Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Rubbing Shoulders with Deep Ancestors



Since receiving my results from the National Geographic Genographic project of course I've become very interested in genetics. First I read Genome by Matt Ridley, a comprehensive and understandable overview of human DNA.

More interesting is The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes. He's the guy who figured out that the lineage of all Europeans can be traced back in time to seven women. Of course there are many familial strains in every European's ancestry, but these seven women all succeeded in giving birth to daughters, who gave birth to daughters, who gave birth to daughters and on and on in an unbroken line for thousands of generations. Everyone who has European heritage has the mark of one of these women in their mitochondrial DNA. (There's a way to trace paternal lineage, too, but only men can follow the line of the fathers back in time. Cool, isn't it?)

I'm a great great great great great great (repeat thousands of times) grandaughter of V, a woman who lived in northern Spain in the mountains of Cantabria 17,000 years ago. OK, she lived 17,000 years ago, probably in the mountains of Cantabria. They know for a fact that she was a real woman, but no one knows exactly where she lived.

V was a great great great great (repeat thousands of times) grandaughter of "mitochondrial Eve," a woman who lived in East Africa 100,000 years ago. Mitochondrial Eve is the mother of all Europeans and maybe even of everyone on earth, though no one knows that for sure yet.

Very fun to think about this!

How I would love to gather a group of seven women, one from each European haplogroup, sit together with my haplosisters, trance back in time, share visions of the distant past, the symbols of which are literally written in our DNA. Wouldn't that be a great way to celebrate Halloween/Day of the Dead? Wouldn't it be an excellent and fascinating event? How I would love to honor my deep ancestors with this kind of gathering.

What a great piece of performance art! What a powerful ritual of connection through time. It could be so interesting!!

It's probably too close to Halloween now to figure out how to locate these women, though I bet here in DC there are representatives of all seven groups. Maybe next year.

11 comments:

lucy said...

"they know in fact that she was a real woman"...
Is that similar to being "a real [read: not quiche-eating] man"?

How do they know she was a real woman? Did they hear her roar?

I sort of like the idea of 7 sisters, each so different than the other that they all stormed off to go create multitudes...but did it matter who they shacked up with?

I so prefer not having read the article...it's much more fun to speculate about this, uninformed. And I also prefer being the mother of two locals, rather than mom to all Europeans. That's WAY too many lunchboxes for me to fill so early in the morning.

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Reya. If anything, your pictures have gotten more luminous as they've gotten larger, like the bigger crayon box with silver, copper and gold in it.

Do something about the weather, will you?

Nice to read you again.

lucy said...

"they know in fact that she was a real woman"...
Is that similar to being "a real [read: not quiche-eating] man"?

How do they know she was a real woman? Did they hear her roar?

I sort of like the idea of 7 sisters, each so different than the other that they all stormed off to go create multitudes...but did it matter who they shacked up with?

I so prefer not having read the article...it's much more fun to speculate about this, uninformed. And I also prefer being the mother of two locals, rather than mom to all Europeans. That's WAY too many lunchboxes for me to fill so early in the morning.

Welcome back to the blogosphere, Reya. If anything, your pictures have gotten more luminous as they've gotten larger, like the bigger crayon box with silver, copper and gold in it.

Do something about the weather, will you?

Nice to read you again.

lettuce said...

fascinating reya.

lucy's comment made me laugh - I also am happy to be reading your thoughts about this, rather than the article itself. I'm too lazy to be bothered reading non-fiction, always seems to me too much like work.

:o)

Barbara said...

This reminded me of similar thoughts as I sat on a farm in a remote area of Norway at a family reunion. It gave me an odd feeling to know I was related to the hundreds of people who came from all over Norway and the world to this little snip of land where we all had something in common. I can trace my ancestors back to 1200 on this line. I think about them sometimes and wonder about how hard their lives were in a country where weather and farming can sometimes be brutal. Why does it give us such comfort to reach backward?

Reya Mellicker said...

Barbara I wish you would have the DNA test done. I know an "R" - you're probably the Scandinavian haplogroup. That would make three of us, only 4 more to go to get the sisters together.

Greetings Lucy and Lettuce! The Seven Daughters of Eve is a book I'm happy to read "for you." I love non-fiction, in fact it's the only kind of book I read, now that the Harry Potter series is finished.

Should I go on about mitochondrial DNA and how the geneticists are able to trace it so specifically backwards through the lineage of wombs? I could, I really could.

Reya Mellicker said...

Lucy: I shook my rainstick at the sky all day yesterday, chanting

Listen!
Break the pattern of drought!
Gather the clouds!
Open the sky!
Let it rain!!

(repeat chant while shaking rainstick until people cross the street to avoid you)

Here on Capitol Hill we had a spectacular thunderstorm just after 6 pm. The storm dropped a bunch of rain over about a 20 minute period of time. Then it was over. The dogs were shaking in fear, I was out in the middle of the street, getting happily drenched and cheering "THANK YOU!!"

Once a blogger, always a blogger. Once a shaman, always a shaman - I guess!

Steve said...

Fascinating! I guess "mitochondrial Eve" probably was someone like Lucy, the famous fossilized paleo-human from East Africa. It IS amazing to think about all this!

Momentary Academic said...

I would like to do that test. I keep meaning to. I'm interested to know the results.

Reya Mellicker said...

I wish you would all do the test. The link in this post will take you to the site. It's not cheap and it takes six to eight weeks before you get your result, but it's very interesting, at least to me!

lucy said...

Thanks for the rain!

I too love non-fiction, although Middlesex is astounding me these days, and gives plenty of reason to applaud genetic diversity and expect the opposite. But NF is my preference too, as the world as it is is weird and wondrous enough for me most days.

By the way, I'm glad not to be THAT Lucy either. The way writers talk about her sometimes makes her sound positively promiscuous, as if she slept around enough to populate the Earth.

Reya Mellicker said...

Chimps are very "promiscuous" - or as I call it, nonmonogamous. We aren't that different than chimps. Really, we aren't.