A CLASH OF CULTURES IN OUR GENES by Carol P. Christ

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

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17 replies

  1. how do I find out more about getting my genes tested? Thank you for your article!

  2. Fascinating! This shows that we really are all kin, we’re really all children of the Goddess. Miriam Robbins Dexter has written that another reason the Kurgans galloped into Old Europe was because they were testosterone-driven teenage men. Gang-bangers on horseback. The prologue of my novel Secret Lives is set in Old Europe in 4400 BCE. The shaman (who is 6 1/2 thousand years old when she turns up later in the book) has a vision of the invasion, and when it starts happening, she sends the people of her town away. By implication, they become the “little people” of ancient Europe. Carol, thanks for this blog. It’s excellent.

  3. I have had my mdna done by national geographic and discovered myself to be descended from Helena. You’re correct in saying the information they subsequently provide is not helpful; I will obtain Sykes’s book. Thanks for the reference.

  4. That’s a lovely and striking closing photo, Carol.

    I’m looking forward to having my genetics tested — soon! Just have to gather up the appropriate amount of money. Thank you for the recommendation of the book by Sykes to help explain it better, as well. While I think it’s a shame he had to tie the genetics of all humankind to the mythology of one fairly recent religion in his title, at least the information on our ancient foremothers got out to the general public.

    On another note, I’m finding it more and more fascinating how closely the domestication of the horse seems to precede the violent eruption of the proto-Indo-Europeans out of their homeland and into Old Europe. As someone who was raised with horses and knows what social and easy-going creatures they usually are, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry at the thought that they might have been one of the triggers for such violence to occur. As Gimbutas noted, however, more research is needed. I shall keep doing so.

  5. Gimbutas, as a Lithuanian, had experienced invasions personally. Most of her critics come from societies that have not experienced invasion for many years. That does not say anything about the actualities of prehistoric invasions one way or the other, but it does suggest why they may reach different conclusion from the same evidence.

    • Or we could say that the Brits and the North Americans, the English-speaking despisers of the invader hypothesis, are denying the histories of invasion and colonization that led to the sun never setting on the empire of the one and to the recent colonization that occurred in the other.

  6. On horses, The Europeans were the ones who introduced equines to this hemisphere. If we think of the more recent invasion of this country by Europeans, made possible by the horses they brought with them (and I’ve often grieved at the thought of the hardships the transatlantic voyage caused them), it is easy to imagine a culture completely taken over by mounted invaders.

    • From some of the reading I’ve done it would also appear New World re-introduction and Native American appropriation of the horse was critical in changing over mostly-settled egalitarian and matrifocal agrarian societies into war-like nomadic hierarchical and patriarchal societies. I cannot help but wonder if we can potentially discover in that change some clues to the original shift in proto-Indo-European social patterns, as they too domesticated the horse.

  7. In case anyone needs further convincing, Bronowski’s The Ascent [sic] of Man [sic] illustrates the power of armed horsemen to subdue everything in the horsemen’s paths.

    • As someone who was raised with horses, I can attest to the curiously atavistic reactions a mounted rider causes. I remember once in my teens I was riding my horse up a hill at a joyful canter. I spotted a man sauntering slowly down the hill from the parking lot at the top. He saw my mare thundering happily up the hill and he froze for a moment, eyes wide — then darted back to jump over the low chain fence and behind some closely-parked cars.

      I love horses and am quite familiar with them, so I know they’ll ordinarily try hard not to step on you — and it simply would not occur to them to weave around cars to get at you! This experience was a startling reminder to me of the power of our instincts when faced with the big, unfamiliar, and scary. I am not surprised, therefore, to read that the armed Indo-European nomads who chose violence had little trouble in obliterating everything before them.

  8. Horseback riding as a young teenager for several years of Saturdays at Azusa stables is one of my happiest memories. Although killing to eat is part of life, it never fails to amaze me that so many people fear animals so much. Imagine all that fear being replaced with love. And then imagine how we would have to change the ways we treat the animals we eat and destroy the living spaces–environments–of those we do not.

  9. I’m really loving all the exploration of the meaning of ancestors you’re doing.

  10. Great post Carol,thank you so much for this.

Trackbacks

  1. WOMEN ARTISTS AND RITUALISTS IN THE GREAT CAVES: THE BEGINNING OF THE END OF INDOLENT ASSUMPTIONS by Carol P. Christ | Feminism and Religion

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