This past summer the Smithsonian magazine featured a story about human evolution. Scientists believe that all human life originated in Africa and then spread throughout the world. In fact, they believe that humans have only been in the Americas for about 20,000 years.
Considering how old this planet is — the Encyclopedia Britannica says it’s around 4.6 billion years old — that’s barely any time at all. Let’s divide this out and simplify it a little. The Earth’s been around 230,000 times as long as humans have been in the Americas. Or put even more plainly: if the Earth were 1 year old, people would have been hanging out on this side of the planet for about 2½ minutes of that year.
Humans started their walk out of Africa about 10 minutes ago — if we keep with the same “Earth year” analogy — so it took a relatively long time to walk from Africa to the Americas.
But humans didn’t just evolve and then hit the road looking for new environs. No, it’s estimated that humans started being really “us” about 200,000 years ago or about 25 minutes back in our “Earth year.”
Scientists know all this because of DNA, the genetic framework upon which our humanity is built. According to Smithsonian magazine, “analyzing DNA in living human populations, geneticists could trace lineages backward in time.”
But it gets even more interesting than all that. There are two types of DNA that scientists study for this work. There’s the regular helix from a cell’s nucleus which contains the genetic messaging given to a child by the kid’s mom and dad; and there’s the mitochondrial DNA that is in a cell’s mitochondria. And that mitochondrial DNA comes just from the mom.
Now here’s where it gets super cool. Mitochondrial DNA has a high mutation rate and therefore readily signals changes in our lineage because any positive or life-sustaining “mutations are carried along in subsequent generations.”
When scientists followed these genetic mutations backward in time, they discovered a woman whose mitochondrial DNA matches every living human being on Earth today. Guess what they named her — that’s right — Eve! So 25 minutes ago in our Earth year, or 200,000 years ago in our solar calendar, or 5,000 years ago in the Judeo-Christian-Muslim teachings, one woman lived who mothered us all.
How cool is that?
Now some of the stories about Eve vary a tidge. First of all mitochondrial Eve didn’t live with just one guy and no other humans. In fact about 10,000 people lived in Africa with Eve. But she’s the only woman with the mutation that brought us to where we are today. Maybe her mutation was a penchant for eating forbidden apples or obeying serpents. Or maybe it was an ability to outsmart hungry lions, or maybe she was more resistant to disease. Whatever her mutation was, we all got it, and that’s why we’re all here.
But there’s more to our reality as descendents of Eve. If she’s our co-great-great-great (you get the picture) grammy — then we are all related.
That’s right cousin, you and I are kin.
Black or white, rich or poor, healthy or sick, educated or ignorant, Hindu, Buddhist, atheist, Muslim, Christian or devil worshipper — we are all children of Eve.
So maybe one of you fine relatives of mine knows why we can’t get along.
In June, just before the Smithsonian ran its story about us being one big planetary family, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston released the findings of a research study they were doing. It turns out that “5.4 million people died from 1955 to 2002 as a result of wars in 13 countries.”
That’s 5.4 million of our genetic brothers and sisters killed by their genetic brothers and sisters. And those are just the big wars. This doesn’t include the petty turf wars or the larger drug wars or our current wars. And it doesn’t include our kinfolk that died because they didn’t have enough calorie intake or medicine.
No matter what you believe about Eve’s origin, or how great we think our differences are, what say we start treating each other like family?
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is a spokeswoman for The Olympia Group and its campaign for a casino in Oxford County. She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.