Biologists say everyone alive today is linked to a woman they call Genetic Eve, who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago.
Natalie Angier, writing in the New York Times, calls the theory an "out-of-Africa scenario" in which scientists from the University of California traced the genetic background of 189 people of diverse races to this woman, who lived 166,000 to 249,000 years ago.
Though some critics say the theory has not been proven, there is another serious problem with the findings:
Overlooked in the ancestor debate is that our common ancestor was not only a woman but also a working woman who was the sole support of her family.
Scientists were able to pinpoint her existence, analyzing DNA passed through the female line, and they caught up with her while she was waiting for a baby sitter to show up so she could go to work. (The sitter never showed.)
Instead of being named Eve, informed sources report, the working woman's name is Dawn, and she is alive and well.
But Dawn, who predates the 2,000-Year-Old Man "discovered" by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner and even the Biblical Eve, contends that she was, indeed, the first of millions of modern women. Though over the eons since her birth she has refused to talk to the press, maintaining a discreet genetic silence, she recently agreed to answer questions about what it's like to speak in and as the First Person.
Interviewed before her testimony at a Labor Department subcommittee hearing on "What do older women really want?" Dawn appears to be a well-informed, concerned citizen of the world. Here are some of the questions and her answers.
Reporter: "How nice to meet you, Ms. Dawn. How was your trip to Washington?"
Dawn: "It was all right. I have a little jet lag and my bones are aching, but that's nothing compared to how I felt 50,000 to 100,000 years ago, when I began migrating on foot out of my African homeland."
Reporter: "Why did you leave? Scientists still haven't been able to figure that out."
Dawn: "I had to find a job, same as today, to support my family. Even if I was the first human, I wasn't the only one. I had millions of children and my husband, of course. But back then, just like now, there was a recession that wouldn't go away, even though our leader kept promising for 3,000 years it would end soon."
Reporter: "Jobs were hard to find?"
Dawn: "Yes, especially for women. Everywhere I looked, some male animal without dependents would ask me, 'Do you have children?' 'If your husband has to relocate to Botswana, will you go with him?' 'Do you plan to have more children?' The last question really made me mad. I always answered: 'Of course I plan to have more children. I plan to bring 5.384 billion humans into the world by 1991.' "
Reporter: "How did the interviewers react?"
Dawn: "They went crazy. They said they didn't care if there were anti-discriminatory laws written in stone because my health-care expenses would keep them in the Stone Age for eons. And they made sexist comments such as they'd like to hire my husband, he must be quite a man."
Reporter: "What is your husband like?"
Dawn: "Even after all these years, I still think he's a wonderful guy, but he's what you would call a displaced worker. The end of the Stone Age put him out of work. Even during the Bronze Age, he was still living in the Stone Age. And when the Iron Age came along, he was completely lost. Right now, both of us are taking computer literacy courses, but he's still unemployed, and his benefits ran out thousands of years ago."
Reporter: "How are you employed?"
Dawn: "I finally found work selling clothes in a retail cave. Nobody wore clothes then, so I never made much money. But I'm still in sales."
Reporter: "What happened to your kids while you worked?"
Dawn: "People always told me I could have it all -- a career, a husband, millions of children. But the truth is, you can't have it all. Not women. That dawned on me after only 125 years of trying to juggle home and family. My boss said there was no room in the cave for a child-care center, so I got people in our tribe to take care of the kids. I never knew from one day to the next if I could ever leave our tree to go to work. I never knew if I could swing it."
Reporter: "Didn't your husband help out?"
Dawn: "He did the hunting and I did the gathering, but he refused to be a cavehusband. We needed two incomes, so I had to do everything."
Reporter: "With your long years of experience in the paid labor market, do you have any advice for today's working women?"
Dawn: "I sure do. Don't let any big gorillas push you around in the workplace. Unless you stand up for yourselves during your 40 or so years of work, unless you combat sexual harassment and fight to break the cave ceiling, it will seem as if you've been on the job for 200,000 years. Trust me, I've been there."