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Scientists dispute "Eve' theory of development

A biochemist's theory that all living humans descended from a single African "Eve" who lived a relatively brief 200,000 years ago was strongly disputed Sunday by a group of prominent anthropologists. "There are serious and obvious flaws in the Eve hypothesis which do not fit the hard fossil and archaeological record outside of Africa," said anthropologist George Pope of the University of Illinois.

Along with University of Michigan anthropologist Milton Wolpoff and other colleagues, he argued that modern Homo sapiens slowly evolved worldwide from a common ancestral species, Homo erectus, living in Africa a million years ago.

At a session during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the group challenged the view that Eve's descendants predominated by driving all other primitive peoples into extinction.

The controversial Eve theory was proposed several years ago by Allan Wilson, a professor of biochemistry at the University of California, Berkeley.

Wilson ingeniously applied the genetic "clock" in a form of DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, found in human mitochondria _ small areas within a cell, separate from the nucleus, that play an important role in the cell's energy production.

When mtDNA samples from 147 women from five regions around the world were analyzed, he found evidence that black Africans had been evolving longest.

Theoretically, at some point, all women would have had a common ancestor.

The resulting estimate for the birth date of Eve was approximately 200,000 years ago, a relatively recent date in the 5-million to 6-million years since humans split from the apes.

The mtDNA is similar today in widely diverse races because Eve's descendants did not mix with the native populations they drove to extinction, the theory says.

Wolpoff agreed that an Eve probably existed, but, he said, "we can't have the slightest clue how long ago she lived."

He challenged the theory's calculation of mutation rate, saying it ignores the influences of natural selection on the gene pool and the loss of female mitochondrial lines in all-male generations.

Both he and Pope said that fossil evidence also contradicts the Eve theory's conclusion that modern humans evolved from an African ancestor within a short 200,000 years, and that all non-Eve fossils represent dead ends.