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Into Africa: Ancient skeleton sheds light on reverse migration

4,500-year-old Ethiopian provides baseline for measuring Eurasian DNA in modern Africans

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2:00pm, October 8, 2015
Mota Cave

HOME SWEET GENOME  A 4,500-year-old man’s skeleton found in Ethiopia’s Mota Cave has yielded the first ancient human genome from Africa. Rocks placed over the man’s burial were cleared away before excavating the skeleton.

DNA from a man who lived about 4,500 years ago in what’s now Ethiopia has illuminated a surprisingly influential migration of Eurasians into Africa 1,500 years after his death.

That back-to-Africa trek occurred around 3,000 years ago and left a substantial genetic imprint on populations now living throughout sub-Saharan Africa, say University of Cambridge evolutionary biologist Marcos Gallego Llorente and his colleagues. The East African man’s genome, the first map of ancient human DNA from Africa, helped to determine that a population closely related to Europe’s first farmers made major inroads in Africa, the researchers report online October 8 in Science.

DNA was extracted from a man’s skeleton excavated from Ethiopia’s Mota Cave in 2012 and radiocarbon dated to about 4,500 years ago. Dry, cool conditions in the cave helped to preserve DNA in the skeleton.

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