LEADING ARTICLE : Some mother's grandmother

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The Independent Online
How exciting it has been to learn that 9,000-year-old Cheddar Man is directly linked to 42-year-old Cheddar man, Adrian Targett, a teacher. Instant history lessons have abounded. Our ancestors, or Adrian's, seem like fascinating acquaintances, friends of the family even ("They ate nuts and beavers, and only just missed meeting the woolly mammoth, such a pity," we might gossip). Here is Dr Larry Barham, archaeology lecturer at Bristol university, enthusing: "You could put a suit on him and he wouldn't look out of place in an office. In fact he probably wore tailored clothes of leather or skins sewn together". We all feel connected, part of Adrian's extended hunter-gatherer family, and, indeed, as scientists have started to think about it a little more, it emerges that we probably all are connected, there being so many of us in the 20th century and so few of them - Cheddar Men and Women, that is - in 7150BC.

But Adrian's link is special, being via mitochondrial DNA, a genetic dowry passed exclusively through the maternal line, mother to daughter, mother to daughter in an unbroken chain of being from the beginning of humanity. And, unlike the rest of Cheddar Man's DNA, which might be scattered prodigally around the world, this mitochondrial DNA has passed intact from Cheddar Man's mother or sister right through to Adrian Targett's mother, reminding us that half our ancestors were women. The focus shifts: less hunting, more gathering; less strutting in tailored suits, more singing and sewing. And surfacing, as the news did, yesterday, a suitable celebration of connectedness for International Women's Day.