Do Adam and Eve Fit into the Evolutionary Story?
The common male and female ancestors of human beings are popularly known as “Genetic Adam” and “Genetic Eve.” A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sheffield claims all men can trace their origins to one male ancestor, ‘Adam’, who lived approximately 209,000 years ago. This places ‘Adam’ within the same time frame as ‘Eve’ - the ‘mother of all women’ – and provides evidence for the existence of a prehistoric ‘Adam and Eve.’
Dr. Eran Elhaik and Dr. Dan Graur used conventional biological models to discover the period when a common male ancestor, 'Adam,' lived. Their results place his lifetime in a period much earlier than previously believed - previous research determined that ‘Adam’ lived 135,000 years ago.
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Painting from Manafi al-Hayawan (The Useful Animals), depicting Adam and Eve. From Maragh in Mongolian Iran. (Public Domain)
Adam’s identity was discovered through the analysis of the Y chromosome. This is a set of genes passed down nearly intact from father to son, meaning mutations present in the chromosome can be used to trace back the male lineage to the father of all men. David Poznik has explained that the term ‘Genetic Adam’ is misleading, however, because this ancestral man was not solitary – other men also existed during his time, their Y chromosomes were just lost over time as their male lineages died out.
The results of this study also contradict claims that the human Y chromosome originated in a different species which came about through interbreeding. The findings show that 'Adam's’ existence was in the same timeframe as 'Eve's.’ As Dr. Elhaik said,
“It is obvious that modern humans did not interbreed with hominins living over 500,000 years ago. It is also clear that there was no single 'Adam' and 'Eve' but rather groups of 'Adams and Eves' living side by side and wandering together in our world.”
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The X and Y chromosomes, also known as the sex chromosomes. (NIH Image Gallery)
It is worth noting that the genetic ‘Adam and Eve’ are not the same as the biblical Adam and Eve. Genetic studies show there was a common ancestor for all men and a common ancestor for women – but these were not the first humans to walk the earth. Really, they were just two out of thousands of people, but they are set apart because their unbroken male or female lineages continue until today. It’s also worth mentioning that it is extremely unlikely the genetic Adam and Eve ever met, let alone mated.
The study was published in the European Journal of Human Genetics.
‘Adam and Eve in paradise (The Fall)’ (1533) by Lucas Cranach the elder. (Public Domain)
Top Image: Adam and Eve (1640s) by Jacob Jordaens. Source: Public Domain