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Hunter-gatherer genomes reveal diverse demographic trajectories following the rise of farming in East Africa

By Shyamalika Gopalan, Richard E.W. Berl, Gillian Belbin, Christopher R. Gignoux, Marcus W. Feldman, Barry S. Hewlett, Brenna M Henn

Posted 11 Jan 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/517730

A major outstanding question in human prehistory is the fate of hunting and gathering populations following the rise of agriculture and pastoralism. Genomic analysis of ancient and contemporary Europeans suggests that autochthonous groups were either absorbed into or replaced by expanding farmer populations. Many of the hunter-gatherer populations persisting today live in Africa, perhaps because agropastoral transitions occurred later on the continent. Here, we present the first genomic data from the Chabu, a relatively isolated and marginalized hunting-and-gathering group from the Southwestern Ethiopian highlands. The Chabu are a distinct genetic population that carry the highest levels of Southwestern Ethiopian ancestry of any extant population studied thus far. This ancestry has been in situ for at least 4,500 years. We show that the Chabu are undergoing a severe population bottleneck which began around 40 generations ago. We also study other Eastern African populations and demonstrate divergent patterns of historical population size change over the past 60 generations between even closely related groups. We argue that these patterns demonstrate that, unlike in Europe, Africans hunter-gatherers responded to agropastoralism with diverse strategies.

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