“Who We Are: #7 Africa.

The African story is complicated, and getting steadily more so. But some of the big picture – involving relatively recent events – is fairly simple.

The biggest African language family is Niger-Kordofanian, which was probably spoken by most people in west Africa at least 5,000 years ago – a mark of an early expansion. One subgroup near the border between Nigeria and Cameroons seems to have had a set of crops that was less specialized for high-rainfall areas like west Africa – probably including some cereals like millet, as well as wet-country yams and bananas. This allowed the Bantus to expand out into dryer areas of Africa, which at the time were occupied by various hunter-gatherer groups. You could think of the Bantu as a bit like marcher lords, but at first more advantaged by their crops than their military technology. From genomics, it looks as if the Bantu first moved south and only later expanded into East Africa. They didn’t have iron-working in the beginning, but picked it up perhaps 500 to 1,000 years later. Iron-working led to better tools and weapons, which made displacement of hunter-gatherers even easier.

A few of the hunter-gatherer peoples are still around, but most have been replaced. The replacement was in some cases near-total, while other encounters sometimes led to substantial admixture between the Bantu and the previous hunter-gatherers. For example the Xhosa, a major tribe in South Africa, have about 25% Bushman ancestry. Look at Mandela. A similar group, one that only persists as an admixture component, account for about 20% of the ancestry in Mozambique. On the other hand, there’s no sign of hunter-gather admixture in some populations, like Malawi.

The remaining hunter-gatherers also have had varying amounts of Bantu admixture. The Ju/’hoansi, the population that Henry Harpending studied, have the least (about 10%). Pygmies also have substantial amounts of Bantu ancestry. Interestingly, the more Bantu ancestry, the taller the Pygmy (on average).

The Bantu expansion was the largest in Africa, but there were others. The Nilotic people, tall cattle-herders, expanded into East Africa, leaving tribes like the Masai and Tutsi.

Farmers from the Middle East settled Egypt and North Africa a long time ago, which strongly suggest that the Afroasiatic languages (traditionally known as Hamito-Semitic) originated in the Near East. A following pulse in the Bronze Age brought a later version of Middle Eastern genes (with an added eastern component) into Ethiopia and Somalia, which likely explains the origin of the Cushitic branch.

A fourth branch, the Khoe-Kwadi languages of southern Africa, are spoken by people also called Hottentots. They appear to be the result of an admixture between cattle-herders from the north and local hunter-gather populations (similar to the Bushmen). Those cattle-herders derive from an ancient West Eurasian population – so you see some Middle Eastern alleles in the Hottentots, a surprisingly result due to Joe Pickrell.

One thing to remember: although some of the hunter-gatherer groups are very interesting and tell us things about really deep prehistory – Bushmen, for example, apparently split off from the rest of the human race about 300,000 years ago – they make up a very small fraction of Africa’s population today. There are roughly 50,000 Bushmen, 1,000 Hadza (descendants of East African hunter-gatherers) and perhaps a million Pygmies.

These small remnant populations can be informative. It looks as if some of the hunter-gatherer populations mixed with unknown archaics about 50,000 years ago. Maybe not that surprising, since skeletons with archaic features have been found (in Africa) that are relatively recent, as recent as 11,000 years ago. Or consider homo naledi, a very different population (many skeletons found in a cave in South Africa), something like humans but with a very small brain, that seems to have lived in South Africa 200,000 years ago. Or recent analysis that suggests West Africans carry significant admixture (~10%) from a pop that split off after Neanderthals [ 600 k years] , but well before the Bushmen.

Another question: how did the Bushmen ( and apparently other populations) manage to stay so genetically isolated over hundreds of thousands of years? We’ve recently learned a bit more about their history, from sequencing Bushmen skeletons found in South Africa – skeletons that are only a couple of thousand years old, but date from before the Bantu arrived. Ur-Bushmen – which showed us how different they were before Bantu admixture.

Reich mentions some work by Peter Ralph and Graham Coop on the multiple origins of the sickle-cell mutation in different parts of Africa, which suggests very low rates of gene flow, since otherwise such a favorable mutation would spread rapidly, without the required wait for multiple occurrences. Alas, it turns out that HbS really does have a single origin, probably in West Africa about 7000 years ago – a nearby recombination hotspot confused the Issue. Which is what some people expected a long time ago – multiple origins never squared with the fact that there is no sickle-cell at all in South East Asia or New Guinea, even though there’s plenty of malaria.. However the point – very low gene flow – is still valid, since we see several different mutations that cause lactase persistence in cattle-herding populations in Northeast Africa. That implies very low gene flow from the parts of Eurasia that had the common European lactase mutation, as well as low gene flow within Africa. Or, possibly, it may suggest that these different mutations have different effects, so that they work better in some environments than others…

In some ways, on some questions, learning more from genetics has left us less certain. At this point we really don’t know where anatomically humans originated. Greater genetic variety in sub-Saharan African has been traditionally considered a sign that AMH originated there, but it possible that we originated elsewhere, perhaps in North Africa or the Middle East, and gained extra genetic variation when we moved into sub-Saharan Africa and mixed with various archaic groups that already existed. One consideration is that finding recent archaic admixture in a population may well be a sign that modern humans didn’t arise in that region ( like language substrates) – which makes South Africa and West Africa look less likely. The long-continued existence of homo naledi in South Africa suggests that modern humans may not have been there for all that long – if we had co-existed with homo naledi, they probably wouldn’t lasted long. The oldest known skull that is (probably) AMh was recently found in Morocco, while modern humans remains, already known from about 100,000 years ago in Israel, have recently been found in northern Saudi Arabia.

While work by Nick Patterson suggests that modern humans were formed by a fusion between two long-isolated populations, a bit less than half a million years ago.

So: genomics had made recent history Africa pretty clear. Bantu agriculuralists expanded and replaced hunter-gatherers, farmers and herders from the Middle East settled North Africa, Egypt and northeaat Africa, while Nilotic herdsmen expanded south from the Sudan. There are traces of earlier patterns and peoples, but today, only traces. As for questions back further in time, such as the origins of modern humans – we thought we knew, and now we know we don’t. But that’s progress.

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57 Responses to “Who We Are: #7 Africa.

  1. gkai says:

    “……of Nigeria and Cameroon. Most people in west Africa”….
    Looks like the end of the post was lost.

  2. mapman says:

    They didn’t have iron-working in the beginning, but picked it up perhaps 500 to 1,000 years later.

    Was metallurgy, and iron metallurgy in particular, invented many times independently in different regions?

    • saintonge235 says:

      The only definite invention site for iron metallurgy is the Hittites. It seems to have spread through Eurasia from them, and probably into Africa.

      Copper smelting was invented in more than one location, iirc.

  3. ohwilleke says:

    Reich seems to be a victim of the common fault of human geneticists of not being sufficiently interdisciplinary to accurately assess his genetic data. Two examples:

    “a set of crops that was less specialized for high-rainfall areas like west Africa – probably including some cereals like millet, as well as wet-country yams and bananas.”

    Given that yams and bananas are not native African domesticates and arrived in Africa almost certainly via Austronesian seafarers, the notion that their cultivation began in the Bantu homeland is exceedingly improbable. A far more likely scenario is that early East African Bantus secured these crops from Austronesians and then culturally diffused them through Bantu territory once Bantus had already reached East Africa. Notably, the African admixture in the people of Madgascar (the remainder of which is SE Asian) is closest to East African Bantus.

    “Farmers from the Middle East settled Egypt and North Africa a long time ago, which strongly suggest that the Afroasiatic languages (traditionally known as Hamito-Semitic) originated in the Near East. A following pulse in the Bronze Age brought a later version of Middle Eastern genes (with an added eastern component) into Ethiopia and Somalia, which likely explains the origin of the Cushitic branch.”

    This conclusion is not strongly supported.

    The Middle East is home only to Semitic languages, and the Semitic languages also spread ca. 1000 BCE to Ethiopia giving rise to the Ethio-Semitic languages which all have a common ancestor that is most closely related to Southern Arabian Semitic languages. This migration ca. 1000 BCE left a clear genetic trace. The non-Semitic Afro-Asiatic language families (Cushitic, Omotic, Chadic, Coptic and Berber) are all restricted to Northern and Eastern Africa.

    Also, phylogenically, the Semitic languages are not a basal branch of the Afro-Asiatic languages. Cushitic languages are probably the oldest. Chadic languages are probably derived from the Cushitic languages ca. 5400 BCE. Genetic evidence suggests that Berber ethnogenesis was also ca. 1000 BCE, likely coinciding with the widespread utilization of camels, and there are signs of substrates that probably came from more than one language family in the Berber languages (e.g. the Western Berber languages but not the Eastern ones, probably had an ergative language substrate). Coptic languages are also not clearly basal and have innovations and features not seen in adjacent languages (Berber and Semitic) which have more in common with each other than with Coptic.

    It is not at all obvious if the Afro-Asiatic languages are Mesolithic or Neolithic. There is ca. 3000 BCE Sardinian-like admixture in Cushitic people (including ancient DNA), which is something of a surprise as one would have expected the Neolithic admixture component to be more Natufian/Levantine farmer-like. Egypt’s population increased about 100x during the Neolithic revolution ca. 6000 BE, so it does seem like the right time for a major language expansion, but there is still lots of ambiguity over the linguistic and genetic narrative there.

    Uniparental genetics also point to Semitic language speakers being more likely a linguistic recipient population than a linguistic source population. Many uniparental genetic markets in speakers of Semitic languages are absent entirely from all other Afro-Asiatic language speakers, but some Semitic language speakers have uniparental markers (e.g. some haplogroups of Y-DNA E) that are found in almost all other Afro-Asiatic language speakers. The age of the haplogroups shared by all Afro-Asiatic language speakers tends to point to a Mesolithic expansion of the language family rather than a Neolithic origin.

    • gcochran9 says:

      You have a natural gift. I never said that banana cultivation originated in West Africa, only that was practiced there a long time ago. And so it was:

      Phytolith evidence for early domesticated bananas in Cameroun supports a conclusion reached previously from
      a combination of botanical and linguistic evidence, namely that plantains reached West Africa, presumably from
      Southeast Asia, at an early period. Botanical evidence suggests that the plantains (AAB) are the most credible
      early domesticates and that their African center of diversity is in the zone from southeastern Nigeria to Gabon. The
      mechanism by which the plantain reached this region is much disputed. The paper will argue the following:
      • Plantains arrived in West Africa earlier than 3000 B.P. along with taro and water-yam. Cultivation of these
      crops made possible the effective exploitation of the dense equatorial rain-forest.
      • The most prominent reconstructible term for plantain, #ko[n]do, occurs across the zone where the greatest
      degree of somatic variation is found. • The introduction of the plantain can also be linked
      with the distribution of typical artefacts made from banana-stems.

      As for Egypt, we have whole-genome data, which is only a million times better than uniparental lineages. They’re descended from guys in the Levant: Natufians, or a closely related population. Further West in North Africa, there is evidence of some Iberian admixture as well. The population movements that spread the Afroasiatic languages surely originated in the Middle East, driven by agriculture.

      Those early Levanters were fairly close to the Anatolian populations that spread farming to Europe: by some measures, highland Sardinians are the closest living population to ancient Egyptians. Although Copts might be closer.

      • dlreader says:

        “… southeastern Nigeria to Gabon”. Which implies that the Southeast Asians, (presumably from Madagascar), or the Bantus, were sailing all the way around Africa at that time period. As in trade routes? Because if the plantains had come overland, surely their center of diversity would have been on the eastern edge of the jungle, not the western edge : eastern Republic of Congo not Gabon.

      • dearieme says:

        If WKPD is right about the original settlers of Madagascar, it can’t have been that bunch of Austronesians who brought the banana to Africa: they came too late.

        “The history of Madagascar is distinguished clearly by the early isolation of the landmass from the ancient supercontinents containing Africa and India, and by the island’s late colonization by human settlers arriving in outrigger canoes from the Sunda islands between 200 BC and 500 AD.”

        • dearieme says:

          Got it! The banana was brought by Andaman Islanders who were on their way to cross the Atlantic and settle Amazonia. Two problems solved at a stroke! Who’s game to look for evidence?

        • ohwilleke says:

          The bananas and yams weren’t brought by monkeys. They had to get to Africa somehow, and Austronesians were the only ones who were making long distance maritime travel in the places where they were domesticated. At a minimum, Austronesians could have gotten the crops to India from which Yemeni Indian Ocean mariners might have taken them to East African followed by overland trade to West Africa because no one was sailing to Nigeria from the South or the North until much, much later than bananas and yams appear there.

          • dearieme says:

            Just the other day I saw a newspaper story that seems to be the death of the argument that the dispersion of the sweet potato to and throughout Polynesia was evidence that the Polynesians had reached South America. Apparently the dispersal happened about 100kya and so must be attributed to natural dispersal by ocean currents.

      • dlreader says:

        I’d say these statements throw grave doubts on the idea that there was an independent African invention of agriculture. They certainly imply direct contacts between SE Asia (or Madagascar?) and the original Bantu homeland prior to 3000 years ago. Bantus began practicing agriculture ca 5000 years ago, which is certainly prior to 3000 years ago. Is there any evidence that they began practicing agriculture before the arrival of the yam or the plantains? If the first crops cultivated by the Bantus were yams/plantains, then it seems probably that both agriculture and yams and plantains were introduced to them by the same people : “Austronesian seafarers” from Madagascar.

        The plantain “African center of diversity is in the zone from southeastern Nigeria to Gabon.” This seems functionally identical to the Bantu center of expansion, which is (per gcochran9 in the original post) “near the border between Nigeria and Cameroons… ”

        The statement from the abstract in Science magazine : “Plantains arrived in West Africa earlier than 3000 B.P. along with taro and water-yam. Cultivation of these crops made possible the effective exploitation of the dense equatorial rain-forest.” certainly seems to imply exactly that: that agriculture in Africa began when plantains, taro and yams were introduced into West Africa.

        The link http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2006/01/early-africans-went-bananas gets you to an article that says they’ve found bananas in Kampala radiocarbon dated to ca 4500 years ago. That’s in Uganda, and they just say they’ve found fossil plant fragments of the bananas, not evidence of agriculture, but, bananas don’t travel well. It’s certainly a lot more likely that they were cultivating them than importing them.

        I’d really like to know if there were any signs of agriculture in West Africa prior to the introduction of plantains/taro/yams. If not, I’d say it is pretty implausible that there was an independent invention of agriculture by the Bantus. It is far more likely they learned agriculture from the same people who introduced their staple crops to them.

        Indeed, why would anyone ever think anything else, without strong counter evidence?

    • Karl Zimmerman says:

      That the Middle East is today – and even in early recorded history – only home to Semitic languages, and not other branches of Afro-Asiatic proves nothing.

      It is true that in general you should look to where a language family is most diverse/shows the most derived members to find its origin. But remember that the first evidence of Semetic in the near east was Akkadian from around 2,500 BC. Presuming the Natufians were proto-Afro-Asiatic, Akkadian was actually well past the mid-point of the development of the language family. The Near East could have had many different branches of Afro-Asiatic for thousands of years between the development of agriculture and written language. These could have gone extinct, or basically “fled” into Africa.

      There’s a clear historical analogy here. All of the major language families of Southeast Asia – Austro-Asiatic, Austronesian, Tai-Kadai, and Hmong-Mein – had their origins in southern China – likely in the Yangtze River valley. Yet they were clearly displaced southward with the expansion of the Chinese from the Yellow River Valley, something which is relatively clear in part because many of these migrations happened in historic times. Hell, Sino-Tibetan itself is another example. The greatest diversity today is in the Tibeto-Burman area, but this is unlikely to be the origin for the group as a whole. Rather, any diversity within the original core of North China was wiped out by the expansion of Han culture (and DNA) but the much earlier Sino-Tibetan expansion to the Southwest maintained linguistic diversity.

      • Anonymous says:

        Akkadian (and West-Semitic languages by extension) are attested from around 3000BC onwards as personal names in Sumerian texts. At this point, Akkadian (East Semitic) is already highly diverged from Central Semitic (Canaanite, Arabic, Aramaic), even though all elements of the family were in semi-regular contact with each other.

        The idea that ‘area of highest diversity’ maps most neatly to ‘is the point of origin’ only works for relatively fast migrations – and even then, not always. All that greatest diversity suggests in reality is that this area has been inhabited by speakers of those languages the longest, and in relatively stable, self-contained populations. Given the time depths involved in Afro-Asiatic, that means that Cushitic (by far the most diverse sub-family, with some Cushitic languages being almost as different from each other as Semitic is from, say, Berber) could have made its way into Africa as a single migration ten thousand years ago and stayed there. It would then have had twice or even three times as long to develop in isolation from the other Afro-Asiatic as all Indo-European languages have had to diverge from each other.

        A great example of ‘greatest diversity doesn’t mean point of origin’ from the middle east itself is Arabic, which arguably forms a small language family of its own within Semitic. Arabic originated on the Northwestern corner of the Arabian peninsula and the southern Levant, expanding into the rest of the peninsula with the introduction of the camel. Today, approximately 2 dialects of Arabic are spoken in that area, with the major centres of diversity lying in North Africa, the southern Arabian peninsula, and the fertile crescent.

        The best argument for a Levantine origin ties up with the archaeology: Proto-Afro-Asiatic has shared vocabulary for hunting terms (particularly relating to the bow), and for the dog. Neither of these things come from Africa.

        It makes sense that Afro-Asiatic groups were able to expand out of the Levant into Africa thanks to superior hunting capability, following herds across the Sinai into Egypt, which at this point would’ve been largely savannah. They’d then probably follow either the coasts west or south, or the course of the Nile south, with each new group following/displacing an earlier one. Since Proto-Afro-Asiatics didn’t have horses they probably spread out a lot more slowly – potentially a lot less aggressively – than Indo-Europeans. Each subgroup splitting off from the main body independently with very large gaps between each break. This would explain why Proto-Semitic (latest date around 3750BC) is simultaneously reconstructed as the most conservative of the daughter languages in terms of phonology, but one of the most innovative in terms of morphology, (e.g. largely standardising tri-consonantal roots where Egyptian etc is more varied) and why its daughters are relatively close to each other. Semitic is the branch that stayed put the longest in a relatively ‘tight’ area, with all tribes still maintaining regular contact with their neighbours. This is reflected in patterns of Sumerian loanwords into Semitic languages – Akkadian has the largest number as the Akkadians reached Mesopotamia first. But their continued trading relationships among themselves and with their Northwest Semitic speaking neighbours caused direct transmission of some Sumerian words into NWS languages. Some (if not most) ‘Akkadian’ royal families either heavily married into NWS-speaking royal families or were themselves of NWS origins. These close ties allowed for some divergence, but not divergence on the level of Semitic from Egyptian, or of Beja from the rest of Cushitic.

        This pattern also explains why some Afro-Asiatic languages have ‘native’ livestock terms while others borrow them from their neighbours (later migrations from the Levant introduced agricultural innovations to the groups that moved out before them).

    • capra internetensis says:

      Guinea yams are native African domesticates, purple yams are introduced.

    • Jm8 says:

      Cocoyams/taro (and bananas and plantains) are not indigenous to Africa (and ultimately have a South East Asian origin), however the native West African African yam (dioscuria rotunda) is indigenous (to W. Africa), an important historical staple in the region (the W. African forest region), and is the older domesticate.

      • Jm8 says:

        I hadn’t noticed Capra’s earlier comment above; the dioscuria—and dioscuria cayenensis—species, of course being the Guinea yam referred to.

        • Jm8 says:

          Edit: “the dioscuria—and dioscuria cayenensis—species of course are the Guinea yam referred to.”

  4. Ziel says:

    Reich mentions a few times that there are skeleton finds in Africa with modern features from 300kya that make it likely AMH originated there, but it’s a vague reference. Is the Moroccan skull what he’s referring to?.

  5. reinertor says:

    Although I have mostly asked some geopolitical/military technology/etc. questions, this multi-volume Reich review is great. Now I just ordered the book itself.

  6. dave chamberlin says:

    “As for questions further back in time, such as the origins of modern humans, we thought we knew and now we know we don’t. But that’s progress.”

    Bad assumptions were made from the lack of evidence of hominids. They are still being made. Humans must have evolved in those rare places where his bones survived is at the top of the list.
    The experts were quite clear in explaining that those early humans stuck to the rift valley in Ethiopia until they were good and ready to leave.

    John Hawks knew better or at least explained himself better, I recall him saying that we only have a very tiny number of pieces of a huge puzzle when it comes to understanding our recent evolution. Southeast Asia looks a whole lot more hospitable than the highlands of Ethiopia to me. Especially all those lovely beaches where all those tasty mollusks were just waiting for a rock cracking hominid to come along and dine in style. Someone is going to come along and tell me we evolved in Africa. Sure we did. But where else did we get to and when did we get there before we became fully modern. When time recycles the bones and rock tools are hard to come by or unnecessary we simply don’t know.

  7. Grumpy Old Man says:

    I love this stuff.

  8. John Bull says:

    What about that Twitter claim by John Hawks that ‘up to half’ of the genome of ‘certain west African groups’ is attributable to archaics?

    • dearieme says:

      I had a boss once who described some unpardonably frank remarks by certain colleagues and added “They are close to retirement – whether they know it on not”.

    • Karl Zimmerman says:

      IMHO even if the “basal human” hypothesis is correct, it’s not correct to call this group “archaic.” It just means that the most deeply diverged primary branch of AMH was not the Khoisan, but one of the primary components which makes up modern West Africans.

      Making up a much larger percentage of West African DNA also strongly suggests that this group, if it exists, didn’t have any of the sort of fertility issues crossing with AMH that Neandertals did. Again, suggesting for all intents and purposes, they were “modern.”

    • Steve Sailer says:

      I think Hawks was writing about Reich’s contention that modern humans in general seem to be about a 50-50 admixture of two early groups. That would be different from the March estimate by UCLA theorists of 8% of modern Yoruban ancestry deriving from an archaic ghost population.

      • Philippe Legrain says:

        But, surely, if extant west African populations are descended from the same 50 -50 admixture of early groups, in the same way as the rest of humanity, then John Hawks would not have made a particular comment about that ‘up to half’ specific ‘ghost’ population?

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Hawks acted surprised on Twitter a few weeks ago by the magnitude of the UCLA guys theorizing that Yorubans traced 8% of their ancestry to a ghost archaic population the way Eurasians are about 2% Neanderthal. So I kind of doubt he’s agreed since then to 50%, so I’m guessing he’s got two different things in mind.

  9. Smithie says:

    I wonder if any differences in abstract concepts show up in language reconstructs, like, for example between Proto-Sino-Tibetan and Proto-Niger-Kordofanian.

    I always found the idea intriguing that some sub-Saharan languages seem to be missing certain concepts. On the one hand, it has a certain congruence with what seems to be the global IQ distribution, but on the other, the picture may be clouded a bit by culture and history. Technology may be an antecedent to complicated language, rather than something that follows.

    If the Boer show up with certain new ideas, maybe they are best expressed in Afrikaans, and so the language of the locals isn’t amended into equivalence. Of course, one difficulty would be the older expansions likely involved different levels of technology, and they also may have had starting populations composed of drastically different numbers of people.

  10. bob k. mando says:

    Interestingly, the more Bantu ancestry, the taller the Pygmy (on average). “

    as i remember it, the Pygmies are notably stupid even for a sub-Saharan population.

    has there been any attempt to assay Pygmy intelligence? because if there is a large correlation between Pygmy height and intelligence, that would necessarily imply the importance of genetic admixture in raising IQ.

    • DD'eden says:

      Pygmies are the most intelligent humans on Earth IMO, they build their waterproof/verminproof ‘green’ homes in < 2 hours, no 30 year mortgage of wage-slavery, no concrete (3rd worst polluting industry). Per the Chichewa (Bantu of Malawi) oral history, Aka Fula pygmies lived in camps around Lake Malawi when they arrived. 5ka banana phytoliths were found in a Uganda wetland, bananas originated around Malaya. African yams require more toxin processing than tastier Asian yams. Taro “cultivation” may have been done with sago palm processing as early as 40ka per associated artifacts. Andaman women carefully removed ripe tubers from plants and carefully reburied roots to hide any evidence from the rainforest deity of their ‘theft’, the plant recovered and quickly produced new tubers, this permaculture is advantageous over monoculture in rainforests.

      • swampr says:

        Here’s a remarkable feat of pygmy engineering. Had to be tough as hell to make this film with 1930s camera equipment.

        • Garr says:

          Wow — how’d they get the horizontal vines to droop in the right places so that they ended up with that curving-sided hammock-like structure? Did they keep adjusting — lengthening here, shortening there, by adding and removing extra lengths of vine until it looked right?

          If I had to bridge a crocodile-infested river like that I think I’d build a tower a couple of hundred feet high and then topple it over.

          It seem as though they should give some thought to killing all of the crocodiles. Maybe they could mounted giant crossbows on the slope and shoot them from from above? They were eating elephant meat — that surprised me — so if they can kill elephants (or did they find a recently dead one?) it seems as though they’d be able to kill crocodiles.

          I wonder why all of the furry elephants in Europe and America were killed off but the African ones weren’t. Here we see Pygmies eating elephant-meat, so weren’t elephants getting hunted? Same with rhinos. The fuzzy ones in Europe were hunted, so what about the African ones?

        • bob k. mando says:

          how utterly useless. an entire society of little people and they never once figured out that apotheosis of modern culture, Dwarf Tossing.

      • gcochran9 says:

        I’m willing to believe they’re smarter than you.

        • DD'eDeN says:

          Pygmy genetic “burden”

          Against all expectations, his team observed that the current groups of forest hunter-gatherers are descendants of prosperous ancestral populations with a genetic size comparable to that of the farmers’ ancestors. TANN

  11. Steve Sailer says:

    “For example the Xhosa, a major tribe in South Africa, have about 25% Bushman ancestry. Look at Mandela.”

    It struck me that perhaps out of all the major figures in world history, Mandela might have been the most genetically divergent from the average famous person.

    • dearieme says:

      Yvonne Goolagong?

      • dearieme says:

        Withdrawn. I see what you mean; he’s the only famous chap of Bushman/Hottentot descent. Come to think of it, the Abominable Snowman is even more divergent, being probably a bear.

        • Steve Sailer says:

          Right. The Bantu are pretty divergent even from East Africans, much less from Eurasians. But the Bushmen are even more divergent from the rest of humanity.

          So being a famous historical figure who was, say, 75% Bantu and 25% Bushman would likely make Mandela the most genetically exotic famous powerful man in history.

  12. tommy says:

    “Farmers from the Middle East settled Egypt and North Africa a long time ago, which strongly suggest that the Afroasiatic languages (traditionally known as Hamito-Semitic) originated in the Near East. A following pulse in the Bronze Age brought a later version of Middle Eastern genes (with an added eastern component) into Ethiopia and Somalia, which likely explains the origin of the Cushitic branch. ”

    I’m not sure about this. The Semitic languages in Northeast Africa could be the product of this Bronze Age expansion rather than the Cushitic ones, right? Semitic languages may have originated in the Levant or roundabout, but placing Proto-Afro-Asiatic’s homeland appears rather more difficult: a North African, Egyptian or Trans-Saharan origin seems as plausible as a Middle Eastern one. After all, you’ve got to account not only for Cushitic but for Coptic, Berber, Omotic and Chadic languages in Africa as well. There’s a ton of diversity there. Then again, could there be evidence that these are some sort of fusion languages between an original Asiatic language and various African languages, some of which may no longer exist?

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  14. ኔቢያት መንገሣ says:

    I’d just like to add one or two things here — there’s no real support for farmers coming from the Near East to populate Northern Africa. Afroasiatic languages are relatively thought of to have had originated somewhere near or in the Horn of Africa at this point — with the Near East (really Central Semitic-centric) origin being a minority view that isn’t supported by the current study of the language phylum. Also Niger-Kardofanian is a relatively tentative idea and Ijoid, Dogon, and Mande might not even belong in said phylum. Likewise, Nilo-Saharan doesn’t exist. A linguistic history of Africa would be cool but being there’s in reality about 40-50 individual unrelated phyla that could be an undertaking that is nearly impossible. Besides that though this is a great post!

    • gcochran9 says:

      “there’s no real support for farmers coming from the Near East to populate Northern Africa. ”

      Ancient genomes from North Africa evidence prehistoric migrations to the Maghreb from both the Levant and Europe. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/early/2018/02/20/191569

      NATURE | NEWS Sharing
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      Mummy DNA unravels ancient Egyptians’ ancestry
      Genetic analysis reveals a close relationship with Middle Easterners, not central Africans. https://www.nature.com/news/mummy-dna-unravels-ancient-egyptians-ancestry-1.22069

      Traci Watson

      Ancient Egyptian mummy genomes suggest an increase of Sub-Saharan African ancestry in post-Roman periods https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms15694

      Looking at the DNA, there’s no question that Egypt was settled from the Middle East. Not that different from the groups that expanded out of Anatolia to settle Europe, which is why * by one measure) highland Sardinians are the closest living population to Ancient Egyptians.

      You’re wrong about African languages too, but who’s counting?

      • ኔቢያት መንገሣ says:

        Only thing I have to say is using genetics to track linguistic migrations or linguistic affiliation is at best, a sketchy practice. Even the most widely known examples of this hypothesis have huge data gaps and don’t line up with the actual reality of Afroasiatic languages — plus admittedly it goes back to mid-20th century Semitic-centric analyzation of Afroasiatic at best and off of the idea that Afroasiatic-speakers are “Caucasoid” at worst. So no, not really wrong — I just don’t accept population genetics as a measuring tool like most historical linguists.

      • Daud Deden says:

        78,000 year cave record from East Africa shows early cultural innovationsWorked red ochre; bead made of a sea shell; ostrich eggshell beads; bone tool; close-up of the bone tool showing traces of scraping. (from left to right). Credit: Francesco D’Errico and Africa Pitarch
        A project led by the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History has excavated the Panga ya Saidi cave site, in the coastal hinterland of Kenya. The excavations and analyses represent the longest archaeological sequence in East Africa over the last 78,000 years. The evidence for gradual cultural changes does not support dramatic revolutions, and despite being close to the coast, there is no evidence that humans were using coastal ‘super-highways’ for migrations


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