[Update: Waking up this morning I find that the ICR article this was based on has vanished (it may still return at a later date). I have a zotero capture if anyone wants a full copy of it.] [Update #2: It is indeed back now, and I’ve added a TL;DR summary at the bottom.]
In mammals (including humans) most DNA gets mixed together as it gets passed on from generation to generation: chromosomes come in pairs, one from the mother and the other from the father; but when sperm and eggs are produced these chromosomes swap segments, and the chromosome that ends up in a given sperm or egg is entirely random. There are two exceptions to this rule. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) can only be inherited from the mother – though both sexes have it – while the “Y chromosome” is only passed down from father to son.
This property makes these two varieties of DNA extremely useful in tracing ancestry, as distinct lineages can be found and compared. When these lineages are traced backwards they can only merge, never split, and thus will eventually converge to a point. The human mitochondrial genome has famously been traced back to “Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived between somewhere 140 and 240 thousand years ago, probably in Africa. “Y-chromosomal Adam” (which doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well) meanwhile is only dated to around 60 to 140 thousand years before the present, but lived on the same continent. Continue reading