Ethiopian altitude adaptations

I said a while ago that the altitude adaptations in Tibet were too damn good, more effective than those seen in Andean Amerindians, and so must have originated in a population that lived at high altitude for a long time.  This seems to be the case.

The same must be true of Ethiopia. Their altitude adaptations also work well. There is a genetic component in Ethiopia that seems to correspond to the original hunter-gatherers, and the altitude alleles must have originated in that population, not the later components that look like East Africans or Levantines.

In both cases, there’s a fair chance that the ultimate origin could be some archaic group.

This entry was posted in Altitude adaptations, Archaic humans, Genetics. Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Ethiopian altitude adaptations

  1. So, should we compare Ethiopian, Tibetan and Bolivian runners?

  2. a very knowing American says:

    Any yeti stories in Ethiopia?

    • Greying Wanderer says:

      Not quite Ethiopia but

      “The Hadza’s oral history of their own past is divided into four epochs, each inhabited by a different culture. According to this tradition, in the beginning of time, the world was inhabited by hairy giants called the Akakaanebe or Gelanebe, “ancestors”. The Akakaanebe did not possess tools or fire; they hunted game by staring at it and it fell dead; they ate the meat raw. They did not build houses but slept under trees, as the Hadza do today in the dry season. In older versions of this story, fire was not used because it was physically impossible in the earth’s primeval state, while younger Hadza, who have been to school, say that the Akakaanebe simply did not know how.

      In the second epoch, the Akakaanebe were succeeded by the Tlaatlanebe, equally gigantic but without hair. Fire could be made and used to cook meat, but animals had grown more wary of humans and had to be chased and hunted with dogs. The Tlaatlanebe were the first people to use medicines and charms to protect themselves from enemies and initiated the epeme rite. They lived in caves.


      Starting to sound quite accurate.

  3. athEIst says:

    I see the population of Ethipia is up to 86 million(!!). So when the unpredictable East African drought(only predictable in that it will occur) will be worse than last time.

  4. athEIst says:

    I meant in terms of starvation. For really scary
    population estimate 2050: 146.000,000
    unless the East African drought……..

  5. j3morecharacters says:

    The altitude adaptations of the Ethiopians work too well. I mean, they appear to be a highly specialized population that performs poorly at sea level. Here in Israel we have a large group of them and they seem to me weak and sickly, and they perform poorly in the army. I dont think you wil find anything published on this issue because no one wishes to “stereotype” them. I certainly dont.

    • SpaghetiMeatball says:

      Maybe the IDF should crossbreed Ethiopian and Tibetan jews (if there aren’t any, make some) for a special high-altitude orbital drop shock trooper division.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You know, I don’t think that is the problem.

      I’ve paid attention to the Falasha story for a long time. I think it’s funny as hell.

      • syon says:

        RE: the Falasha,

        What is the current scientific consensus regarding their origins? The WIKIPEDIA article seems to indicate that they actually do descend, at least in part, from the ancient Israelites, but WIKIPEDIA is not exactly the best source on something like this, where multiple political agendas are involved*.

        *One of the worst examples of WIKIPEDIA’S vulnerability to agenda-minded editors is their article on Bacque’s ridiculous allegations about Eisenhower starving to death hundreds of thousands of German prisoners.

        • gcochran9 says:

          The Falasha are (best guess based on recent genetic studies) locals who converted to an old-fashioned, non-rabbinic Judaism. Genetically pretty much like other highland Ethiopians, definitely so in mtDNA.
          On the other hand, the non-African component is probably similar to what we see in the Levant today, as with other Ethiopian highlanders speaking Semitic languages.

    • Nick says:

      Ethiopians are often poor and in the bottom classes in Israel, right?
      Maybe that has more to do with them not looking so hot than high-altitude adaptations.

  6. j3morecharacters says:

    The Falasha. Prof. Cochran finds it funny, while to me they give IEED. Lets forget hem.

  7. BB753 says:

    Do highland populations underperform a sea level? You would expect the contrary to happen.

    • Sandgroper says:

      It does – they win all the marathon races at sea level, men and women. The Kenyans come second, with the occasional lone Moroccan. Last marathon results I checked, which was run this month, all the Ethiopians came at the front in a bunch, i.e. all of the Ethiopians, beat everyone else, except for an intermixing of Kenyans. Then there was a long string of single runners, then a bell curve of other results. They’re not just beating everyone else, they and the Kenyans are in a different class, and they are beating most of the field by a big time gap. They’re not feeble at sea level, they are super-charged. If Jaim can quote some support for his claim, I would look at it, but I guess not.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Sorry, forgot to mention – the top female Ethiopian runners beat all of the men in the race, except for the male Ethiopians.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        Sand, You dont have to find more international marathon results because I concede.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I was just about to concede that small skinny people with no quick twitch muscle or upper body strength and slow reactions might be of limited usefulness in the armed forces.

        China recently announced that the PLA is going to have to redesign all of its tanks because Chinese soldiers are now growing too big to fit into them. I idly wondered if there would be some advantage in choosing small skinny guys as tank crews. Fighter pilots, yes, as long as they are smart and quick enough.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Tel Aviv seems to be a bit slow posting the results. Here are the results from the Hong Kong Marathon run on 16 February 2014:

      Male winner: Ethiopian; Female winner: Ethiopian. The top Ethiopian and Kenyan runners, both male and female, are in a class of their own ahead of the rest. Ethiopia’s best runners clearly are not ‘weak and sickly’ – they are in competition with the Kenyans to be the world’s best distance runners.

      Boston Marathon 2013: Top 3 male finishers Ethiopia, Kenya, Ethiopia; top 3 female finishers Kenya, Ethiopia, Kenya.

      The Kenyan and Ethiopian runners are very clearly visually not the ‘same people’.

      • j3morecharacters says:

        The data on the Tel Aviv marathon was posted above. Ethiopia is a large country (1 000 000 sq km) with 100 000 000 inhabitants. The Falashas (about 100 000) are from Gondar and are not a good sample for all Ethiopian populations. So we may be talking about different peoples (and I could also be biased).

      • Sandgroper says:

        The top Ethiopian runners are high altitude people. That was the whole point of mentioning it – they are not weak and sickly at sea level, they are vying with Kenyans to be the world’s elite distance runners.

      • Sandgroper says:

        I’m trying to see your point about Israelis of Ethiopian origin, but I’m not getting it. It seems like some of the best Israeli distance runners are Ethiopians.

        It would be a tall order to expect Israeli Falashas to win the Tel Aviv Marathon – they would be competing against some of the world’s best marathon runners. Israel has a total population of, what, 8 million? Hell, Hong Kong has a population of 7 million. The top Hong Kong male runner came in at number 33, barely ahead of the third last Kenyan woman, and she was probably suffering from jet lag.

  8. dave chamberlin says:

    Up to the discovery of the Denisova cave and the recent amazing advances in paleogenetics I was quite skeptical we would ever be able to answer questions like if these alleles for human adaption to higher altitude living came from archaic humans. The past seemed almost entirely lost save for a few freak bones that would only confirm our past evolution and not much else. But if a Denisovan could live in Siberia 40,000 years ago during a period of intense cold then it stands to reason that other archaics lived all across Asia. What makes the Denisova cave so special is it is an ancient refrigerator (year around temperature is one degree above freezing) that preserved the DNA in two tiny insignificant bones, one belonging to a Denisovan that lived 40,000 years ago and another belonging to a very inbred neanderthal living (I think) 140,000 years ago. The information these bones have yielded via their preserved DNA has been nothing short of incredible. The million dollar question for folks like us fascinated with our evolutionary past is how many more ancient refrigerators, meaning limestone caves, are there scattered across Asia either at high latitude or high elevation that have within them bits of refrigerated bones from archaic humans or early modern humans. From what I can tell there is no methodical search underway and in my internet wanderings I can find no one even asking the question how many more caves like the one in Denisova are waiting to give up the many secrets of our lost past.

    • dearieme says:

      Is there anywhere in Africa where ancient DNA of such a kind might be preserved? Where would you start looking?

      • Richard Sharpe says:

        In people?

      • dave chamberlin says:

        Speaking of paleogenetics, the top dog in the field, Svaante Paabo, has a new book out titled “Neanderthal Man, in Search of Lost Genetics.” Svaante and his brilliant team of researchers and associates aren’t messing around, while other scientific fields putter and stall paleogenetics keeps moving forward with amazing discoveries. Some of the authors of the papers Cochran comments on are discussed in detail, like Reich and Patterson. The Max Planck Institute which Svaante Paabo serves as lead researcher have recently isolated the mtDNA from a 400,000 year old Homo Heidelbergis from northern Spain, so who knows what the future holds for ancient DNA in Africa. Like Richard Sharpe says with all these bioinformatics geniuses attacking the problem we may find some answers in living populations.

      • dearieme says:

        “In people?” That’s the easy bit. I was thinking more of in long-dead people.

      • rob says:

        Mount Kilimanjaro is icy up top year round. Did anyone have a reason to climb? Did proto-sapiens or erectus or “african denisova” you want have any religion? Maybe some pre-sapiens or early sapiens is in the ice there? Any other places in Africa cold year round?

  9. rob says:

    Cochran, what are the odds that migrating up and down mountains was common in the past or prehistory? The earliest civilizations in South America are mountainn-based. Yoking farmers is easier when they don’t have exit options. Mountains tend to be varied habitats., As glaciers come and go mountain animals can climb: they don’t even have to invade other territories. Maybe they aren’t very good at surviving for long. I think it’s because of the fragmented habitat and it leads to both inbreeding and small effective population size for new mutations.

    Basques have been in the mountains a long time. Is the Rh factor some sort of kin-selection or reciprocity based selection? Do they have other differences that lead to reproductive isolation?

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  11. Greying Wanderer says:

    regarding some recently discussed ideas about a) more recently barbarian northern latitudes and the possible effect barbarian traits might have on innovation and creativity, b) northern latitude alcoholism / heavy drinking being related to less adaptation to grains and c) unusually high rates of heart attacks in northern latitudes

    fierce creatures

  12. Sandgroper says:

    Sorry, I can’t resist this.

    It’s worth watching from the bell (5:30) just to watch the winner destroy the field.

    Top 9 places:
    1. Ethiopia (Genzebe Dibaba) (well, who the hell else would it be, apart from her big sister?)
    2. Ethiopia (Meseret Defar, another one of the Oromo ‘golden girls’, 2012 Olympic gold medalist)
    3. Kenya
    4. Kenya
    5. Kenya
    6. Ethiopia
    7. Kenya
    8. Ethiopia
    9. Kenya

    It must be really depressing to be a very good distance runner, but not to be Ethiopian or Kenyan.

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