Revisions

Ghosts of Africa

April 11, 2018

The Bushmen appear to have split off from the rest of humanity a few hundred thousand years ago. (There has been some intermixing since. Even the purest Kalahari Desert Bushman today is perhaps 10 percent descended from the now vastly numerous Bantu who started in West Africa. And some Bantu tribes, such as the politically potent Xhosa of South Africa, have considerable Khoisan ancestry. The most famous Xhosa, Nelson Mandela, looked rather Bushman and is said to have taken a DNA test back in 2004 implying some San ancestry on his matrilineal line.)

But combined, these rare exotics, having been swamped by colonizing farmers and herders, make up only a tiny fraction of the burgeoning population of sub-Saharan Africa.

The vast majority of living sub-Saharan Africans are descendants of what Reich calls the great agriculturalist expansions that drove the Bushmen into the deserts and the Pygmies into the forests.

The most populous is the Bantu expansion that began a few thousand years ago among West African farmers and spread south and east.

The Bantu, along with their West African relatives up into, say, Senegal, are rather genetically homogeneous. For example, Lagos, Nigeria and Lusaka, Zambia are about 3,500 miles of bad road apart. Yet, as Reich notes:

...the frequencies of mutations in groups in Nigeria and in Zambia are more similar than the frequencies of mutations in Germany and Italy despite the former two countries being separated by a far greater geographic difference.

There is little evidence of noticeable African-American ancestry deriving from Pygmies, Bushmen, Hottentots, or other rarities.

And, with the obvious exception of our Kenyan-American ex-president, virtually all African-Americans before immigration opened up in 1965 derived their sub-Saharan ancestry from the Atlantic side of Africa, with perhaps a tiny contribution from Portugal’s colony of Mozambique on the Indian Ocean.

Another vast expansion originated first as an in-to-Africa movement by early agriculturalists in the Middle East that brought farming to Egypt and the Ethiopian highlands, and then spread cattle herding down the Eastern highlands of Africa via Nilotics like the picturesque Maasai and elongated Dinkas. Even in southern Africa, the herding Hottentots derive a few percent of their ancestry from what is now Lebanon and Israel. Reich writes:

In 2016 and 2017, my laboratory published two papers showing that a shared feature of many East African groups, including ones that do not speak Afroasiatic languages, is that they harbor substantial ancestry from people related to farmers who lived in the Near East around ten thousand years ago.

These findings, while they shouldn’t be overblown, modestly validate the early anthropological idea romanticized in the 1885 novel King Solomon’s Mines that East Africans, unlike West Africans, have distant ties to the Caucasian Middle East. So Waugh’s pseudo-Fascist consul wasn’t wholly crazy in claiming Eurasian ancestry. Of course, these ancient Levantines were more Semitic than Aryan.

Frequently, Reich, whose father was the director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, winds up, against his inclinations, supporting pre-WWII anthropological theories that have largely been driven out of circulation for political reasons.

Reich also found evidence for a second Middle Eastern wave into Ethiopia and Somalia during the Bronze Age, not contradicting Abyssinian origin tales of their kingdom being founded by the son of Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

As for Waugh’s Communist consul’s question of “Who built the Pyramids?” Reich observes:

...there is little if any sub-Saharan African related ancestry in ancient Near Easterners or Egyptians prior to medieval times….

This may be overstating the lack of black DNA in Egypt before the Arab slave trade. Reich’s lab estimated 6 to 15 percent black ancestry for mummies from the New Kingdom to early Christian times. The wonderful Fayum portraits from Roman Egypt show an occasional Colin Kaepernick look-alike.

The black admixture was probably less when the Great Pyramid was built more than 4,500 years ago, though.

Yet the weight of evidence suggest that East Africa was less genetically isolated from Eurasia than West Africa due to the Nile, the pleasant climate of the Ethiopian highlands, and the Indian Ocean being more conveniently at hand for the ancient seafaring civilizations of the Middle East than the distant Atlantic.

In contrast, crossing the vast Western Sahara was a major challenge, especially before camel caravans became regular around the beginning of the Muslim era.

Just how genetically sequestered West Africans were from the rest of humanity is only starting to emerge. Consider a brand-new paper, “Recovering signals of ghost archaic admixture in the genomes of present-day Africans,” by Arun Durvasula and Sriram Sankararaman.

In case you are wondering, a “ghost” population is a race or species of which no physical remains have yet been found, but whose existence can be inferred from the genetic data of descendants, while an archaic group is one older than anatomically modern humans. This putative West African population would be both archaic and ghost.

The UCLA scientists theorize that, just as all non-Africans inherited some genes from the archaic Neanderthal species, the Nigerian Yorubans (a common ancestor for African-Americans) might trace a full 8 percent of their DNA to an as-of-yet unknown extinct African population.

All this mounting evidence implies that African-Americans indeed might be genetically more diverse than their many rivals in the diversity business.


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