Europe's Seven Female Founders
from the BBC News, Wednesday, 19 April, 2000
This article was originally published in the July 2000 edition of Soul Search, the journal of The Sole Society.
Everyone in Europe is descended from just seven women. Arriving at different times during the last 45,000 years, they survived wolves, bears and ice ages to form different clans that eventually became today's population.
These are the claims of Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University. Calling them "The Seven Daughters of Eve", Professor Sykes has individually named them Ursula, Xenia, Tara, Helena, Katrine, Valda and Jasmine. Professor Sykes arrived at his conclusion by studying mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down from mothers to children. From 6000 random samples, and allowing for naturally occurring mutations, he established seven different clusters of DNA.
"It follows that the seven clusters must have sprung from one woman each," he told the BBC. Professor Sykes says that the ancestry of 99% of Europeans can now be traced back to the seven women who founded the clans. He has also been quick to realise the commercial aspects of his project, founding a company, Oxford Ancestors, which offers to trace anyone's maternal ancestry for £120.
However, Professor Sykes went on to say that whilst his genetic work is rooted in fact, the names he has given to the women are hypothetical. He says the names are an attempt to personalise DNA codes, which have traditionally been labelled alphabetically. "For example, with the letter T, group T, I've just extended that to be the descendants of a woman called Tara," he said.
The study is being seen as further evidence of the way in which genetic research can shed light on human history.
His names for the women, which draw on Gaelic, Scandinavian and Persian heritage amongst others, reflect the huge geographic area from which modern Europeans descended. His discovery also reinforces the theory that modern human beings have their origins in ancient Africa. Professor Sykes found that the seven ancestral mothers have strong links to one of three clans that still exist in Africa today.
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