Palaeolithic man left his fingerprint on African DNA

North Africa, Morocco
© iStock/saiko3p

An international team of scientists have performed a complete analysis of the genome of the population of North Africa, identifying the genetic imprint of Palaeolithic man.

For the first time, a team of researchers have collected data to analyse the complete genome of the population of North Africa. The international team identified a similar genetic imprint of the inhabitants of the region during Palaeolithic times. These findings rule out the theory that recent migrations from other regions erased the genetic traces of ancient North Africans.

Led by David Comas, principal investigator at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, and the institute of Evolutionary Biology, the study was published in the academic journal Current Biology.

DNA sequencing has become increasingly affordable and accessible allowing researchers to conduct population wide genome studies. Despite the availability of this research method, human population studies have been systematically ignored. This is the first genomic study to contextualise the historic region.

Researchers compared data from current North African people with the the DNA of fossil remains found at different sites in Morocco. “We see that the current populations of North Africa are the result of this replacement but we detect small traces of this continuity from Palaeolithic times, i.e., total replacement did not take place in the populations of North Africa”, reveals Comas, full professor of Biological Anthropology at the Department of Experimental and Health Sciences (DCEXS) at UPF.

“We do not know whether the first settlers 300,000 years ago are their ancestors, but we do detect imprints of this continuity at least since Palaeolithic times, since 15,000 years ago or more”, Comas adds.

“We have seen that the genetic imprint of Palaeolithic populations of North Africa is unique to the current North African populations and is decreasingly distributed from west to east in the region, inversely proportionally to the Neolithic component coming from the Middle East, which had a greater effect on the eastern region, which is geographically closer”, says Gerard Serra-Vidal, first author of the article.

“Therefore, our results confirm that migrations from other regions such as Europe, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa to this area did not completely erase the genetic traces of the ancient North Africans”, explains David Comas, head of the Human Genome Diversity research group of the IBE.

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