First DNA Extracted From an Ancient African Skeleton Shows Widespread Mixing with Eurasians

Africa is the birthplace of our species and the source of ancient migrations that spanned the globe. But it has missed out on a revolution in understanding human origins: the study of ancient DNA. Although researchers have managed to sequence the genomes of Neandertals from Europe, prehistoric herders from Asia, and Paleoindians from the Americas, Africa’s hot and humid climate has left little ancient DNA intact for scientists to extract. As a result, “Africa was left out of the party,” says anthropological geneticist Jason Hodgson of Imperial College London. Until now. A paper published online this week in Science reveals the first prehistoric genome from Africa: that of Mota, a hunter-gatherer man who lived 4500 years ago in the highlands of Ethiopia. Named for the cave that held the remains, the Mota genome “is an impressive feat,” says Hodgson, who was not involved in the work. It “gives our first glimpse into what an African genome looked like prior to many of the recent population movements.” And when compared with the genomes of living Africans, it implies something startling. Africa is usually seen as a source of outward migrations, but the genomes suggest a major migration into Africa by farmers from the Middle East, possibly about 3500 years ago. These farmers’ DNA reached deep into the continent, spreading even to groups considered isolated, such as the Khoisan of South Africa and the pygmies of the Congo.

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