I carry the exact replica of MDNA handed down from mother to daughter since the depths of the last Ice Age 17,000 years ago. My father carries the YDNA of the Indo-Europeans handed down from father to son since the time when his male ancestors invaded Europe about 5000 years ago.
My female ancestors moved with the seasons as they gathered fruits and nuts, roots and greens to feed their families. Some of them may have blown red ochre around their hands to leave their marks in ritual cave-wombs.
Mitochondrial DNA is passed down exclusively from mothers to their children. My MDNA “T2b” was given the name “the clan of Tara” by Bryan Sykes in The Seven Daughters of Eve. According to Sykes the earliest female ancestor with this gene lived about 17,000 years ago, perhaps in Tuscany.
Most Europeans–male and female–are related to only eight or ten female ancestors. Going further back, all Europeans, Asians, and Aboriginal Australians are related to the women among the San “bushmen” who left Africa 100,000 years ago. The San are one of 13 lineages in Africa that can be traced back to a single African foremother. We really are one big family.
When I tested the DNA of my motherline, I asked my father to test his as well. The YDNA of his paternal line is “R1b predicted m343,” the most common male lineage in Europe. When I looked R1bm343 up on the internet, I found that: “This subgroup probably originated in Central Asia/South Central Siberia, arriving from West Asia. . . .It appears to have entered prehistoric Europe c.5,000 [years before present], mainly from the area of Ukraine/Belarus or Central Asia (Kazakhstan) via the coasts of the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. It is considered widespread in Europe throughout the Late Neolithic.”
I gasped when I realized that the evidence of the conquest of Old Europe is written in our genes!
According to archaeologist Marija Gimbutas, the cultures of “Old Europe” in the Neolithic c. 6500-3500 BCE were peaceful, agricultural, sedentary, highly artistic, matrifocal, and probably matrilineal. The people of Old Europe worshipped the Goddess as the symbol of birth, death, and regeneration in all life.
Starting about 4400 BCE , Indo-European speaking invaders called “Kurgans” by Gimbutas after their “big man” graves, began to enter Old Europe from their homelands in the steppes north of the Black Sea. The Indo-Europeans brought with them their languages and a patriarchal, hierarchical, nomadic, warlike, horseback-riding culture. They worshipped the shining Gods of the Sky whose power was reflected in their bronze weapons.
The Indo-Europeans also moved south into India. Their conquests were complete in Europe and India by about 2000-1500 BCE.
The Indo-Europeans may have left their homelands to escape long-lasting drought and desertification in the Saharasian areas they had settled. That the Indo-Europeans brought the horse with them is proved by cognate words for “horse” in all the Indo-European languages from German to Greek to Sanskrit. That they were not agriculturalists is proved by the existence of different pre-Indo-European words for farm implements and practices in all the Indo-European languages. Some archaeologists have disputed the theory of cultural change via Indo-European invasions as “simplistic,” but most scholars of Indo-European languages accept it, and genetic evidence confirms it. The idea that cultures cannot change by invasion is belied by the more recent conquests of the Americas, Africa, and Australia. Historian of religion Mircea Eliade commented wryly that the conquests of the Indo-Europeans have continued up to the present day.
My maternal line, the clan of Tara, dates back to the gatherers and hunters of the late Paleolithic whose religious ideas and symbols, rooted in the caves, were inherited by early agriculturalists of Old Europe. Some European matrilineages are older than mine, while the youngest date to Neolithic Old Europe, the early agricultural period studied by Gimbutas. In contrast, my father’s paternal line, which is widespread in Europe, dates to the main waves of the Indo-European invasions about 5000 years ago. My father’s YDNA comes from the patriarchal Indo-Europeans whose language I speak and whose ideas and symbols are passed down in our culture: God the father, the warrior, and the king. In fact all of our other genes are mixed. Still, the contrast between MDNA and YDNA genes is suggestive. How could this difference in inheritance from maternal and paternal lines have come about?
Epic narratives tell us that invading armies kill the men and capture the women. When the Indo-European invaders came, they did not always bring women with them. They killed so many of the indigenous men—men who were not trained to fight or to dominate–that most of the indigenous YDNA lines died out. The females of Old Europe were raped, wedded, and taken as slaves. One way or another about ten of them managed to pass their MDNA genetic heritage down to almost all of those of European decent living today.
The theory that there are “two cultures” in Europe, the culture of the conquerors and the culture of the conquered, explains many things, including the “underground stream” of female images of the sacred and hopes for peace that continually emerge in patriarchal warlike cultures. That “another way,” a way of life not based on warfare, conquest, and domination exists, is written in the mitochondrial DNA that all children–male and female–inherit from their mothers. Perhaps it is not too late to reverse the tides of history.
(For a discussion of Y and M haplogroups and the hypothesis of the Indo-European invasions, see “Origins, age, spread and ethnic association of European haplogroups and subclades”.)
Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the study of women and religion, feminist theology, women’s spirituality, and the Goddess movement. She teaches online courses in the Women’s Spirituality program at CIIS. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.