It is currently known that seven ancient female genetic lines are responsible for 95% of contemporary Europeans. These ancient women are referred to as the “Seven daughters of Eve” and eventually are known as the prehistoric grandmothers of Europe. The names of Eve’s seven daughters are Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine. It is feasible to determine which of those women native Europeans are derived from, but it requires effort and research. For instance, studies have shown that 43% of Poles are derived from Helena. Her genetic line is most prevalent in Western Europe, particularly in Spain and Portugal.
In 1994, the frozen remains of a man who had been trapped in glacial ice in northern Italy were sent to Professor Bryan Sykes, a leading expert on DNA and human evolution. The world was enthralled by the Ice Man’s discovery and the estimate of his age, over 5,000 years. The fact that Professor Sykes was able to locate an actual living generic related to the Ice Man, a woman who is currently residing in Britain, added another layer to the tale.
Giving dates to these clusters was essential to the understanding of European prehistory, which places a strong emphasis on the Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers. Professor Sykes calculated these ages by averaging the number of mutations discovered in all of the present members of the seven separate clans. “This gave us a measure of how many times the molecular clock had chimed within each clan,” he said.
How was he able to locate a living relative of a man who died thousands of years ago? In his book, “The Seven Daughters of Eve,” Bryan Sykes provided a first-hand account of his research into a remarkable gene that passes undiluted from one generation to another through the maternal line and shows how it is being used to track our genetic ancestors through time and space.
After plotting thousands of DNA sequences from all over the world, he found out that they had clustered around a handful of distinct groups. In Europe, there are only seven. The conclusion: almost everyone of native European descent, wherever they live in the world, can trace their ancestry back to one of seven women, the Seven Daughters of Eve. These seven women have been given the names Ursula (Latin for “she-bear”), Xenia (Greek for “hospitable”), Helena (Greek for “light”), Velda (Scandinavian for “ruler”), Tara (Gaelic for “rock”), Katrine (Greek for “pure”) and Jasmine (Persian for”flower”). These women – or goddesses as they are often described – have taken on a mythical status in the world of family history.
This amazing scientific adventure story teaches us how to identify our genetic ancestors, how and where they lived, what their lives were like, and how each of us is a living example of the almost miraculous strength of our DNA, which has survived and flourished over so many thousands of years to reach us today. This book gets right to the core of who we are as people and our sense of identity in addition to presenting the story of our evolution in a completely new way.
Professor Sykes did not have high hopes for his DNA research when he first began it, but after gathering 6,000 randomly selected mitochondrial DNA samples from women and men in Europe and Polynesia, he came to the conclusion that “pretty much everyone could be put into one of seven genetically related groups.”
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“It required only that I gave them names to bring them to life and to arouse in me, and everyone who has heard about them, an intense curiosity about their lives. Ursula, Xenia, Helena, Velda, Tara, Katrine, and Jasmine became real people. I chose names that began with the letter by which the clusters had been known since we had adopted Antonio Torroni’s alphabetic classification system. Ursula was the clan mother of cluster U. Cluster H had Helena at its root. Jasmine was the common ancestor for cluster J; and so on,” Professor Sykes writes in his book.
This discovery was so exciting that Sykes founded Oxford Ancestors in 2001, a business devoted to using DNA to uncover people’s family histories. Two years later, Sykes made another significant discovery thanks to an accidental comment. He found out that by comparing the male Y chromosome, which is passed down from father to son, he could determine whether two men with the same surname were connected genetically. (Source
“I was giving a lecture at a big pharmaceuticals company about genetics and they asked if I could be related to their chairman Richard Sykes. So I got some DNA, compared my Y-chromosome to his and they turned out to be the same. I followed that up by finding out how many other Sykes I was related to. Taking Sykes at random from the phone book, I found I was related to about 70 percent of them and we were all descended from an original Mr. Sykes, who lived in the 1300s. Although I’m not as interested in family history as many enthusiasts, I did go back to the spot where the original Mr. Sykes lived. And because I still had the DNA which he had in every cell of my body, I felt a very strong association with the place. I can understand why people find it quite profound.”
The earliest mtDNA genetic line discovered in Europe is haplogroup U. Her earliest signs date back roughly 45,000 years and point to modern-day Greece. But haplogroup J only made an appearance in Europe some 8,000 years ago.
Dr. Justyna Jarczak from the Biobank Laboratory of the University of Łódź claimed that Helena’s genetic line is less prevalent in Northern Europe. Her genetic line happens anywhere between 0% and 7% of the time in Lappland. According to Dr. Jarczak, the first populations of people from this genetic line are thought to have arrived in Europe some 20,000 years ago in southern France.
These seven women’s lives were fascinating and they all lived in different time periods. What is still up for question, according to Professor Sykes, are the precise dates and locations of the seven women’s lives.
– Helena’s descendants are the most numerous in Europe, having started 20,000 years ago from a hunting family in the Dordogne region of southwest France. After the Ice Age, her clan moved north, reaching Britain about 12,000 years ago;
-Katrine lived 15,000 years ago near Venice. Her clan ventured north, but many are still to be found in the Alps. The 5000-year-old IceMan was one of her descendants;
-Velda lived among the hills of northern Spain 17,000 years ago, where they shared the land with Ursula’s clan. They spread out after the Ice Age, some of her clan becoming the Saami or Lapps of northern Scandinavia;
-Tara lived in Tuscany in Northern Italy about 17,000 years ago, when the hills were thick with forests. After the Ice Age, her clan moved to France and trekked across the dry land that was to become the English Channel into Ireland;
-Ursula lived about 45,000 years ago in Northern Greece. She was slender and graceful and hunted with stone tools. Her clan spread across Europe, including Britain and France;
-Xenia lived 25,000 years ago on the plains beneath the Caucasus Mountains on the eastern edge of the Black Sea. As the Ice Age ended, her clans spread to Europe and across Asia to America;
-Jasmine was born in Syria about 10,000 years ago and her descendants arrived in Europe too late to experience the hardships of the Ice Age. Her clan brought agriculture to Europe.