Heterogeneity in Palaeolithic Population Continuity and Neolithic Expansion in North Africa

Curr Biol. 2019 Nov 18;29(22):3953-3959.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.09.050. Epub 2019 Oct 31.


North Africa is located at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Sea, the Middle East, and the Sahara Desert. Extensive migrations and gene flow in the region have shaped many different cultures and ancestral genetic components through time [1-6]. DNA data from ancient Moroccan sites [7, 8] has recently shed some light to the population continuity-versus-replacement debate, i.e., the question of whether current North African populations descend from Palaeolithic groups or, on the contrary, subsequent migrations swept away all pre-existing genetic signal in the region. In the present study, we analyze 21 complete North African genomes and compare them with extant and ancient genome data in order to address the demographic continuity-versus-replacement debate, to assess whether these demographic events were homogeneous (including Berber and Arabic-speaking groups), and to explore the effect of Neolithization and posterior migration waves. The North African genetic pool is defined as a melting pot of genetic components, including an endemic North African Epipalaeolithic component at low frequency that forms a declining gradient from Western to Eastern North Africa. This scenario is consistent with Neolithization having shaped most of the current genetic variation in the region when compared to posterior back-to-North-Africa migration waves such as the Arabization. A common and distinct genetic history of the region is shown, with internal different proportions of genetic components owing to differential admixture with surrounding groups as well as to genetic drift due to isolation and endogamy in certain populations.

Keywords: North Africa; admixture; human population genetics; population structure; whole-genome sequences.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Africa South of the Sahara
  • Africa, Northern
  • African Continental Ancestry Group / genetics*
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / genetics
  • Fossils
  • Gene Flow / genetics*
  • Gene Pool
  • Genetic Variation
  • Genetics, Population / methods
  • Genome / genetics
  • Haplotypes
  • History, Ancient
  • Human Migration / history
  • Humans
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide