Oldest DNA from Africa offers clues to mysterious ancient culture

16-03-2018 by Robyn Mason

In a new study published in Science archaeogeneticists have revealed that ancient DNA extracted from 15,000 year old human burials in Morocco show genetic profiles implying substantial Near Eastern and sub-Saharan African-related ancestries (63.5% and 36.5%, respectively). This is so far the oldest human DNA evidence from Africa and provides genomic evidence for contacts between North Africa and the Near East, as well as areas south of the Sahara, long before the Neolithic transition (which occurred at least four millennia later).

The findings come from Taforalt cave in eastern Morocco where long term excavations have been co-directed by the School of Archaeology’s Prof Nick Barton, one of the co-authors of the paper. The bones of nine human skeletons were directly radiocarbon dated and analysed for aDNA. They came from a large cemetery inside the cave associated with the Later Stone Age Iberomaurusian culture. One of the aims of the fieldwork has been to investigate the origins of the Later Stone Age in North Africa, which began with the appearance of microlithic bladelet assemblages around 25,000 years ago.  The new genomic data implies that a connection existed before 15,000 years ago between North Africa and the Near East (Natufian populations). However given the absence of more ancient genome data in this area it is not yet possible to predict where the core area of LSA expansion lay. Intriguingly some of the oldest archaeologically dated LSA finds occur in Morocco and Algeria, and not as might be predicted in areas further to the south or east.

Oldest DNA from Africa offers clues to mysterious ancient culture



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



Image: One of the Taforalt skeletons under excavation by Louise Humphrey of the Natural History Museum and part of the frontal of a LSA human skull. Photo Credit: Ian Cartwright, School of Archaeology.

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