Ancient DNA analysis reveals growing regionalization in Stone Age Africa

(ORDO NEWS) — Ancient Africans first looked for reproductive partners far from home, but later began to make alliances mainly with their immediate neighbors.

A group of scientists led by Mark Lipson (Mark Lipson) from Harvard University (USA) conducted a new analysis of ancient human remains found in different parts of Africa during archaeological excavations.

They examined the DNA of people who lived on the territory of modern Tanzania, Malawi and Zambia in the period from five to 18 thousand years ago, and compared the data obtained with the results of other, earlier studies.

Ancient DNA Analysis Reveals Growing Regionalization in Stone Age Africa 1Mount Hora in Malawi. Recently, the remains of two ancient people were found here. Their DNA analyzes were also included in the study

Ample genetic and archaeological evidence suggests that major demographic changes occurred in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of the Late Pleistocene and early Holocene.

But the problem is that it is difficult to draw final conclusions about this period, since the demographic processes of the last five thousand years have seriously blurred the genetic picture.

From the archaeological record of Africa, it follows that about 50 thousand years ago there were significant cultural changes: for example, beads made of shells, pigments appeared, and symbolic arts became widespread throughout the continent.

Researchers have long assumed that this reflects shifts in social attitudes and perhaps in population size. However, such hypotheses are usually difficult to test.

In addition to examining six previously unexamined remains, the scientists also reanalyzed published DNA data from 28 individuals buried at various sites across the continent and obtained new and improved data on 15 of them. To date, this is the most detailed set of DNA samples for Africa of this period.

Ancient DNA Analysis Reveals Growing Regionalization in Stone Age Africa 2                                                          The map shows from which parts of Africa DNA samples were taken

The origin of humans in the study area can be modeled as a geographically structured mixture of three highly divergent source populations, likely reflecting Pleistocene interactions around 20,000 to 80,000 years ago.

Primarily the deeply divergent eastern and southern African lineages, plus a previously unrecognized ubiquitous distribution of genes that are found in greatest proportion today in the hunter-gatherers of the Central African rainforests.

Once created, this structure remained very stable, with limited gene flow over long distances until about five thousand years ago.

The results of the study represent a new line of genetic evidence in support of archaeologists’ hypotheses about the ways people moved and the mixing of their societies and point to increasing regionalization at the end of the Pleistocene.

In other words, people first found reproductive partners from a wide geographic and cultural background. And later they began to give preference to those partners who lived closer and were potentially more similar culturally.

Until now, scientists have not been able to directly investigate these supposed demographic shifts. It has been difficult to reconstruct the events of our deep past from the DNA of people living today, and artifacts such as stone tools and beads cannot tell the whole story.

Ancient DNA gives a direct picture of the people themselves, but it is rather poorly preserved in regions with a humid and hot climate. Therefore, until very recently, works like this one were technically unrealizable.

As the authors of the study suggest, the development and expansion of various kinds of connections over long distances (including the exchange of genes) around this time helped people survive the last ice age: “They began to rely on each other in a new way. That, and innovation, may have allowed people to thrive,” they concluded.

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