Anthropologists have pulled a complete genome from a 4,500-year-old skeleton found in Ethiopia, a discovery which could have far-reaching implications for understanding prehistory in the region.
The ancient male remains were recovered from a cave in Ethiopia’s Gamo highlands in 2012 – and they could pull enough intact genetic information from the bones in the inner ear to make a full sequence,they announced in today’s issue of Science.
“We have given him the name Bayira, meaning ‘first born’ in the Gamo language in honor of the ethnic group that lives in the area today,” said John Arthur, the anthropologist from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg who led the team.
The genetic sequence has indicated that people from Europe and Asia had not yet mixed into the gene pool from that part of modern-day Ethiopia, the scientists said.
“Bayira’s genetic sequence does not contain any West Eurasia genes, supporting the idea that more recent population movements are responsible for Eurasian admixture into modern African populations,” Arthur added. “Thus, his genome is important for understanding the out-of-Africa expansion of Homo sapiens and later population movements between Africa and Europe.”
The genetics also show three genetic variants adapted to the high-altitude, low-oxygen environment of the highlands region – and the genes also resemble those of the people currently still living in the region, they added.
“Bayira is genetically closets to the Ari ethnic group, an Omotic-speaking society living in southwestern Ethiopia today,” said Kathryn Arthur, also of the scientific team.
“This is an extraordinary discovery, a contribution to the fields of anthropology and archaeology that will be recognized by scientists around the world,” added Sophia Wisniewska, the regional chancellor of USF.
DNA has provided insights into prehistorical dispersion of humans and hominids. Earlier this year a team from Harvard Medical School found genes from natives in South America that linked more closely with Australasian populations – which complicates the theory of a single population coming over the iced-over Bering Strait around 15,000 years ago.