Genomic Analysis Reveals European and Levantine Migrants as Catalysts for Agricultural Transition in Northwestern Africa

SciLifeLab researcher Mattias Jakobsson, together with an international research team, played a vital role in a significant study that reveals how ancient genomes provide evidence that the agricultural practices in northwestern Africa were triggered by migrants from Iberia approximately 7,400 years ago.

A genomic analysis of ancient human remains from Morocco in northwest Africa revealed that food production was introduced by Neolithic European and Levantine migrants and then adopted by local groups. SciLifeLab researcher Mattias Jakobsson of the Ancient DNA unit, together with researchers from Spain and Morocco, presented the results in Nature on June 7th.

In northwestern Africa, lifestyle transitioned from foraging to farming some 7,400 years ago, but what sparked that change remained unclear. Previous studies support conflicting views: that migrant European Neolithic farmers brought the new way of life to North Africa, or that local hunter-gatherers adopted farming practices.

“We found a remarkable population continuity up until seven and a half thousand years ago in northwestern Africa, where a group of local foragers had been living – isolated – for at least 8,000 years, perhaps since much further back in time”, says Mattias Jakobsson, Professor at Uppsala University and Scientific Director of the Ancient DNA platform at SciLifeLab, who led the study.

Then something happened.

After being isolated for so long, northwestern Africa received two new ancestries within ca. 1000 years, one migration wave following the northern Mediterranean coast, and another, the southern.

“A foreign ancestry related to the first European Farmers is found in North Africa in the remains of the earliest Neolithic context around 7500 years ago”, says Dr. Luciana Simoes from Uppsala University, first author of the study, indicating that migrants from Europe introduced this new lifestyle.

“Inspired by their new neighbours, within a few hundred years, the local foragers started to change their way of life to farming and the two groups lived side by side for at least another century”, says Dr. Cristina Valdiosera from University of Burgos in Spain, who co-led the study.

“This phenomenon has not been seen in any other part of the world” says Dr. Torsten Günther from Uppsala University

Around 6,300 years ago, a new genetic ancestry appeared in the human remains, likely as a consequence of migrants from the Levant arriving at the same time as pastoralism arrives in the region. Later, all three ancestries blend together during the Late Neolithic.

“I think it is great that the genomic data generated in this study confirms what the ceramic decoration was already pointing to: a unidirectional diffusion from the Iberian coast to the Tingitana Peninsula, around 7500 years ago”, says Dr. Rafael Martínez Sánches from the University of Córdoba, Spain

“Filling these key chronological gaps in the Maghreb proved crucial to better understand how the different subsistence strategies were acquired in this region” says Dr. Youssef Bokbot from L’Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine désigné ci-dessous in Morocco.


Last updated: 2023-06-09

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