First ancient DNA from West/Central Africa illuminates deep human past

January 22, 2020

An international team led by Harvard Medical School scientists has produced the first genome-wide ancient human DNA sequences from west and central Africa.

The data, recovered from four individuals buried at an iconic archaeological site in Cameroon between 3,000 and 8,000 years ago, enhance our understanding of the deep ancestral relationships among populations in sub-Saharan Africa, which remains the region of greatest human diversity today.

The findings, published Jan. 22 in Nature, provide new clues in the search to identify the populations that first spoke and spread Bantu languages. The work also illuminates previously unknown "ghost" populations that contributed small portions of DNA to present-day African groups.

Map of Africa with Cameroon in dark blue and approximate location of Shum Laka marked with star. Image adapted from Alvaro1984 18/Wikimedia Commons

Research highlights:
-end-
Paper: Mark Lipson, et al., "Ancient West African foragers in the context of African population history," Nature, DOI 10.1038/s41586-020-1929-1

Harvard Medical School

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