Pittsburgh, PA
Thursday
December 25, 2014
    News           Sports           Lifestyle           Classifieds           About Us
A & E
 
Tv Listings
The Dining Guide
Movies
Travel
Headlines by E-mail
Home >  A & E >  TV/Radio Printer-friendly versionE-mail this story
Columns
TV Review: 'The Real Eve' explains DNA evidence that points to human origins

Friday, April 19, 2002

By John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

About 150,000 years ago, a woman in sub-Saharan east Africa gave birth to a daughter. She was neither the only human female nor the most fertile, but through the serendipity of natural selection, her long-term progeny have been the only ones to survive to the present day.

 
 
"The Real Eve"

WHEN: 9 p.m. Sunday on Discovery Channel.

   
 

In practical terms, the real "Eve" wasn't a biblical legend or the fossilized remains of the earliest hominid found. In a groundbreaking, two-hour Discovery Channel documentary Sunday at 9 p.m., "The Real Eve" follows a trail of genetic evidence to an actual prehistoric woman whose unique DNA signature can be found in every living human being.

Until the mid-1990s, the study of human origins relied on physical discoveries by archaeologists, anthropologists and climatologists. "The Real Eve" combines those data with new evidence from the fledgling field of genetic archaeology, which traces slight mutations in a section of human DNA which is passed only from mother to daughter. Mitochondrial DNA evolves at a constant rate of about one harmless mutation every 20,000 years, leaving markers of each mutation in nearly every human cell. Just as counting the rings in a tree helps to determine its age, researchers believe they can count markers in the cells of living humans to trace our lineage back to our common ancestor, "mitochondrial Eve."

Much of "The Real Eve" is based on the research of Oxford scholar Dr. Stephen Oppenheimer, who later this year will publish these findings in his book, "The Peopling of the World." Through the comparison of genetic samples taken from thousands of people from all parts of the globe, Oppenheimer offers evidence that challenges established theories on the routes and time periods of the human exodus out of Africa.

Some of the findings are revolutionary:

* There have been about 7,000 human generations.

* The only human group to have survived its migration out of Africa traveled in one wave about 80,000 years ago. They followed a southerly path across the Red Sea through modern day Yemen, Saudi Arabia, India, Malaysia and Australia, some 25,000 years before those in Turkey ventured north into Europe.

* Humans first crossed the land bridge from Siberia to the Americas before the last Ice Age, then repeated the process in pulses after the glaciers subsided.

Heavy, complicated stuff. But writer-director Andrew Piddington offers the information in a simple, viewer-friendly way that at times has more in common with MTV than PBS. Re-created scenes of traumatic moments in the lives of early humans are combined with a stirring score, easy-to-follow graphics, video morphing recycled from another show, and the characteristically slow and sympathetic narration of actor Danny Glover.

"The Real Eve" was filmed in nine countries on five continents and made an important stop at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Avella, Washington County. New genetic evidence presented in this documentary correlates with carbon-dating evidence that pushes back estimates of human habitation in this part of North America by thousands of years.

As Piddington traces human migration from mitochondrial Eve to us, the story becomes increasingly personal. Genetic archaeology provides a viable new theory on variations in human skin color, showing more genetic differences between Caucasians whose ancestors arrived in Europe at different times than between whites and blacks in general.

In one stunning segment, tissue samples taken from five people in Chicago turn up genetic indicators proving that a Greek woman and a full-blooded Cree man shared a common ancestor who probably lived in southern Siberia some 30,000 years ago. "The Real Eve's" unlikely family reunion illustrates the new belief that the human family is more closely related than we ever dreamed.

Excellent episodes

Sunday's Christmas-themed episode of HBO's "Six Feet Under" (9 p.m.) is particularly well written, flashing back to the death of pop Fisher. It's a thematically cohesive hour that also moves forward several long-percolating plots.

Earlier the same night, the season finale of "Futurama" (7 p.m., Fox) is a veritable "Star Trek" convention as William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols and Walter Koenig give voice to their animated selves.

Tuesday's "The Shield" (10 p.m., FX), which continues to impress, is also full of surprises.

After a month of reruns, we're about to be inundated with good TV. There's only more to come -- May sweeps begin Thursday.

(Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor)

Back to top Back to top E-mail this story E-mail this story
Search | Contact Us |  Site Map | Terms of Use |  Privacy Policy |  Advertise | Help |  Corrections