The Seven Daughters of Eve

25 Jul

Since I am currently writing the longest essay of my life, I am skimming through a lot of books these days.  Most of them are on some obscure aspect of my thesis topic (for instance, Neanderthals, tools, and the ways that Neanderthals used tools), but occasionally I come across things that a layperson such as yourself would actually be interested in.

The Seven Daughters of Eve is one of those books.  Written by a professor of human genetics, it’s his first person account of how he came to learn that all Europeans are descended from just 7 women.  It’s surprisingly readable for such a dry-sounding subject, and fascinating on top of it – especially if you are interested in women’s contribution to history.  Dr. Sykes uses mitochondrial DNA , which can only be passed through the mother.  (These kinds of tracings can also be done with Y-chromosomes, which only pass from father to son.)  He does his best, too, to bring these women to life in 7 individual chapters.  Though he’s not the best storyteller in the world, I couldn’t help but like the fact that he felt compelled to name these women and try to include something about their lives.

I was able to pull out a little tidbit that I found interesting, too:

“The first blood transfusions were recorded in Italy in 1628, but so many people died from the severe reactions [that were caused by the lack of knowledge of different blood types] that the practice was banned there, as well as in France and England.  Though there were some experimental transfusions using lamb’s blood, notably by the English physician Richard Lower in the 1660s, the results were no better and the idea was given up for a couple of centuries.  Transfusions with human blood started up again in the middle of the nineteenth century, to combat the frequently fatal haemorrhages that occurred after childbirth, and by 1875 there had been 347 recorded transfusions.” -Brian Sykes, The Seven Daughters of Eve, p. 33

The next time you or someone you know gets a blood transfusion, think of the women of the Nineteenth Century who inspired doctors to try again.

Update: The Royal Society has recently made their archives public, so now you can read about some of the first blood transfusions ever performed.

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