Public Release: 

Studying DNA of ancient humans from Morocco reveals ancestral surprises

American Association for the Advancement of Science

After sequencing DNA in bone matter of several 15,000-year-old humans from North Africa, a region critical for understanding human history but one in which it has been challenging to connect genetic dots, researchers report a notable lack of relatedness to ancient Europeans, in their specimens - a finding that rules out hypotheses of gene flow from southern Europe into northern Africa at a particular time. Rather, the specimens studied were more closely related to groups living farther afield, the authors say, a result suggesting dynamic interactions among Late Pleistocene African populations. To date, researchers exploring North Africa have uncovered skeletons from prehistoric sites, including in Morocco, though their origins have been unclear. Here, seeking to understand such individual's relatedness to other global populations, Marieke van de Loosdrecht, Matthias Meyer, and colleagues extracted the DNA from bone matter of several ancient North African specimens from Morocco thought to have belonged to the so-called Iberomaurusian culture, the source of which is debated. Comparing their genetic data with that from other ancient (and modern) individuals, the researchers identified almost 600,000 overlapping genetic markers. In follow-up modeling studies, they concluded that their North African specimens did not have European ancestors. Rather, they more closely shared ancestral components with ancient Near Easterners - suggesting a connection between Africa and the Near East that predated agriculture - and with sub-Saharan African populations. The data provide evidence of genetic interactions between modern humans across a wide geography, in the Late Pleistocene.

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