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Pleistocene North African genomes link Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African human populations

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Science  04 May 2018:
Vol. 360, Issue 6388, pp. 548-552
DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8380

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Relationships among North Africans

The general view is that Eurasians mostly descend from a single group of humans that dispersed outside of sub-Saharan Africa around 50,000 to 100,000 years ago. Present-day North Africans share a majority of their ancestry with present-day Near Easterners, but not with sub-Saharan Africans. To investigate this conundrum, Van de Loosdrecht et al. sequenced high-quality DNA obtained from bone samples of seven individuals from Taforalt in eastern Morocco dating from the Later Stone Age, about 15,000 years ago. The Taforalt individuals were found to be most closely related to populations from the Near East (Natufians), with a third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africa. No evidence was found for introgression with western Europeans, despite attribution to the Iberomaurusian culture. None of the present-day or ancient Holocene African groups are a good proxy for the sub-Saharan genetic component.

Science, this issue p. 548

Abstract

North Africa is a key region for understanding human history, but the genetic history of its people is largely unknown. We present genomic data from seven 15,000-year-old modern humans, attributed to the Iberomaurusian culture, from Morocco. We find a genetic affinity with early Holocene Near Easterners, best represented by Levantine Natufians, suggesting a pre-agricultural connection between Africa and the Near East. We do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans to Late Pleistocene North Africans. The Taforalt individuals derive one-third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West and East Africans. Thus, we provide direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia in the Pleistocene.

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