Mediterraneans before writing

The spread of Homo sapiens (The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute)The Mediterranean Sea was a mighty barrier for much of human prehistory. The first humans to emerge from Africa could not cross it.1C. Broodbank, The Origins and Early Development of Mediterranean Maritime Activity, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, vol. 19, no. 2 (2006), pp. 199-230. Their wandering descendants reached Australia before they entered Europe. Not that they arrived in Europe by way of Australia. Their route was just a lot more indirect than a modern cruise from the wonders of Egypt to the glories of Greece. Yet after man took to the water, the Mediterranean invited adventures. The peoples around it were linked for good or ill. Pioneers spread farming around the warm Mediterranean waters. Traders and pirates sailed them. Empires spread across them. The idea of writing bounced around them, leaving us records of the Mediterranean world far more ancient than those for Northern Europe or Sub-Saharan Africa. Genetically the peoples bordering the Mediterranean have much in common. Sadly that includes the higher prevalence of the Beta type of Thalassemia. Its very name means sea-blood in Greek.

Satellite image of the SaharaAnother massive barrier for early peoples was the Sahara. It has been a desert for most of human existence. During cold phases, so much of the earth's water is locked into glaciers that deserts expand. In such times the only easy route across the Sahara was along the Nile Valley, and then only seasonally.2M.A.J. Williams and M.R. Talbot, Late Quaternary Environments in the Nile Basin, Monographiae Biologicae, vol. 89, no. 2 (2009), pp. 61-72. The wet periods as glaciers melted saw deserts bloom. The monsoon moved north, bringing life to the Sahara. Odd as it may seem today, the Sahara and Arabia became a savanna grassland at these times, where herds of grazing animals roamed.3K. White and D. Mattingly, Ancient lakes of the Sahara, American Scientist, vol. 94, no. 1 (January 2006), pp. 58-65. Early humans and yet earlier hominins seem to have taken advantage of warmer and wetter periods to spread out of Africa.4I.S. Castañeda et al., Wet phases in the Sahara/Sahel region and human migration patterns in North Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 106 no. 48 (1 December 2009), pp. 20159-20163.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683. Click to enlarge in new windowBetween the Mediterranean and the Sahara lies North Africa. Genetically it is easy to distinguish North Africa from other regions of Africa. Just as North Africa is close geographically to the Near East and Southern Europe, so it is close genetically. The problem lies in trying to tease out the different strands of a complex web of affinities. People entered Europe and North Africa from the Near East in the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic eras. Bold Phoenician sailors created colonies at Carthage and Cadiz and traded with Sardinia and Sicily. The Romans broke the power of Carthage in the Punic Wars and themselves colonised North Africa. After them came a brief incursion by the Vandals in 429 AD. The Arabic conquest of North Africa by 709 AD together with much of Iberia by 718 AD, Crete, Cyprus, Malta, Sicily and parts of southern Italy, had long-lasting effects. Relatively recent North African ancestry, specifically from the Maghreb, is highest in southwestern Europe, with a sharp difference between the Iberian Peninsula and France. That would fit the influx of the Moors.5L. R. Botigué et al., Gene flow from North Africa contributes to differential human genetic diversity in southern Europe, PNAS, vol. 110, no. 29 (2013), pp. 11791–11796.

Iberia and Italy were freed from Muslim control in the Middle Ages, but North Africa remained within the Muslim world, exchanging Fatimid control for that of the Ottoman Turks as far west as Algeria. The Ottoman Empire had succeeded the Byzantine Empire in Anatolia and south-eastern Europe. So the Turks controlled much of the Mediterranean. Then in the late 19th century most of Africa was seized by European nations in a ferment of competitive colonialism. Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia were taken by the French and thousands of French citizens emigrated there. In Egypt the British replaced the Ottomans in 1882, though officially just as advisers. Egypt did not formally become a British Protectorate until war broke out in 1914. Cyrenaica and Tripolitania were taken from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 by the Italians, who formed the colony of Italian Libya. Independence for all these North African countries later in the century resulted in the retreat to Europe of thousands of North Africans of European descent.

It was the Arabs who broke through the barrier of the Sahara with their desert-defying camels, and whose ships sped along the coast of East Africa linking north to south. They set up the slave trade that brought more Sub-Saharans northwards than ever before.6B.M. Henn et al., Genomic ancestry of North Africans supports back-to-Africa migrations, PLoS Genetics, vol. 8, no. 1 (2012): e1002397 dated most sub-Saharan genetic input into present North African populations to this period. People had moved northwards earlier when the climate permitted, and along the Nile corridor often enough for them to be well-known to the Ancient Egyptians, who indeed were ruled by a Nubian dynasty from 760 BC to 656 BC. However there have also been movements in the other direction. Farmers and pastoralists moved south in Africa by gradual stages, carrying some DNA from the Near East. Only among the present-day hunter-gatherers of Africa can we be reasonably certain of finding people whose ancestors were entirely African. It is important to bear this in mind when comparing present populations. One study operated on the assumption that any similarity between a non-African population and a Sub-Saharan African population indicates an input from the latter into the former.7P. Moorjani, The history of African gene flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines, and Jews, PLoS Genetics, vol. 7, no. 4 (2011): e1001373. That may not always be the case.

When migrations and conquests are familiar to us from our history books, there is a temptation to leap to the conclusion that these must explain every genetic pattern we see today. Yet much movement took place before writing, as we shall see.

Hunter-gatherers from the Near East

The descent of the major Western Eurasian mtDNA haplogroups. Click to enlarge in popup window.The very earliest modern humans to leave Africa may have taken a route from North Africa. (See The first Mediterranean people.) Modern Mediterraneans are not their descendants however (with rare possible exceptions). It was a wave out of East Africa about 60,000 years ago that peopled the rest of the world, and re-populated North Africa. The genetic trail leads through Arabia and across the mouth of the Red Sea to reach South Asia. Somewhere along the way, at least one group split away towards the Near East. From there people moved into Europe and North Africa. 8A. Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey (2009), pp. 62-78; S. Armitage et al., The Southern Route “Out of Africa”: evidence for an early expansion of Modern Humans into Arabia, Science, vol. 331 no. 6016 (28 January 2011), pp. 453-456; V. Fernandes et al., Genetic stratigraphy of key demographic events in Arabia, PLoS ONE 10 (3): e0118625.

Distribution of mtDNA haplogroups M1 and U6.  Click to enlarge in new window. Everyone in the world today descends from common ancestors who lived long ago in Africa, dubbed mitochondrial (mtDNA) Eve and Y-DNA Adam in reference to the Biblical figures. Forget the Bible story though. The genetic Adam and Eve never met. Each lived among tens of thousands of other humans. It is sheer chance that has preserved their lineages along the direct male-to-male and female-to-female lines. Genetic Eve was the mother of at least two daughters, who gave rise to the mtDNA lineages now labelled L0 and L1-6. The most ancient mtDNA haplogroups, L0 and L1, are found among Koisan Bushmen. The group that left East Africa contained at least one woman carrying mtDNA L3, whose daughters were the matriarchs of the lineages M and N and their many descendants among non-Africans. M and N themselves are most common today in East and South Asia, but M1 appears in North Africa as evidence for a backflow from Asia to Africa. A descendant of N is haplogroup U, which was carried into Europe and North Africa.9P. Soares et al., Correcting for Purifying Selection: An Improved Human Mitochondrial Molecular Clock, American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 84, no. 6 (June 2009), pp.740-759; A. M. González, Mitochondrial lineage M1 traces an early human backflow to Africa, BMC Genomics, vol. 8 (2007), no. 223; A. Olivieri, et al., The mtDNA Legacy of the Levantine Early Upper Palaeolithic in Africa, Science, vol. 314, pp. 1767-1770 (15 December 2006).

Distribution of Y-DNA haplogroup E. Click to enlarge in popup window.Different subclades of U arose or settled in the two regions. U5 seems to have evolved in Europe. U6 is a North African marker today, but was probably born in the Near East, for at least one woman carrying this haplogroup wandered into Europe. A woman who died in what is now Romania about 35 thousand years ago carried the basal haplogroup U6*, that is the mother of all the subclades of U6 found in present-day humans. That does not mean that she personally was the ancestor of modern U6 carriers. Presumably she had female line relatives also carrying U6*, who chose instead a southern route from the Near East into North Africa. The estimated birth-dates of haplogroups U5 and U6 fall into the period that European archaeologists label the Upper Palaeolithic. The earliest Upper Palaeolithic industry in North Africa is the Dabban, so similar to earlier Near Eastern stone tool-kits as to make its origin obvious. It spread no further west than Cyrenaïca.10M. Hervella et al., The mitogenome of a 35,000-year-old Homo sapiens from Europe supports a Palaeolithic back-migration to Africa, Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 25501 (2016); L. Pereira et al., Population expansion in the North African Late Pleistocene signalled by mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U6, BMC Evolutionary Biology, vol. 10, no. 390 (21 December 2010); A. Olivieri, et al., The mtDNA Legacy of the Levantine Early Upper Palaeolithic in Africa, Science, vol. 314, pp. 1767-1770 (15 December 2006); N.Maca-Meyer et al., Mitochondrial DNA transit between West Asia and North Africa inferred from U6 phylogeography, BMC Genetics, vol. 4 (2003), no.15. And see B.M. Henn et al., Genomic ancestry of North Africans supports back-to-Africa migrations, PLoS Genetics, vol. 8, no. 1 (2012): e1002397 for genome-wide support for this back-migration.

The Y-DNA signature of the circuitous return to Africa seems to be haplogroup E or its parent. E is the predominant haplogroup in Africa today, but owes much of that dominance to migrations southwards long after the Palaeolithic. Nilotic speakers spread pastoralism, then Bantu speakers spread agriculture, in two great waves of Y-DNA E which almost swallowed up the hunter-gatherers of Central and Southern Africa.11C. de Filippo et al., Chromosomal variation in sub-Saharan Africa: insights into the history of Niger-Congo groups, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 28, no. 3 (March 2011), pp. 1255-1269; B.M. Henn et al., Y-chromosomal evidence of a pastoralist migration through Tanzania to southern Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 105, no. 31 (5 August 2008), pp. 10693-10698; L.B. Scheinfeldt, S. Soi, and S.A. Tishkoff, Working toward a synthesis of archaeological, linguistic, and genetic data for inferring African population history, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 107 no. Supplement 2 (11 May 2010), pp. 8931-8938; B. Pakendorf, K. Bostoen, and C. de Filippo, Molecular perspectives on the Bantu expansion: a synthesis, Language Dynamics and Change, vol 1, no. 1, (2011), pp. 50-88; C.R. Gignoux, B. M. Henn and J. L. Mountain, Rapid, global demographic expansions after the origins of agriculture, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 108 no. 15 (2011), pp. 6044–6049. The most ancient Y-DNA haplogroups are A and B, which appear among Koisan hunter-gatherers. It seems that the group who left East Africa had among them a descendant of B, whose lineage spread over the ancient world outside Africa. One of the offspring of the line was the now exceedingly rare DE, which gave rise to the African E and East Asian D. 12J. Chiaroni, P. Underhill and L.L. Cavalli-Sforza, Y chromosome diversity, human expansion, drift and cultural evolution, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 106, no. 48 (December 2009), pp. 20174-79. Though this seems the companion pattern to the arrival in North Africa of mtDNA M1 and U6, Y-DNA E was to spread far more widely south of the Sahara, and may have returned direct to East Africa along the Arabian route, rather than from the Near East via Sinai.

Meanwhile the people of the Upper Palaeolithic had slowly spread across Europe, arriving about 27,000 years ago in Southern Iberia, where a group of them sheltered in Bajondillo Cave, Torremolinos.13M. Cortés Sánchez et al., Level 14 of Bajondillo Cave and the End of the Middle Paleolithic in the South of the Iberian Peninsula, chapter 20 in N.J. Conard, J. Richter (eds.), Neanderthal Lifeways, Subsistence and Technology: One hundred and fifty years of Neanderthal study (2011).

Refuge from the cold

Painting of an aurochs from the caves of Lascaux, south-west France, c. 17,300 years old Reconstruction by Elizabeth Daynes of a 25,000-year-old skull from Afalou in Algeria Climate change made Mediterranean Europe increasingly attractive to man and beast. By 26,500 years ago glaciers had reached their maximal extent across the globe and remained so until 20,000-19,000 years ago.14P.U. Clark et al., The Last Glacial Maximum, Science, vol. 325, no. 5941 (7 August 2009), pp. 710-714. As the ice advanced over Northern Europe, signs of human settlement increased three-fold in the Franco-Cantabrian forest belt. This area was clearly a major refuge. Italy and the Balkans also remained partly forested.

By contrast the expanded Sahara made most of North Africa a hyperarid wasteland. From the Atlas Mountains eastwards to Arabia was one gigantic desert, broken only by the Nile. The high Atlas though would capture rainclouds blown in from the Atlantic, and keep the coastal strips to its west and north well watered. Here there was forest-steppe similar to that in most of the northern Mediterranean.15H.T. Wright, Humanity at the Last Glacial Maximum: A cultural crisis, chap. 6 in P. N. Peregrine, I. Peiros and M. Feldman, Ancient Human Migrations: A multidisciplinary approach (2009). The Iberomaurusian culture appeared in this North-West African refuge around 21,000 years ago, when the last Ice Age was at its height. An astonishing variety of origins has been proposed for this culture, including arrivals from Iberia, hence its name. Its beginnings remain obscure, but most probably fit into the wider pattern of backed bladelet tools which appear across much of North Africa and the Near East between about 23,000 and 20,000 years ago.16N. Barton and A. Bouzouggar, Hunter-gatherers of the Maghreb 25,000-6,000 years ago, chapter 30 in P. Mitchell and P. Lane (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology (2013), pp. 431-443; R.N.E. Barton et al., Origins of the Iberomaurusian in NW Africa: New AMS radiocarbon dating of the Middle and Later Stone Age deposits at Taforalt Cave, Morocco, Journal of Human Evolution, vol. 65, issue 3 (September 2013), pp. 266–281; A. Bouzouggar, et al., Re-evaluating the age of the Iberomaurusian in Morocco, African Archaeological Review, vol. 25 (2008), pp. 3-19. This would be a fairly neat fit to an expansion in mtDNA U6a from the Maghreb around 26,000 years ago, calculated from modern DNA.17B. Secher et al.The history of the North African mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U6 gene flow into the African, Eurasian and American continents, BMC Evolutionary Biology, 14:109 (2014).

Expansion in the warm

Rock art in the Sahara showing hunters with bows and dogs. Click to enlarge in new window.As the glaciers receded, the water they had locked up began to run as rivers, pour into seas, be sucked up by warmer air and fall as rain. People and animals were on the move. Northern Europe was re-colonised from southern refuges. Meanwhile farming began in the Near East. What of North Africa? The greening of the Sahara around 8,500 BC opened up waterways and tropical grasslands between Central Africa and the Mediterranean. As the desert bloomed, it seems that Nilo-Saharan language speakers were tempted west from the Nile in pursuit of fish and aquatic animals, while North Africans followed Savanna herds southward, hunting them with bow and arrow.18I.S. Castañeda et al., Wet phases in the Sahara/Sahel region and human migration patterns in North Africa, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 106 no. 48 (1 December 2009), pp. 20159-20163; N. A. Drake et al., Ancient watercourses and biogeography of the Sahara explain the peopling of the desert, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 108, no. 2 (11 January 2011), pp. 458-462; M. C. Campbell and S. A. Tishkoff, The evolution of human genetic and phenotypic variation in Africa, Current Biology, vol 20, no. 4 (23 February 2010), R166-R173.

Somewhere in the Sahel region between the Niger and the Nile, one of the fisher-folk decided that a handy way to cook fish stew would be in a baked clay container. In Mali ceramic fragments from before 9400 BC have been found, the earliest in Africa and well ahead of pottery production in the Near East. This pottery, with its characteristic wavy line or dotted wavy line decoration, had spread right across the Sahara-Sahel belt from the Atlantic to the Red Sea by the 8th millennium BC.19E. Huysecom et al., The emergence of pottery in Africa during the tenth millennium cal BC: new evidence from Ounjougou (Mali), Antiquity, vol. 83, no. 322 (2009), pp. 905–917; R. Haaland, Aquatic resource utilization and the emergence of pottery during the late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic: a global perspective from the Nile to China, chapter 9 in Terje Oestigaard (ed.), Water, Culture and Identity: Comparing past and present traditions in the Nile Basin region (2009); F. Jesse, Wavy line ceramics: evidence from North-Eastern Africa, chapter 6 in Fred Wendorf, Romuald Schild, Kit Nelson (eds.), Holocene Settlement of the Egyptian Sahara: The pottery of Nabta Playa (2002); A.S. Mohammed-Ali and A.-R.M. Khabir, The wavy line and the dotted wavy line pottery in the prehistory of the Central Nile and the Sahara-Sahel belt, African Archaeological Review, vol. 20, no. 1 (March 2003), pp. 25-58. Some Wavy Line pottery was uncovered at the earliest and largest Stone Age cemetery yet found in the Sahara - at Gobero, Niger. The people buried with it were dubbed Kiffians by its excavators. They lived at Gobero during the Sahara’s wettest period and speared huge lake perch with harpoons. Both male and female Kiffians were tall and robust, reaching up to six feet in height, which is fairly typical of hunter-gatherers edging the Sahara both north and south before farming.20P.C. Sereno et al., Lakeside cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 years of Holocene population and environmental change, PLoS ONE, vol. 3. no. 8 (2008): e2995. Luísa Pereira and colleagues calculate that the age of the sub-Saharan subclade L3e5 makes it a candidate for arrival in North Africa from the south at this time, though other L3 lineages probably came north much later - with the Arab slave trade.21L. Pereira et al., Population expansion in the North African Late Pleistocene signalled by mitochondrial DNA haplogroup U6, BMC Evolutionary Biology, vol. 10, no. 390 (21 December 2010).

Herders

Rock painting of cattle herders in Tassili-n-Ajjer, Algeria.Sheep and goats are native to the Near East, so there is no doubt where they were first domesticated. By contrast cattle - in the shape of the huge and terrifying aurochs - roved wild all around the Mediterranean. It has taken several genetic studies to establish that it was the aurochs of the Near East that was the forefather of the domestic breeds of European cattle.22R. Bollongino et al., Y-SNPs do not indicate hybridisation between European aurochs and domestic cattle, PLoS ONE, vol. 3, no. 10 (October 14, 2008): e3418. Was there an independent domestication in Africa? Certainly people in Nabta Playa and Bir Kiseiba in the Nubian Desert were eating beef about 8,500 BC, to judge from the cattle bones they discarded, but these bones are indistinguishable from those of wild cattle, which we see Africans hunting in rock art (above). Researchers turned to genetics to resolve the argument. An early study of cattle mtDNA seemed to show that modern African and Eurasian cattle have been genetically separate for over 25,000 years.23F. Wendorf and R. Schild, Nabta Playa and its role in Northeastern African prehistory, Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, vol. 17 (1998), pp. 97–123; F.A. Hassan, Archaeology and linguistic diversity in North Africa, chapter 11 in P. Bellwood and C. Renfrew (eds.), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (2002). Certainly mtDNA haplogroup T3 predominates in European cattle, while North African cattle carry almost exclusively mtDNA haplogroup T1, which is comparatively rare in the Near East and most of Europe. That might seem to favour a separate domestication in Africa. Yet a genome-wide study showed that modern African taurine cattle are the result of the introduction of domesticated Fertile Crescent taurines and their hybridization with wild African aurochs.24J. E. Decker et al., Worldwide patterns of ancestry, divergence, and admixture in domesticated cattle, PLOS Genetics 10(3): e1004254. 2014. T1 is also found strongly in some Iberian breeds. It arrived in Iberia long before the Moors. One T1 haplotype has been found in a sample of 16 Bronze Age cattle remains from Spain. Other samples of mtDNA T1 have been found even earlier in Iberia - in Neolithic cattle.25Beja-Pereira et al., The origin of European cattle: Evidence from modern and ancient DNA, Proceedings of theNational Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 103, no. 21 (May 23,2006), pp. 8113-8118; L. Colominas et al., Detecting the T1 cattle haplogroup in the Iberian Peninsula from Neolithic to Medieval times: new clues to continuous cattle migration through time, Journal of Archaeological Science, vol. 59 (July 2015), pp. 110–117.

Does this mean that cattle were shipped across the Strait of Gibraltar? Or are we seeing the end result of farmers moving along the Mediterranean coasts of Africa and Europe with their stock and seeds from the Near East? A small sample of cattle Y-DNA from Guinea does fit into the pattern of haplogroup Y2 spreading around the Mediterranean.26C.J. Edwards, Dual origins of dairy cattle farming – evidence from a comprehensive survey of European Y-chromosomal variation, PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 1 (January 2011): e15922.

Farmers

African language families (from Scheinfeldt et al 2010). Click to enlarge in new window.Farmers could outbreed hunter-gatherers. That is plain in Europe, and would prove no different in Africa, where farming lineages dominate today. But there is a significant difference. Most Europeans today speak Indo-European languages that spread in the Copper/Bronze Age. North Africa is linguistically dominated by Arabic, which burst out of Arabia in the early Middle Ages with the Arab conquest of much of the Mediterranean region. In North Africa the incoming Arabs encountered peoples who spoke languages of the same family as their own, such as Ancient Egyptian and Berber. The Afro-Asiatic family is so named because it includes languages of both North Africa and Western Asia. Sarah Tishkoff and colleagues have demonstrated a strong correlation in Africa between genetics and language family.27S. A. Tishkoff et al., The genetic structure and history of Africans and African Americans, Science, vol. 324 no. 5930 (22 May 2009). pp. 1035-1044.

There has been much debate over the birthplace of Proto-Afro-Asiatic. Some linguists consider that it dates back long before the Neolithic and arose along the African coast of the Red Sea or in the Ethiopian Highlands. Alexander Militarev countered by arguing that Proto-Afro-Asiatic not only incorporated terms for foods such as cereals and beans, which were collected by foragers before they were cultivated, but words relating directly to cultivation. He feels that the language developed in the Levant. 28A. Militarev, The prehistory of a dispersal: the Proto-Afrasian (Afroasiatic) farming lexicon, chapter 12 in P. Bellwood and C. Renfrew (eds.), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (2002); A. Y. Militarev, Once more about glottochronology and the comparative method: the Omotic-Afrasian case, Aspects of Comparative Linguistics, vol. 1 (2005), pp. 339-40. However these terms are regarded by other linguists as highly speculative at best. Even were Militarev's case accepted, it would not rule out a predecessor language arising in North-East Africa and being carried into the Levant along with mtDNA L2a1 and Y-DNA E-M35.1. Languages change along with their speakers. As the people of the Levant adopted farming, so they would need words to describe what they were doing. Many of the languages spoken today developed among farmers and travelled with them as that way of life expanded.29J. Diamond and P. Bellwood, Farmers and their languages: the first expansions, Science, vol. 300 (2003), no. 5619, pp. 597-603.

Distribution of Y-DNA haplogroup E- M78 and its subclades. Click to enlarge in new window.We know that farming arose in the Near East. A climate crisis c. 6200 BC drove farmers far and wide. Some moved along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe and Africa, taking sheep, goats, wheat and barley with them. It had been assumed from modern DNA that the spread of farming and herding could be linked to subclades of the human Y haplogroups J and E-M35.1 in Europe and North Africa. Ancient DNA came as a surprise. It has revealed that Y-DNA G2a predominates in samples from the European Neolithic, while J has yet to appear and only one E-M35.1 has been found. In North Africa the picture may prove to be different. Sergio Tofanelli and colleagues have investigated the modern-day distribution of Y haplogroup J1 (M267) across North Africa as well as the Middle East. They reject the idea that this can be explained simply by the spread of Islam. They find that coalescence times for lineages point to the more distant past: the period between 5,500 and 7,200 BP (3,500-5,200 BC).30S. Tofanelli et al, J1-M267 Y lineage marks climate-driven pre-historical human displacements, European Journal of Human Genetics, advance online publication 15 April 2009. It is not simply a question of dating, which can be suspect. Y-DNA genetic diversity decreases across North Africa from east to west. That includes the predominant genetic signature, Y-DNA E-M35.1 and its subclades.31B. Arredi et al., A predominantly Neolithic origin for Y-Chromosomal DNA variation in North Africa, The American Journal of Human Genetics, vol. 75, no. 2 (1 August 2004), pp. 338-345. E-M35.1 itself probably arose in East or North-East Africa before some of its carriers moved across Sinai or Arabia to the Levant. Within this large haplogroup, two subclades (E-V68 and E-V257) are mostly found in southern Europe, though both contain a lineage common in Africa (E-M78 and E-M81 respectively). EM78 is found in Berbers, yet one subclade (V13) appears in the Balkans and others in East Africa. This complex picture could be explained by migration along the northern and southern Mediterranean from the Levant (and deeper into Africa with pastoralists). However the distribution of E suggests flight into the Balkans and North Africa from the Levant, but later into Iberia from North-West Africa. For example E-M78 sub-haplogroups E-V12, E-V22 and E-V65 are common in northern Africa, where they probably originated. Within Europe they are most common in Iberia.32B. Trombetta et al., A new topology of the human Y chromosome haplogroup E1b1 (E-P2) revealed through the use of newly characterized binary polymorphisms, PLoS ONE, vol. 6,no. 1 (2011): e16073; F. Cruciani et al., Tracing past human male movements in northern/eastern Africa and western Eurasia: new clues from Y-chromosomal haplogroups E-M78 and J-M12, Molecular Biology and Evolution, vol. 24, no. 6 (2007), pp. 1300-1311. Such a pattern might explain the T1 domesticated cattle in Neolithic Iberia (mentioned above).

Distribution of R1b1a (V88). Click to enlarge in new windowIt seems that these early farmers spread one branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family which includes Ancient Egyptian, the Berber languages of North Africa and the Chadic languages of West Central Africa, while the Semitic branch remained in the Levant and Arabia. We can picture farmers or pastoralists fleeing the arid Levant and crossing to North Africa. It seems that they initially avoided the swampy Nile Delta, spreading instead along the coast. The climate crisis that had driven them out of the Levant also interrupted the Saharan humid phase with a dry spell lasting centuries.33A. M. Mercuri et al., Mediterranean and north-African cultural adaptations to mid-Holocene environmental and climatic changes, The Holocene, vol. 21, no. 1 (February 2011), pp. 189– 206. Gobero in Niger was abandoned between 6200 and 5200 BC. The people who arrived in 5200 BC were of a lightly-built Mediterranean type, combining hunting, fishing and herding.34P.C. Sereno et al., Lakeside cemeteries in the Sahara: 5000 years of Holocene population and environmental change, PLoS ONE, vol. 3. no. 8 (2008): e2995. These new arrivals were taking advantage of the return of chains of lakes across the Sahara, before it gradually turned back to the desert we see today.35S. Kröpelin et al, Climate-driven ecosystem succession in the Sahara: the past 6000 years, Science, vol. 320, no. 5877 (9 May 2008). There is a correlation between the Chadic languages and haplogroup R1b1c (V88). It has been argued that its distribution suggests that it migrated south across the Sahara to Lake Chad at this time, leaving a pocket of V88 in what is now the Siwa oasis near the western border of Egypt. This is consistent with Christopher Ehret's deduction from linguistics that Proto-Chadic emerged about 5,000 BC among a people who had migrated to Lake Chad from the Sahara. 36F. Cruciani et al., Human Y chromosome haplogroup R-V88: a paternal genetic record of early mid Holocene trans-Saharan connections and the spread of Chadic languages, European Journal of Human Genetics (2010), pp. 1–8. However a more recent study found found R1b-V88 in Chad in the Toubou and Sara, who speak Nilo-Saharan languages, and also in the Laal people, who speak an unclassified language. This suggests that R1b-V88 either penetrated Africa independently of the Afro-asiatic language spread or passed to other groups through admixture.37M. Haber et al., Chad genetic diversity reveals an African history marked by multiple Holocene Eurasian migrations, The American Journal of Human Genetics (2016), published online November 23, 2016..

As the Sahara dried out from around 4,300 BC, some farmers took refuge in the Nile Valley, with its reliable water source.38F.A. Hassan, Archaeology and linguistic diversity in North Africa, chapter 11 in P. Bellwood and C. Renfrew (eds.), Examining the Farming/Language Dispersal Hypothesis (2002). They domesticated Nubian wild asses, ancestors of the donkey, as useful beasts of burden.39B. Kimura et al., Ancient DNA from Nubian and Somali wild ass provides insights into donkey ancestry and domestication, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, vol. 278, no. 1702 (7 January 2011), pp. 50-57; S. Rossel, Domestication of the donkey: Timing, processes, and indicators, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 105, no. 10 (March 11, 2008), pp. 3715-372; A. Beja-Pereira et al., African origins of the domestic donkey, Science, vol. 304, no. 5678 (June 18, 2004), p. 1781. As in Mesopotamia, the complexities of irrigation agriculture welded together an organised society. It was the start of a civilization which lasted thousands of years.

Notes

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  1. C. Broodbank, The Origins and Early Development of Mediterranean Maritime Activity, Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology, vol. 19, no. 2 (2006), pp. 199-230.
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