THE SEARCH FOR EVE by Michael H. Brown


Email this review


There are more confusions than conclusions to be drawn from this probing of the current paleoanthropology scene. Brown (The Toxic Cloud, 1987), indefatigable in his quest, but a doter and gloater on academic controversy, tries to create a cliffhanger: Was there an Eve who was mother of us all? So says a group at Berkeley headed by the mercurial Allan Wilson, a MacArthur Award ""genius"" who set the fossil collectors' teeth on edge with a 1987 paper in Nature declaring that a primordial Eve in Africa was the progenitor of modern man (Homo sapiens sapiens). It was her offspring who fanned out to replace all other candidates in Europe, Asia, and Australia. The proof? Not bones but biochemistry. Wilson et al. looked at the DNA in cell organelles called mitochondria, the cell's energy factories. These are inherited strictly through the mother. The group devised a molecular clock based on estimated mutation rates to establish that out of Africa we came some 200,000 years ago. This so enraged traditionalists that it launched an ongoing controversy with polemics by all. Meantime, Wilson was preparing ever-new shock waves, suggesting that the power of Eve's clan lay in speech. Through a mitochondrial quirk, they got the gift of gab and in this way supplanted everybody else. This time the opposition simply laughed. But there's more. The biochemistry is now taken more seriously; and there have been more fossil finds, including a ""modern"" female skull found in Israel and dated at 115,000 years ago. Brown concludes that more than likely there was a meeting and mixing of genes, with the Levant as crossroads, that established a brotherhood, not a motherhood, of mankind. But who knows, and after all the dirty linen Brown hangs out, who cares?

Pub Date: April 11th, 1990
Publisher: Harper & Row