Anthropology Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences

Ancient African genomes offer glimpse into early human history


Originally Posted: Jan. 23, 2020

Ann Horsburgh, a molecular anthropologist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, says the study adds little to our understanding of African prehistory. READ MORE

The ancient-genomics revolution is finally reaching the cradle of humanity: Africa. Researchers have sequenced the genomes of four children who lived in what is now Cameroon several thousand years ago.

Their genomes — the first to be collected from any ancient human in West Africa — raise questions about the origins of a migration that carried languages and agriculture across the continent, and hint at older events in human history, such as the emergence of Homo sapiens and its spread out of Africa.

But the findings underscore the yawning gap in scientists’ understanding of African population history, relative to that of Eurasia, the Americas and even Oceania. Researchers have sequenced more than 1,000 ancient human genomes from these regions, versus fewer than 80 from Africa, few of which are older than 10,000 years.

“We don’t have a clear picture right now,” says David Reich, a population geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, who co-led the study. “Africa is the most diverse place on Earth. It’s where our particular sub-lineage of humans originated.” It’s no surprise, he adds, that even the relatively recent history of its populations is hard to decipher today. READ MORE