact relationships, so far as we can tell, between the different sequences found in Europe today.

Figure 7 -- the world -- Helena is the topmost gold sphere
Each of the pathways is a maternal lineage traced by DNA. We can not only see the relationships between sequences within the same clan, but also make out the relationships between clans. The clans of Helena and Velda are close to one another. They share a common ancestor, shown by the small circle where the clan lineages split off from each other. Jasmine and Tara also have a common ancestor, as do Ursula and Katrine. With the possible exception of the Helena/Velda ancestor, these common ancestors lived way before modern humans ever reached Europe, most probably in the Middle East. Toward the top center of the figure is the common ancestor of all Europeans, where the Xenia branch leads off from the rest. Through this woman, the whole of Europe is joined to the rest of the world. This connection is shown by the dashed line. And since there is nothing fundamentally special about Europe, we can construct a much larger maternal genealogy that embraces the entire globe (Figure 7).

Return to Dankenbring Tree.