Marina DiMarco
University of Pittsburgh
In their 1987 Nature publication, “Mitochondrial DNA and Human Evolution,” Rebecca Cann, Mark Stoneking, and Allan C. Wilson gave a new reconstruction of human evolution on the basis of differences in mitochondrial DNA among contemporary human populations. This phylogeny included an African common ancestor for all human mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) lineages, and Cann et al.’s reconstruction became known as the “Out of Africa” hypothesis. Since mtDNA is inherited exclusively through the maternal line, the common ancestor who was first branded African Eve later became known as Mitochondrial Eve (mtEve, for short). In this paper, I show that mtEve was not a single, successful, or purely scientific discovery. Instead, she was produced many times and in many ways, each of which informed the next. Importantly, though Wilson and colleagues heralded mitochondrial DNA as a source of certainty, objectivity, and consensus for evolutionary inference, their productions of Mitochondrial Eve depended as much on popular assumptions about the certainty of maternal inheritance as they did on new molecular and computational tools. This recognition lets us reevaluate the complex consequences of these productions, which, like mtEve herself, could not be confined to a purely social, material, or scientific dimension.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2020.101290
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