Early humans – out of Africa and back again


Genetic analysis of a skull in Romania suggests that a group of early humans may have returned to the continent, leaving their mark on people there today. Bill Condie reports


The female skull from the Pestera Muierii cave.
E. TRINKAUS AND A. SOFICARU

While it is well-known that early humans migrated from Africa about 100,000 years ago, populating first Europe and then Asia, it now appears that it was not a one-way trip.

A new study of two teeth from a 35,000-year-old woman found in Pestera Muierii cave in Romania, show that at least some humans returned to the African continent.

The discovery, published in the journal Scientific Reports, could explain why today’s North Africans are genetically related to people from Europe and Asia, as well as to other Africans.

Scientists from the University of the Basque Country and University of Uppsala studied the mitochondrial genome of the Pestera Muierii woman, known as PM1.

They found she belonged to a genetic group, or haplotype, called Basal U6 – one that many modern North Africans have descended from.

Analyses of present-day human mitogenomes suggest that some populations initiated a migration back to North Africa around 45,000 years ago.

However, the scarcity of remains in North Africa has prevented researchers from obtaining direct evidence of such a migration.

"It was very surprising and interesting to find an individual this old carrying a U6 haplotype," Emma Svensson of the University of Uppsala told reporters.

"Since the U6 haplogroup today is most common in North African populations we didn't expect to find it in such an ancient human from Romania."



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