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The complete assembly of each human chromosome is essential for understanding human biology and evolution. Using complementary long-read sequencing technologies, we complete the first linear assembly of a human autosome, chromosome 8. Our assembly resolves the sequence of five previously long-standing gaps, including a 2.08 Mbp centromeric α-satellite array, a 644 kbp defensin copy number polymorphism important for disease risk, and an 863 kbp variable number tandem repeat at chromosome 8q21.2 that can function as a neocentromere. We show that the centromeric α-satellite array is generally methylated except for a 73 kbp hypomethylated region of diverse higher-order α-satellite enriched with CENP-A nucleosomes, consistent with the location of the kinetochore. Using a dual long-read sequencing approach, we complete the assembly of the orthologous chromosome 8 centromeric regions in chimpanzee, orangutan, and macaque for the first time to reconstruct its evolutionary history. Comparative and phylogenetic analyses show that the higher-order α-satellite structure evolved specifically in the great ape ancestor, and the centromeric region evolved with a layered symmetry, with more ancient higher-order repeats located at the periphery adjacent to monomeric α-satellites. We estimate that the mutation rate of centromeric satellite DNA is accelerated at least 2.2-fold, and this acceleration extends beyond the higher-order α-satellite into the flanking sequence. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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