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ccording to the myth of creation in the Abrahamic religions — that is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — Adam and Eve were the first man and woman. In other words, according to these religions, we all descend from them. However, as previously stated, this is a myth and, as such, there is no evidence of it. Nevertheless, as far as genealogy is concerned, the “scientific tools” we have at our disposal nowadays can tell us really interesting things.

A common link

The Western Europeans are all direct descendants of Charlemagne, founder and Emperor of the Carolingian Empire from 800 to 814. This is what the geneticist Adam Rutherford claimed during a meeting at the Chalke Valley History Festival in 2017. Rutherford and his team at the University College London traced back through the European lineages to reconstruct a family tree that eventually links all of the Western Europeans to the first Carolingian Emperor.

Europe in 814 at the death of Charlemagne —Source:  The Public Schools Historical Atlas by Charles Colbeck. Longmans, Green; New York; London; Bombay. 1905

Charlemagne in pills

Charlemagne has been called the “Father of Europe” as he united most of Western Europe for the first time since the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Before founding the Carolingian Empire, he had been the King of the Franks from 768 and the King of the Lombards from 774. His dynasty ruled over the Carolingian Empire until 888, when the Empire was divided into partitions.

A statistical evidence

The development of DNA analysis techniques has allowed Rutherford and his team to go back for hundreds, and even thousands, years along the patrilineal “paths” thanks to the Y chromosome and matrilineal “paths” through the mitochondrial X of the mother. If we consider that, as we go back in time, human beings are fewer and fewer and that among the “distinctive signs” of royalty there were fertility and descent — Charlemagne had at least eighteen sons — there are high chances of a connection. However, as over the generations there is a sort of genetic remixing, even if one were actually a descendant of the Emperor, he or she might not possess any of his genes.

The Coronation of Charlemane — von Carolsfeld — 1840 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Yet, if one has been a European for a few generations, the possibility that he or she is a descendant from Charlemagne is statistically very high. We all have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, and so on. The number grows exponentially as we go back in time. However, this numerical expansion of the ancestors going back in time does not continue indefinitely. If this was the case, at the time Charlemagne was the Holy Roman Emperor, our family tree would count 137.438.953.472 people, many more than those who were alive at that time, or today, or in the entire history of humanity. This means that, once we go back a few generations, the ancestry lines begin to “wrap” around themselves and look less like a tree and more like a web. As a consequence, each of us descends several times from the same individual. Anyone who lived in the 10th century and left a lineage is an ancestor of every European today, including Emperor Charlemagne.

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