Sunday, December 04, 2011

M. Eve and Spartacus

The M in M. Eve is for mitochondrial. Mitochondrial Eve is one of the clan mothers, the first clan mother, who had at least two daughters who lived to have two daughters who had two daughters and so on up to the present time. Mitochondrial DNA is a circular spiral that has a neutral section that collects mutations, about one mutation for every 10,000 years, and is used to track connections between the generations. It is accurate and stable and it comes down to us through our mothers, the one parent we know without a doubt is the parent. Fathers? Not so much.

During conception, the sperm sheds its tail and his mitochondrial DNA when it enters the ovum during fertilization, which is why mitochondrial DNA can only be tracked through the maternal line. How do I know all this? I just finished reading The Seven Daughters of Eve, a book about the seven clan mothers, mitochondrial daughters of M. Eve, who are the progenitors of the peoples of Europe. Their DNA is in a large percentage of the European population and has been used successfully to determine whether or not archaeologists are correct about their assumptions regarding how people moved from continent to continent, where they came from, and what they did (hunter-gatherer or farmer). The book also shed light on some fascinating facts that turned archaeologists and historians on their ears.

There have been two camps, for instance, in determining where the polynesians came from, and it wasn't the Americas. They came through SE Asia and Tawain across the Pacific Ocean and against the prevailing currents to settle the islands between Asia and the Americas. Sorry about that, Thor Heyerdahl. His epic voyage on the Kon-Tiki was indeed a marvelous achievement, but it was wrong. The polynesians actually did come from Asia. The inclusion of yams, or sweet potatoes, in the diet was as a result of trade and not because they came from Chile or South America. Good guess, but wrong, although there is DNA that proves some females came from South America on a few of those trading expeditions and became part of the polynesian DNA. That's there, too.

As for Europe, it seems that the farmers did not push out the hunter-gatherers. They're still in Europe and they are the predominant population. They weren't pushed out; they adopted agriculture because they knew a good thing when they saw it. Historians and archaeologists were wrong about that one, and that was a hard fought realization in scientific circles.

The Seven Daughters of Eve is fascinating and even shares a bit of fictional fancy when reconstructing the lives of the seven women whose DNA is visible in the European population. I'd have to say the science is just as fascinating with its in-fighting and battling publications about the veracity and efficacy of using mitochondrial DNA. I enjoyed it thoroughly, so much I decided to begin another nonfiction book, The Spartacus War, something I haven't been able to do much of (reading, I mean) for years, not with my book review load.

I began The Spartacus War last night and dove right into the deep end of the pool. Spartacus was a Roman trained soldier who, for whatever reason (bandit, brigand, thief, or insurrectionist) was sold to a gladiatorial school. He was not a poor and ignorant slave, but a free man who was taken by the Romans and thrust into warring for them after Thrace was conquered. That's the way they did things back in the Roman days.

No wonder the Romans so feared Spartacus. He was a trained solider and a gladiator from a race of war loving people who knew how to fight a guerilla war, strengths that kept Rome from capturing and killing Spartacus for two years, while Spartacus freed rural slaves and wreaked havoc against Rome, while Rome fought two other battles, one with the Silesian pirates and the other with Mithridates. I haven't gotten very far into the book, but I already know it's going to be riveting.

I shouldn't be surprised that Stanley Kubrick took the facts, such as they are, and made a Hollywood movie, a movie, I might add, that I have enjoyed for decades. That's the way Hollywood does things. They take the facts, twist them into what they believe is a better story, and pass them off as entertainment. It worked -- to a point. I was entertained, but my interest has always been more for Spartacus's son and what his life was like after his father was crucified. I doubt I'll find out about that, but I can still dream there's a book out there that will shine a light on his son's life.

Or I can write one.

As much as I enjoy fiction, I often prefer a good nonfiction book on science and history. I haven't read a mathematics nonfiction book that really held my interest, but I keep hoping. Give me DNA and ancient history, astronomy and archaeology. Give me quantum physics and medicine once in a while and I will count myself content. Besides, all that nonfiction is fodder for fiction in helping the reader suspend disbelief and get into the story because there is a ring of truth. In the last case, the ring was mitochondrial DNA. I'm not sure what the ring is with Spartacus, but I'm sure I'll find it.

That is all. Disperse.

1 comment:

Helen Ginger said...

I definitely think you should start writing that book on Spartacius's son. Sounds like it could be quite interesting.