Fulani from Cameroon show ancestry similar to Afroasiatic speakers from East Africa

sahel-region-fulani

Open access African evolutionary history inferred from whole genome sequence data of 44 indigenous African populations, by Fan et al. Genome Biology (2019) 20:82.

Interesting excerpts (emphasis mine):

Introduction

To extend our knowledge of patterns of genomic diversity in Africa, we generated high coverage (> 30×) genome sequencing data from 43 geographically diverse Africans originating from 22 ethnic groups, representing a broad array of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and geographic diversity (Additional file 1: Table S1). These include a number of populations of anthropological interest that have never previously been characterized for high-coverage genome sequence diversity such as Afroasiatic-speaking El Molo fishermen and Nilo-Saharan-speaking Ogiek hunter-gatherers (Kenya); Afroasiatic-speaking Aari, Agaw, and Amhara agro-pastoralists (Ethiopia); Niger-Congo-speaking Fulani pastoralists (Cameroon); Nilo-Saharan-speaking Kaba (Central African Republic, CAR); and Laka and Bulala (Chad) among others. We integrated this data with 49 whole genome sequences generated as part of the Simons Genome Diversity Project (SGDP) [14] (…)

afroasiatic-samples
Locations of samples included in this study. Each dot is an individual and the color indicates the language classification

Results and discussion

We found that the CRHG populations from central Africa, including the Mbuti from the Demographic Republic of Congo (DRC), Biaka from the CAR, and Baka, Bakola, and Bedzan from Cameroon, also form a basal lineage in the phylogeny. The other two hunter-gatherer populations, Hadza and Sandawe, living in Tanzania, group with populations from eastern Africa (Fig. 2). The two Nilo-Saharan-speaking populations, the Mursi from southern Ethiopia and the Dinka from southern Sudan, group into a single cluster, which is consistent with archeological data indicating that the migration of Nilo-Saharan populations to eastern Africa originated from a source population in southern Sudan in the last 3000 years [4, 23, 24, 25].

phylogenetic-relationship-africans
Phylogenetic relationship of 44 African and 32 west Eurasian populations determined by a neighbor joining analysis assuming no admixture. Here, the dots of each node represent bootstrap values and the color of each branch indicates language usage of each population. Human_AA human ancestral alleles

The Fulani people are traditionally nomadic pastoralists living across a broad geographic range spanning Sudan, the Sahel, Central, and Western Africa. The Fulani in our study, sampled from Cameroon, clustered with the Afroasiatic-speaking populations in East Africa in the phylogenetic analysis, indicating a potential language replacement from Afroasiatic to Niger-Congo in this population (Fig. 2). Prior studies suggest a complex history of the Fulani; analyses of Y chromosome variation suggest a shared ancestry with Nilo-Saharan and Afroasiatic populations [24], whereas mtDNA indicates a West African origin [26]. An analysis based on autosomal markers found traces of West Eurasian-related ancestry in this population [4], which suggests a North African or East African origin (as North and East Africans also have such ancestry likely related to expansions of farmers and herders from the Near East) and is consistent with the presence at moderate frequency of the −13,910T variant associated with lactose tolerance in European populations [15, 16].

Phylogenetic reconstruction of the relationship of African individuals under a model allowing for migration using TREEMIX [27] largely recapitulates the NJ phylogeny with the exception of the Fulani who cluster near neighboring Niger-Congo-speaking populations with whom they have admixed (Additional file 2: Figure S1). Interestingly, TREEMIX analysis indicates evidence for gene flow between the Hadza and the ancestors of the Ju|‘hoan and Khomani San, supporting genetic, linguistic, and archeological evidence that Khoesan-speaking populations may have originated in Eastern Africa [28, 29, 30].

afroasiatic-niger-congo-admixture
ADMIXTURE analysis of 92 African and 62 West Eurasian individuals. Each bar is an individual and colors represent the proportion of inferred ancestry from K ancestral populations. The bottom bar shows the language classification of each individual. With the increasing of K, the populations are largely grouped by their current language usage

About the Fulani, this is what the referenced study of Y‐chromosome variation among 15 Sudanese populations by Hassan et al. (2008), had to say:

  • Haplogroups A-M13 and B-M60 are present at high frequencies in Nilo-Saharan groups except Nubians, with low frequencies in Afro-Asiatic groups although notable frequencies of B-M60 were found in Hausa (15.6%) and Copts (15.2%).
  • Haplogroup E (four different haplotypes) accounts for the majority (34.4%) of the chromosome and is widespread in the Sudan. E-M78 represents 74.5% of haplogroup E, the highest frequencies observed in Masalit and Fur populations. E-M33 (5.2%) is largely confined to Fulani and Hausa, whereas E-M2 is restricted to Hausa. E-M215 was found to occur more in Nilo-Saharan rather than Afro-Asiatic speaking groups.
  • In contrast, haplogroups F-M89, I-M170, J-12f2, and JM172 were found to be more frequent in the Afro-Asiatic speaking groups. J-12f2 and J-M172 represents 94% and 6%, respectively, of haplogroup J with high frequencies among Nubians, Copts, and Arabs.
  • Haplogroup K-M9 is restricted to Hausa and Gaalien with low frequencies and is absent in Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo.
  • Haplogroup R-M173 appears to be the most frequent haplogroup in Fulani, and haplogroup R-P25 has the highest frequency in Hausa and Copts and is present at lower frequencies in north, east, and western Sudan.
  • Haplogroups A-M51, A-M23, D-M174, H-M52, L-M11, OM175, and P-M74 were completely absent from the populations analyzed.
fulfulde-fulani-language
Image modified from “Fulfulde Language Family Report” Author: Annette Harrison; Cartographer: Irene Tucker; SIL International 2003.

This is what David Reich will talk about in the seminar Insights into language expansions from ancient DNA:

In this talk, I will describe how the new science of genome-wide ancient DNA can provide insights into past spreads of language and culture. I will discuss five examples: (1) the spread of Indo-European languages to Europe and South Asia in association with Steppe pastoralist ancestry, (2) the spread of Austronesian languages to the open Pacific islands in association with Taiwanese aboriginal-associated ancestry, (3) the spread of Austroasiatic languages through southeast Asia in association with the characteristic ancestry type that is also represented in western Indonesia suggesting that these languages were once widespread there, (4) the spread of Afroasiastic languages through in East Africa as part of the Pastoral Neolithic farming expansion, and (5) the spread of Na-Dene languages in North America in association with Proto-Paleoeskimo ancestry. I will highlight the ways that ancient DNA can meaningfully contribute to our understanding of language expansions—increasing the plausibility of some scenarios while decreasing the plausibility of others—while emphasizing that with genetic data by itself we can never definitively determine what languages ancient people spoke.

EDIT (3 MAY 2019): Apparently, there was not much to take from the talk:

neolithic-pastoralist-africa
Pastoralist Neolithic in Africa, through a pale-green Sahelo-Sudanian steppe corridor. See full map.

This seminar (and maybe some new paper on the Neolithic expansion in Africa) could shed light on population movements that may be related to the spread of Afroasiatic dialects. Until now, it seems that Bantu peoples have been more interesting for linguistics and archaeology, and South and East Africans for anthropology.

Archaeology in Africa appears to be in its infancy, as is population genomics. From the latest publication by Carina Schlebusch, Population migration and adaptation during the African Holocene: A genetic perspective, a chapter from Modern Human Origins and Dispersal (2019):

The process behind the introduction and development of farming in Africa is still unclear. It is not known how many independent invention events there were in the continent and to which extent the various first instances of farming in northern Africa are linked. Based on the archeological record, it was proposed that at least three regions in Africa may have developed agriculture independently: the Sahara/Sahel (around 7 ka), the Ethiopian highlands (7-4 ka), and western Africa (5-3 ka). In addition to these developments, the Nile River Valley is thought to have adopted agriculture (around 7.2 ka), from the Neolithic Revolution in the Middle East (Chapter 12 – Jobling et al. 2014; Chapter 35, 37 – Mitchell and Lane 2013). From these diverse centers of origin, farmers or farming practices spread to the rest of Africa, with domesticate animals reaching the southern tip of Africa ~2 ka and crop farming ~1,8 ka (Mitchell 2002; Huffman 2007)

african-popularion-movements
Schematic representation of possible migration routes related to the expansion of herders and crop farmers during Holocene times. Arrow color indicate source populations; Brown-Eurasian, Green-western African, Blue-eastern African.

Similar to the case in Europe and the 1990s-2000s wrong haplogroup history based on the modern distribution of R1b, R1a, N, or I2, it is possible that neither of the most often mentioned haplogroups linked to the Afroasiatic expansion, E and J, were responsible for its early spread within Africa, despite their widespread distribution in certain modern Afroasiatic-speaking areas. The fact that such assessments include implausible glottochronological dates spanning up to 20,000 years for the parent language, combined with regional language continuities despite archaeological changes, makes them even more suspicious.

Similar to the case with Indo-Europeans and the “steppe ancestry” concept of the 2010s, it may be that the often-looked-for West Eurasian ancestry among Africans is the effect of recent migrations, unrelated to the Afroasiatic expansion. The results of this paper could be offering another sign of how this ancestry may have expanded only quite recently westwards from East Africa through the Sahel, after the Semitic expansion to the south:

1. From approximately 1000 BC, accompanying Nilo-Saharan peoples.

2. From approximately AD 1500, with the different population movements related to the nomadic Fulani:

sahel-nomadic-sedentary
Image from Sahel in West African History – Oxford Research Encyclopedia of African History.
  • Arguably, since the Fulani caste system wasn’t as elaborate in northern Nigeria, eastern Niger, and Cameroon, these specific groups would be a good example of the admixture with eastern populations, based on the (proportionally) huge amount of slaves they dealt with.
  • Similarly, it could be argued that the castes-based social stratification in most other territories (including Sudan) would have helped them keep a genetic make-up similar to their region of origin in terms of ancient lineages, hence similar to Chadic populations from west to east.

Reich’s assertion of the association of the language expansion with the spread of Pastoral Neolithic is still too vague, but – based on previous publications of ancient DNA in Africa and the Levant – I don’t have high hopes for a revolutionary paper in the near future. Without many samples and proper temporal transects, we are stuck with speculations based on modern distributions and scarce historical data.

fula-people-distribution
A distribution map of Fula people. Dark green: a major ethnic group; Medium: significant; Light: minor. Modified from image by Sarah Welch at Wikipedia.

About the potential genetic make-up of Cameroon before the arrival of the Neolithic, from the recent SAA 84th Annual Meeting (Abstracts in PDF):

Lipson, Mark (Harvard Medical School), Mary Prendergast (Harvard University), Isabelle Ribot (Université de Montréal), Carles Lalueza-Fox (Institute of Evolutionary Biology CSIC-UPF) and David Reich (Harvard Medical School)

[253] Ancient Human DNA from Shum Laka (Cameroon) in the Context of African Population History We generated genome-wide DNA data from four people buried at the site of Shum Laka in Cameroon between 8000–3000 years ago. One individual carried the deeply divergent Y chromosome haplogroup A00 found at low frequencies among some present-day Niger-Congo speakers, but the genome-wide ancestry profiles for all four individuals are very different from the majority of West Africans today and instead are more similar to West-Central African hunter-gatherers. Thus, despite the geographic proximity of Shum Laka to the hypothesized birthplace of Bantu languages and the temporal range of our samples bookending the initial Bantu expansion, these individuals are not representative of a Bantu source population. We present a phylogenetic model including Shum Laka that features three major radiations within Africa: one phase early in the history of modern humans, one close to the time of the migration giving rise to non-Africans, and one in the past several thousand years. Present-day West Africans and some East Africans, in addition to Central and Southern African hunter-gatherers, retain ancestry from the first phase, which is therefore still represented throughout the majority of human diversity in Africa today.

Related

Scythians in Ukraine, Natufian and sub-Saharan ancestry in North Africa (ISBA 8, 21st Sep)

jena-isba8

Interesting information from ISBA 8 sesions today, as seen on Twitter (see programme in PDF, and sessions from the 19th and the 20th september).

Official abstracts are listed first (emphasis mine), then reports and images and/or link to tweets. Here is the list for quick access:

Scythian population genetics and settlement patterns

Genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe broken not due to Scythian dominance, but rather at the transition to the Chernyakhov culture (Ostrogoths), by Järve et al.

The long-held archaeological view sees the Early Iron Age nomadic Scythians expanding west from their Altai region homeland across the Eurasian Steppe until they reached the Ponto-Caspian region north of the Black and Caspian Seas by around 2,900 BP1. However, the migration theory has not found support from ancient DNA evidence, and it is still unclear how much of the Scythian dominance in the Eurasian Steppe was due to movements of people and how much reflected cultural diffusion and elite dominance. We present new whole-genome results of 31 ancient Western and Eastern Scythians as well as samples pre- and postdating them that allow us to set the Scythians in a temporal context by comparing the Western Scythians to samples before and after within the Ponto-Caspian region. We detect no significant contribution of the Scythians to the Early Iron Age Ponto-Caspian gene pool, inferring instead a genetic continuity in the western Eurasian Steppe that persisted from at least 4,800–4,400 cal BP to 2,700–2,100 cal BP (based on our radiocarbon dated samples), i.e. from the Yamnaya through the Scythian period.

However, the transition from the Scythian to the Chernyakhov culture between 2,100 and 1,700 cal BP does mark a shift in the Ponto-Caspian genetic landscape, with various analyses showing that Chernyakhov culture samples share more drift and derived alleles with Bronze/Iron Age and modern Europeans, while the Scythians position outside modern European variation. Our results agree well with the Ostrogothic origins of the Chernyakhov culture and support the hypothesis that the Scythian dominance was cultural rather than achieved through population replacement.

Detail of the slide with admixture of Scythian groups in Ukraine:

scythians-admixture

Interesting to read in combination with yesterday’s re-evaluation of Scythian mobility and settlement patterns in the west (showing adaptation to the different regional cultures), The Steppe was Sown – multi-isotopic research changes our understandings of Scythian diet and mobility, by Ventresca Miller et al.

Nomadic pastoralists conventionally known as the Scythians occupied the Pontic steppe during the Iron Age, c. 700-200 BC, a period of unprecedented pan-regional interaction. Popular science accounts of the Scythians promote narratives of roving bands of nomadic warriors traversing the steppe from the Altai Mountains to the Black Sea coastline. The quantity and scale of mobility in the region is usually emphasized based on the wide distribution of material culture and the characterization of Iron Age subsistence economies in the Pontic steppe and forest-steppe as mobile pastoralism. Yet, there remains a lack of systematic, direct analysis of the mobility of individuals and their animals. Here, we present a multi-isotopic analysis of humans from Iron Age Scythian sites in Ukraine. Mobility and dietary intake were documented through strontium, carbon and oxygen isotope analyses of tooth enamel. Our results provide direct evidence for mobility among populations in the steppe and forest-steppe zones, demonstrating a range of localized mobility strategies. However, we found that very few individuals came from outside of the broader vicinity of each site, often staying within a 90 km radius. Dietary intake varied at the intrasite level and was based in agro-pastoralism.

While terrestrial protein did form a portion of the diet for some individuals, there were also high levels of a 13C-enriched food source among many individuals, which has been interpreted as millet consumption. Individuals exhibiting 87Sr/86Sr ratios that fell outside the local range were more likely to have lower rates of millet consumption than those that fell within the local range. This suggests that individuals moving to the site later in life had different economic pursuits and consumed less millet. There is also strong evidence that children and infants moved at the pan-regional scale. Contrary to the popular narrative, the majority of Scythians engaged in localized mobility as part of agricultural lifeways while pan-regional movements included family groups.

North-Africans show ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa

Pleistocene North Africans show dual genetic ancestry from the ancient Near East and sub-Saharan Africa, by van de Loosdrecht et al.

North Africa, connecting sub-Saharan Africa and Eurasia, is important for understanding human history. However, the genetic history of modern humans in this region is largely unknown before the introduction of agriculture. After the Last Glacial Maximum modern humans, associated with the Iberomaurusian culture, inhabited a wide area spanning from Morocco to Libya. The Iberomaurusian is part of the early Later Stone Age and characterized by a distinct microlithic bladelet technology, complex hunter-gathering and tooth evulsion.

Here we present genomic data from seven individuals, directly dated to ~15,000-year-ago, from Grotte des Pigeons, Taforalt in Morocco. Uni-parental marker analyses show mitochondrial haplogroup U6a for six individuals and M1b for one individual, and Y-chromosome haplogroup E-M78 (E1b1b1a1) for males. We find a strong genetic affinity of the Taforalt individuals with ancient Near Easterners, best represented by ~12,000 year old Levantine Natufians, that made the transition from complex hunter-gathering to more sedentary food production. This suggests that genetic connections between Africa and the Near East predate the introduction of agriculture in North Africa by several millennia. Notably, we do not find evidence for gene flow from Paleolithic Europeans into the ~15,000 year old North Africans as previously suggested based on archaeological similarities. Finally, the Taforalt individuals derive one third of their ancestry from sub-Saharan Africans, best approximated by a mixture of genetic components preserved in present-day West Africans (Yoruba, Mende) and Africans from Tanzania (Hadza). In contrast, modern North Africans have a much smaller sub-Saharan African component with no apparent link to Hadza. Our results provide the earliest direct evidence for genetic interactions between modern humans across Africa and Eurasia.

A detail of the cultures involved in these population movements:

north-africa-natufian-saharan

So, most likely, Natufian-related ancestry – as sub-Saharan ancestry – not related to the Afroasiatic expansion.

NOTE. This now probably outdated already by the new preprint on Dzudzuana samples, from the Caucasus.

Impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia

Exploring the genomic impact of colonization in north-eastern Siberia by Seguin-Orlando et al.

Yakutia is the coldest region in the northern hemisphere, with winter record temperatures below minus 70°C. The ability of Yakut people to adapt both culturally and biologically to extremely cold temperatures has been key to their subsistence. They are believed to descend from an ancestral population, which left its original homeland in the Lake Baykal area following the Mongol expansion between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. They originally developed a semi-nomadic lifestyle, based on horse and cattle breeding, providing transportation, primary clothing material, meat, and milk. The early colonization by Russians in the first half of the 17th century AD, and their further expansion, have massively impacted indigenous populations. It led not only to massive epidemiological outbreaks, but also to an important dietary shift increasingly relying on carbohydrate-rich resources, and a profound lifestyle transition with the gradual conversion from Shamanism to Christianity and the establishment of new marriage customs. Leveraging an exceptional archaeological collection of more than a hundred of bodies excavated by MAFSO (Mission Archéologique Française en Sibérie Orientale) over the last 15 years and naturally kept frozen by the extreme cold temperatures of Yakutia, we have started to characterize the (epi)genome of indigenous individuals who lived from the 16th to the 20th century AD. Current data include the genome sequence of approximately 50 individuals that lived prior to and after Russian contact, at a coverage from 2 to 40 fold. Combined with data from archaeology and physical anthropology, as well as microbial DNA preserved in the specimens, our unique dataset is aimed at assessing the biological consequences of the social and biological changes undergone by the Yakut people following their neolithisation by Russian colons.

Also interesting to read Balanovsky’s session, and a previous paper on the expansion of Yakuts.

Sahara’s rather pale-green and discontinuous Sahelo-Sudanian steppe corridor, and the R1b – Afroasiatic connection

palaeolakes-world

Interesting new paper (behind paywall) Megalakes in the Sahara? A Review, by Quade et al. (2018).

Abstract (emphasis mine):

The Sahara was wetter and greener during multiple interglacial periods of the Quaternary, when some have suggested it featured very large (mega) lakes, ranging in surface area from 30,000 to 350,000 km2. In this paper, we review the physical and biological evidence for these large lakes, especially during the African Humid Period (AHP) 11–5 ka. Megalake systems from around the world provide a checklist of diagnostic features, such as multiple well-defined shoreline benches, wave-rounded beach gravels where coarse material is present, landscape smoothing by lacustrine sediment, large-scale deltaic deposits, and in places, tufas encrusting shorelines. Our survey reveals no clear evidence of these features in the Sahara, except in the Chad basin. Hydrologic modeling of the proposed megalakes requires mean annual rainfall ≥1.2 m/yr and a northward displacement of tropical rainfall belts by ≥1000 km. Such a profound displacement is not supported by other paleo-climate proxies and comprehensive climate models, challenging the existence of megalakes in the Sahara. Rather than megalakes, isolated wetlands and small lakes are more consistent with the Sahelo-Sudanian paleoenvironment that prevailed in the Sahara during the AHP. A pale-green and discontinuously wet Sahara is the likelier context for human migrations out of Africa during the late Quaternary.

The whole review is an interesting read, but here are some relevant excerpts:

Various researchers have suggested that megalakes coevally covered portions of the Sahara during the AHP and previous periods, such as paleolakes Chad, Darfur, Fezzan, Ahnet-Mouydir, and Chotts (Fig. 2, Table 2). These proposed paleolakes range in size by an order of magnitude in surface area from the Caspian Sea–scale paleo-Lake Chad at 350,000 km2 to Lake Chotts at 30,000 km2. At their maximum, megalakes would have covered ~ 10% of the central and western Sahara, similar to the coverage by megalakes Victoria, Malawi, and Tanganyika in the equatorial tropics of the African Rift today. This observation alone should raise questions of the existence of megalakes in the Sahara, and especially if they developed coevally. Megalakes, because of their significant depth and area, generate large waves that become powerful modifiers of the land surface and leave conspicuous and extensive traces in the geologic record.

megalakes-sahara
ETOPO1 digital elevation model (1 arc-minute; Amante and Eakins, 2009) of proposed megalakes in the Sahara Desert during the late Quaternary. Colors denote Köppen-Geiger climate zones: blue, Aw, Af, Am (tropical); light tan, Bwk, BSh, BSk, Csa, Csb, Cwb, Cfa, Cfb (temperate); red-brown, Bwh (arid, hot desert and steppe climate). Lake area at proposed megalake high stands and present Lake Victoria are in blue, and contributing catchment areas are shown as thin solid black lines. The main tributaries of Lake Chad are denoted by blue lines (from west to east: the Komadougou-Yobe, Logone, and Chari Rivers; source: Global Runoff Data Center, Koblenz, Germany). Rainfall isohyets (50, 200, 800, 1200, and 1600) are marked in dashed gray-scale lines. Physical parameters of each basin are shown in white boxes: Abt, total basin area; AW, lake area; Vw, lake volume; and aW= AW/Abt. Black dots mark the location of the paleohydrological records from Lezine et al. (2011), also compiled in Supplementary Table S5.

Lakes, megalakes, and wetlands

Active ground-water discharge systems abound in the Sahara today, although they were much more widespread in the AHP. They range from isolated springs and wet ground in many oases scattered across the Sahara (e.g., Haynes et al., 1989) to wetlands and small lakes (Kröpelin et al., 2008). Ground water feeding these systems is dominated by fossil AHP-age and older water (e.g., Edmunds and Wright 1979; Sonntag et al., 1980), although recently recharged water (<50 yr) has been locally identified in Saharan ground water (e.g., Sultan et al., 2000; Maduapuchi et al., 2006).

Megalake Chad

In our view, Lake Chad is the only former megalake in the Sahara firmly documented by sedimentologic and geomorphic evidence. Mega-Lake Chad is thought to have covered ~ 345,000 km2, stretching for nearly 8° (10–18°N) of latitude (Ghienne et al., 2002) (Fig. 2). The presence of paleo- Lake Chad was at one point challenged, but several—and in our view very robust—lines of evidence have been presented to support its development during the AHP. These include: (1) clear paleo-shorelines at various elevations, visible on the ground (Abafoni et al., 2014) and in radar and satellite images (Schuster et al., 2005; Drake and Bristow, 2006; Bouchette et al., 2010); (2) sand spits and shoreline berms (Thiemeyer, 2000; Abafoni et al., 2014); and (3) evaporites and aquatic fauna such as fresh-water mollusks and diatoms in basin deposits (e.g., Servant, 1973; Servant and Servant, 1983). Age determinations for all but the Holocene history of mega- Lake Chad are sparse, but there is evidence for Mio-Pliocene lake (s) (Lebatard et al., 2010) and major expansion of paleo- Lake Chad during the AHP (LeBlanc et al., 2006; Schuster et al., 2005; Abafoni et al., 2014; summarized in Armitage et al., 2015) up to the basin overflow level at ~ 329m asl.

Insights from hydrologic mass balance of megalakes

sahara-annaul-rainfall
Graph of mean annual rainfall (mm/yr) versus aw (area lake/area basin, AW/AL); their modeled relationship using our Sahelo-Sudanian hydrologic model for the different lake basins are shown as solid colored lines. Superimposed on this (dashed lines) are the aw values for individual megalake basins and the mean annual rainfall required to sustain them. Mean annual paleo-rainfall estimates of 200– 400 mm/yr during the AHP from fossil pollen and mollusk evidence is shown as a tan box. The intersection of this box with the solid colored lines describes the resulting aw for Saharan paleolakes on the y-axis. The low predicted values for aw suggest that very large lakes would not form under Sahelo-Sudanian conditions where sustained by purely local rainfall and runoff. (For interpretation of the references to color in this figure legend, the reader is referred to the web version of this article.)

Using these conservative conditions (i.e., erring in the direction that will support megalake formation), our hydrologic models for the two biggest central Saharan megalakes (Darfur and Fezzan) require minimum annual average rainfall amounts of ~ 1.1 m/yr to balance moisture losses from their respective basins (Supplementary Table S1). Lake Chad required a similar amount (~1 m/yr; Supplementary Table S1) during the AHP according to our calculations, but this is plausible, because even today the southern third of the Chad basin receives ≥1.2 m/yr (Fig. 2) and experiences a climate similar to Lake Victoria. A modest 5° shift in the rainfall belt would bring this moist zone northward to cover a much larger portion of the Chad basin, which spans N13° ±7°. Estimated rainfall rates for Darfur and Fezzan are slightly less than the average of ~ 1.3 m/yr for the Lake Victoria basin, because of the lower aw values, that is, smaller areas of Saharan megalakes compared with their respective drainage basins (Fig. 15).

Estimates of paleo-rainfall during the AHP

Here major contradictions develop between the model outcomes and paleo-vegetation evidence, because our Sahelo-Sudanian hydrologic model predicts wetter conditions and therefore more tropical vegetation assemblages than found around Lake Victoria today. In fact, none of the very wet rainfall scenarios required by all our model runs can be reconciled with the relatively dry conditions implied by the fossil plant and animal evidence. In short, megalakes cannot be produced in Sahelo-Sudanian conditions past or present; to form, they require a tropical or subtropical setting, and major displacements of the African monsoon or extra-desert moisture sources.

sahara-palaeoclimate
Change in mean annual precipitation over northern Africa between mid-Holocene (6 ka) and pre-industrial conditions in PMIP3 models (affiliations are provided in Supplementary Table S4). Lakes Victoria and Chad outlined in blue. (a) Ensemble mean change in mean annual precipitation and positions of the African summer (July–September) ensemble mean ITCZ during mid-Holocene (solid red line) and pre-industrial conditions (solid blue line). (b) Zonal average of change in mean annual precipitation over land (20°W–30°E) for the ensemble mean (thick black) and individual models are listed on right). The range of minimal estimated change in mean annual precipitation required to sustain steppe is shown in shaded green (Jolly et al., 1998).

Conclusions

If not megalakes, what size lakes, marshes, discharging springs, and flowing rivers in the Sahara were sustainable in Sahelo-Sudanian climatic conditions? For lakes and perennial rivers to be created and sustained, net rainfall in the basin has to exceed loss to evapotranspiration, evaporation, and infiltration, yielding runoff that then supplies a local lake or river. Our hydrologic models (see Supplementary Material) and empirical observations (Gash et al., 1991; Monteith, 1991) for the Sahel suggest that this limit is in the 200–300 mm/yr range, meaning that most of the Sahara during the AHP was probably too dry to support very large lakes or perennial rivers by means of local runoff. This does not preclude creation of local wetlands supplied by ground-water recharge focused from a very large recharge area or forced to the surface by hydrologic barriers such as faults, nor megalakes like Chad supplied by moisture from the subtropics and tropics outside the Sahel. But it does raise a key question concerning the size of paleolakes, if not megalakes, in the Sahara during the AHP. Our analysis suggests that Sahelo-Sudanian climate could perhaps support a paleolake approximately ≤5000 km2 in area in the Darfur basin and ≤10,000–20,000 km2 in the Fezzan basin. These are more than an order of magnitude smaller than the megalakes envisioned for these basins, but they are still sizable, and if enclosed in a single body of water, should have been large enough to generate clear shorelines (Enzel et al., 2015, 2017). On the other hand, if surface water was dispersed across a series of shallow and extensive but partly disconnected wetlands, as also implied by previous research (e.g., Pachur and Hoelzmann, 1991), then shorelines may not have developed.

One of the underdeveloped ideas of my Indo-European demic diffusion model was that R1b-V88 had migrated through South Italy to Northern Africa, and from it using the Sahara Green Corridor to the south, from where the “upside-down” view of Bender (2007) could have occurred, i.e. Afroasiatic expanding westwards within the Green Sahara, precisely at this time, and from a homeland near the Megalake Chad region (see here).

Whether or not R1b-V88 brought the ‘original’ lineage that expanded Afroasiatic languages may be contended, but after D’Atanasio et al. (2018) it seems that only two lineages, E-M2 and R1b-V88, fit the ‘star-like’ structure suggesting an appropriate haplogroup expansion and necessary regional distribution that could explain the spread of Afroasiatic languages within a reasonable time frame.

palaeolithic
Palaeolithic migrations

This review shows that the hypothesized Green Sahara corridor full of megalakes that some proposed had fully connected Africa from west to east was actually a strip of Sahelo-Sudanian steppe spread to the north of its current distribution, including the Chad megalake, East Africa and Arabia, apart from other discontinuous local wetlands further to the north in Africa. This greenish belt would have probably allowed for the initial spread of early Afroasiatic proto-languages only through the southern part of the current Sahara Desert. This and the R1b-V88 haplogroup distribution in Central and North Africa (with a prevalence among Chadic speakers probably due to later bottlenecks), and the Near East, leaves still fewer possibilities for an expansion of Afroasiatic from anywhere else.

If my proposal turns out to be correct, this Afroasiatic-like language would be the one suggested by some in the vocabulary of Old European and North European local groups (viz. Kroonen for the Agricultural Substrate Hypothesis), and not Anatolian farmer ancestry or haplogroup G2, which would have been rather confined to Southern Europe, mainly south of the Loess line, where incoming Middle East farmers encountered the main difficulties spreading agriculture and herding, and where they eventually admixed with local hunter-gatherers.

NOTE. If related to attested languages before the Roman expansion, Tyrsenian would be a good candidate for a descendant of the language of Anatolian farmers, given the more recent expansion of Anatolian ancestry to the Tuscan region (even if already influenced by Iran farmer ancestry), which reinforces its direct connection to the Aegean.

The fiercest opposition to this R1b-V88 – Afroasiatic connection may come from:

  • Traditional Hamito-Semitic scholars, who try to look for any parent language almost invariably in or around the Near East – the typical “here it was first attested, ergo here must be the origin, too”-assumption (coupled with the cradle of civilization memes) akin to the original reasons behind Anatolian or Out-of-India hypotheses; and of course
  • autochthonous continuity theories based on modern subclades, of (mainly Semitic) peoples of haplogroup E or J, who will root for either one or the other as the Afroasiatic source no matter what. As we have seen with the R1a – Indo-European hypothesis (see here for its history), this is never the right way to look at prehistoric migrations, though.

I proposed that it was R1a-M417 the lineage marking an expansion of Indo-Uralic from the east near Lake Baikal, then obviously connected to Yukaghir and Altaic languages marked by R1a-M17, and that haplogroup R could then be the source of a hypothetic Nostratic expansion (where R2 could mark the Dravidian expansion), with upper clades being maybe responsible for Borean.

nostratic-tree
Simple Nostratic tree by Bomhard (2008)

However, recent studies have shown early expansions of R1b-297 to East Europe (Mathieson et al. 2017 & 2018), and of R1b-M73 to East Eurasia probably up to Siberia, and possibly reaching the Pacific (Jeong et al. 2018). Also, the Steppe Eneolithic and Caucasus Eneolithic clusters seen in Wang et al. (2018) would be able to explain the WHG – EHG – ANE ancestry cline seen in Mesolithic and Neolithic Eurasia without a need for westward migrations.

Dravidian is now after Narasimhan et al. (2018) and Damgaard et al. (Science 2018) more and more likely to be linked to the expansion of the Indus Valley civilization and haplogroup J, in turn strongly linked to Iranian farmer ancestry, thus giving support to an Elamo-Dravidian group stemming from Iran Neolithic.

NOTE. This Dravidian-IVC and Iran connection has been supported for years by knowledgeable bloggers and commenters alike, see e.g. one of Razib Khan’s posts on the subject. This rather early support for what is obvious today is probably behind the reactionary views by some nationalist Hindus, who probably saw in this a potential reason for a strengthened Indo-Aryan/Dravidian divide adding to the religious patchwork that is modern India.

I am not in a good position to judge Nostratic, and I don’t think Glottochronology, Swadesh lists, or any statistical methods applied to a bunch of words are of any use, here or anywhere. The work of pioneers like Illich-Svitych or Starostin, on the other hand, seem to me solid attempts to obtain a faithful reconstruction, if rather outdated today.

NOTE. I am still struggling to learn more about Uralic and Indo-Uralic; not because it is more difficult than Indo-European, but because – in comparison to PIE comparative grammar – material about them is scarce, and the few available sources are sometimes contradictory. My knowledge of Afroasiatic is limited to Semitic (Arabic and Akkadian), and the field is not much more developed here than for Uralic…

y-haplogroup-r1b-p343
Spread of Y-haplogroup R1b(xM269) in Eurasia, according to Jeong et al. (2018).

If one wanted to support a Nostratic proto-language, though, and not being able to take into account genome-wide autosomal admixture, the only haplogroup right now which can connect the expansion of all its branches is R1b-M343:

  • R1b-L278 expanded from Asia to Europe through the Iranian Plateau, since early subclades are found in Iran and the Caucasus region, thus supporting the separation of Elamo-Dravidian and Kartvelian branches;
  • From the Danube or another European region ‘near’ the Villabruna 1 sample (of haplogroup R1b-L754):
    • R1b-V88 expanding everywhere in Europe, and especially the branch expanding to the south into Africa, may be linked to the initial Afroasiatic expansion through the Pale-Green Sahara corridor (and even a hypothetic expansion with E-M2 subclades and/or from the Middle East would also leave open the influence of V88 and previous R1b subclades from the Middle East in the emergence of the language);
    • R1b-297 subclades expanding to the east may be linked to Eurasiatic, giving rise to both Indo-Uralic (M269) and Macro- or Micro-Altaic (M73) expansions.

This is shameless, simplistic speculation, of course, but not more than the Nostratic hypothesis, and it has the main advantage of offering ‘small and late’ language expansions relative to other proposals spanning thousands (or even tens of thousands) of years more of language separation. On the other hand, that would leave Borean out of the question, unless the initial expansion of R1b subclades happened from a community close to lake Baikal (and Mal’ta) that was also at the origin of the other supposedly related Borean branches, whether linked to haplogroup R or to any other…

NOTE. If Afroasiatic and Indo-Uralic (or Eurasiatic) are not genetically related, my previous simplistic model, R1b-Afroasiatic vs. R1a-Eurasiatic, may still be supported, with R1a-M17 potentially marking the latest meaningful westward population expansion from which EHG ancestry might have developed (see here). Without detailed works on Nostratic comparative grammar and dialectalization, and especially without a lot more Palaeolithic and Mesolithic samples, all this will remain highly speculative, like proposals of the 2000s about Y-DNA-haplogroup – language relationships.

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