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Spaniards had sub-Saharan African DNA 4,000 years ago, say researchers
By thinkSPAIN Team Fri, Mar 1, 2019
SOUTHERN Spaniards may have been directly genetically related to Africans 4,000 years ago, according to a recent study by the University of Ferrara in Italy and Germany’s Potsdam University.
Led by Spanish researcher Gloria González Fortes, the team has concluded that a western migratory route for humans existed between the two continents during the Bronze Age – probably via the Strait of Gibraltar.
They sequenced the DNA of four Neolithic humans from southern Spain and northern Portugal, and found they shared genetic material with people from modern-day sub-Saharan Africa.
“Our results prove, for the first time ever, the existence of genetic contact and migration between Africa and the Iberian Peninsula around 4,000 years ago,” González Fortes says.
“This therefore shows that the presence of African DNA in the genomic composition of the current population of the Peninsula dates back long before the Islamic diaspora.”
Spain was occupied and ruled by the Moors, from northern Africa and the Middle East, from the eighth to the 15th centuries, meaning a high number of modern native Spaniards have Arab DNA.
Previous work on prehistoric human remains found in Morocco and Spain showed evident genetic migration from the Iberian Peninsula to northern Africa in the late Neolithic era, some 5,000 years ago, but the study led by González Fortes is the first to show such early migration in the opposite direction.
Migration between the continents is known to have happened between five and 10 million years ago, as a result of a string of volcanic islands of varying sizes acting as ‘stepping stones’ between what is now the Cabo de Gata bay in Almería and the approximate location of the Spanish-owned city-province of Melilla on the northern Moroccan coast, close to the Algerian border.
But this ‘bridge to Africa’ would have been too early for humans; it was completely covered over by what is now the Alborán Sea about 1.8 million years ago, so it is only able to explain an ‘exchange of fauna’ between the continents.
Researchers say ‘mostly camels and rabbits’ would have used it, although samples of DNA and RNA (ribonucleic acid) from modern-day western Mediterranean animal species, especially lizards and geckos, show they are distantly related to similar creatures from north Africa.
Photograph by the investigation team, FIPEH
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