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Ancestry® Announces 94 New and Updated Communities For People of African American and Afro-Caribbean Descent, Delivering More Historical Context Than Ever Before

With family history research there is always more to discover, and at Ancestry® we are relentless in our commitment to bring new products, insights and updates to you, our members, to empower your journey. Aiding in the uniquely challenging journey of discovery for people of African heritage, today we released 94 new and updated AncestryDNA® Read More

The post Ancestry® Announces 94 New and Updated Communities For People of African American and Afro-Caribbean Descent, Delivering More Historical Context Than Ever Before appeared first on Ancestry Blog.

Human pigmentation mega-study

A great new study on the genetics of human (including African) pigmentation. I would love to see a future study that would reconstruct what ancestral modern humans looked like pigmentation-wise, as this trait is tightly correlated with sun exposure (and thus latitude), and may thus pinpoint a narrow latitudinal zone where ancestral modern humans may have lived.

From a related story:

The most dramatic discovery concerned a gene known as MFSD12. Two mutations that decrease expression of this gene were found in high frequencies in people with the darkest skin. These variants arose about a half-million years ago, suggesting that human ancestors before that time may have had moderately dark skin, rather than the deep black hue created today by these mutations.

Science 12 Oct 2017: eaan8433 DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8433

Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations

Nicholas G. Crawford et al.

Despite the wide range of skin pigmentation in humans, little is known about its genetic basis in global populations. Examining ethnically diverse African genomes, we identify variants in or near SLC24A5, MFSD12, DDB1, TMEM138, OCA2 and HERC2 that are significantly associated with skin pigmentation. Genetic evidence indicates that the light pigmentation variant at SLC24A5 was introduced into East Africa by gene flow from non-Africans. At all other loci, variants associated with dark pigmentation in Africans are identical by descent in southern Asian and Australo-Melanesian populations. Functional analyses indicate that MFSD12 encodes a lysosomal protein that affects melanogenesis in zebrafish and mice, and that mutations in melanocyte-specific regulatory regions near DDB1/TMEM138 correlate with expression of UV response genes under selection in Eurasians.


Out of Africa: a theory in crisis

The sensational discovery of modern humans in the Levant 177-194 thousand years ago should cause a rethink of the currently held Out-of-Africa orthodoxy.

By Out-of-Africa, I mean here the origin of anatomically modern humans, as opposed to the earlier origin of the genus Homo or the later origin of behaviorally fully modern humans.

Two main pieces of evidence supported the conventional OOA theory:

1. The observation that modern Eurasians possess a subset of the genetic variation of modern Africans.
2. The greater antiquity of AMH humans in the African rather than the Eurasian palaeoanthropological record.

Both these observations are in crisis.

1a. The oldest African fossil AMH is in North Africa (Morocco, Jebel Irhoud); modern genetic variation does not single out this region as a potential source of modern humans. In short, modern genetic variation has nothing to say about where AMH originated.
1b. Eurasians can no longer be seen as a subset of Africans, given that they possess genetic variation from Denisovans, a layer of ancestry earlier than all extant AMH. While it is still true that most Eurasian genetic material is a subset of that of modern Africans, it is also true that the deepest known lineage of humans is the Denisovan-Sima de los huesos, with no evidence for any deeper African lineage. Within humans as a whole, Africans possess a subset of Eurasian genetic variation.
2a. African priority received a boost by 0.1My by the redating of Jebel Irhoud last year. And, non-African AMH received a boost of 0.05My by the Hershkovitz et al. paper yesterday. A very short time ago, Ethiopia boasted the oldest AMH by 0.07My and now it’s tied with the Levant and beaten by Morocco. It’s a bit silly to argue for temporal priority based on the spotty and ever-shifting palaeoanthropological record.
2b. It is virtually untenable to consider the ~120,000 year old Shkul/Qafzeh hominins as a failed Out-of-Africa, since it now seems that they may have been descendants from the Mislya Cave population of >50,000 or even >100,000 years earlier.

I had previously supported a “two deserts” theory of human origins in which AMH originated in North Africa (Sahara) and then left Africa >100kya as evidenced by the Shkul/Qafzeh hominins and/or the Nubian technocomplex in Arabia. While I am still convinced that AMH originated somewhere in North Africa or the Near East, I am less certain as to where.

Science 26 Jan 2018: Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 456-459 DOI: 10.1126/science.aap8369

The earliest modern humans outside Africa

Israel Hershkovitz et al.

To date, the earliest modern human fossils found outside of Africa are dated to around 90,000 to 120,000 years ago at the Levantine sites of Skhul and Qafzeh. A maxilla and associated dentition recently discovered at Misliya Cave, Israel, was dated to 177,000 to 194,000 years ago, suggesting that members of the Homo sapiens clade left Africa earlier than previously thought. This finding changes our view on modern human dispersal and is consistent with recent genetic studies, which have posited the possibility of an earlier dispersal of Homo sapiens around 220,000 years ago. The Misliya maxilla is associated with full-fledged Levallois technology in the Levant, suggesting that the emergence of this technology is linked to the appearance of Homo sapiens in the region, as has been documented in Africa.


The slow death of Out of Africa

The significance of the discovery of modern humans in Arabia >85kya is that it provides a second spot (other than Israel) were modern humans existed outside Africa long before the alleged 60kya blitz out of the continent. We now have modern humans outside Africa in roughly two locations (Israel and Arabia), and three time slices (~175-85kya) in Misliya, Shkul/Qafzeh, and Al Wusta-1. It is no longer tenable to claim that these modern humans “died out” to make way for the alleged 60kya OoA event.

An important implication of pre-60kya Eurasians not dying out is that in all likelihood mtDNA haplogroup L3 and Y-chromosome haplogroup E originated in Eurasia, not Africa, and represent major Eurasian admixture into Africa.

Out of Africa theory is not dead (yet), but it resembles Rocky Balboa taking punch after punch round after round over the last 10 years or so. Will it make a cinematic last round comeback and prove itself, or will it be dealt a knockout punch in the near future? 

Nature Ecology and Evolution (2018) doi:10.1038/s41559-018-0518-2

Homo sapiens in Arabia by 85,000 years ago

Understanding the timing and character of the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa is critical for inferring the colonization and admixture processes that underpin global population history. It has been argued that dispersal out of Africa had an early phase, particularly ~130–90 thousand years ago (ka), that reached only the East Mediterranean Levant, and a later phase, ~60–50 ka, that extended across the diverse environments of Eurasia to Sahul. However, recent findings from East Asia and Sahul challenge this model. Here we show that H. sapiens was in the Arabian Peninsula before 85 ka. We describe the Al Wusta-1 (AW-1) intermediate phalanx from the site of Al Wusta in the Nefud desert, Saudi Arabia. AW-1 is the oldest directly dated fossil of our species outside Africa and the Levant. The palaeoenvironmental context of Al Wusta demonstrates that H. sapiens using Middle Palaeolithic stone tools dispersed into Arabia during a phase of increased precipitation driven by orbital forcing, in association with a primarily African fauna. A Bayesian model incorporating independent chronometric age estimates indicates a chronology for Al Wusta of ~95–86 ka, which we correlate with a humid episode in the later part of Marine Isotope Stage 5 known from various regional records. Al Wusta shows that early dispersals were more spatially and temporally extensive than previously thought. Early H. sapiens dispersals out of Africa were not limited to winter rainfall-fed Levantine Mediterranean woodlands immediately adjacent to Africa, but extended deep into the semi-arid grasslands of Arabia, facilitated by periods of enhanced monsoonal rainfall.


Finding Your Roots: African American Genealogy

It’s always fun finding out who you really are and the internet is one of the best tools available to do this. Although you may consider that you already know about yourself, the internet can be a very useful tool to let you find out a little bit of history about your family. You have to consider that it’s a great thing to know about your family’s past and know about relatives you didnt even know existed.

The internet has numerous genealogy websites that you can use to find out about your family, who you were related with, and what kind of person you are. Some people use these websites for many reasons. Some say to find out about themselves and some even find out about their family just for fun. Whatever your reasons are, you have to consider that finding out about where you came from can be quite a thrilling experience. Just imagine, you may be related to Martin Luther King Jr. and you and your family doesn’t even know about it. Or, it can also be quite a surprise if you find out that you are a distant cousin of a famous African American superstar athlete, such as Kobe Bryant or Tiger Woods.

You have to consider that traces of your family ancestry can be lost in time. There are a lot of reasons why a family’s history die out. Some were affected by quarrels inside the family circle and others were affected by historical events that separated them from other members of the family. This is why some people retrace their ancestry in order to find out what happened to their long lost relatives.

Although the internet doesnt contain all the necessary information about your family and the essential records, you have to consider that it is a useful tool to use in order to point you to the right direction. This will save you a lot of time finding those different vital records, such as marriage, death, and birth records.

African Americans have played a vital role in the United States of America’s history. They suffered from slavery, years of war and some migrated from Africa. If you are an African American and you wish to know more about your family’s history, you should try and find it on the internet. It will point you to where you should find the essential documents and guide you in obtaining seemingly unobtainable documents.

Although it is a fact that the path to your family’s history may seem like a rough path, you have to consider that knowing about your past will give you that sense of pride on knowing about your proud family history.

As you can see, it is always fun to know about your family’s ancestry. It will not only give you detailed reports on what happened to all your lost relatives all these years but it will also tell you who they are and what they achieved in life. Who knows, maybe you are a distant relative of a world famous African American.

African American Research

If you are an African American who had ancestors living in the United States since before the Civil War, chances are your ancestors were slaves. This can make research extremely difficult, since written records are almost nonexistent. However, if you go into the project with a willingness to work hard and a positive attitude, you can uncover lots of information about your family history.

A good place to start is with your ancestors who were free. Using the same research techniques that other ethnicities use, trace your lineage back into history as far as possible. Don’t be discouraged if you hit a brick wall as early as the 1950s. Before the Civil Right movement of the 1960s, African Americans were not always given the same rights as others in the United States, and so their records are not nearly as documented. African Americans before this time also had a harder time receiving education, so many (and this number becomes larger and larger as you research back in time) could not read or write. The most common problem was that, with all the other problems African Americans had to deal with during these years, recording written family histories was not high on the priority list.

Oral family history, however, was. If you are researching your African American ancestors, you will probably have to rely more heavily on family myths and legends than someone, in contract, descending from a slave owner does. Remember that stories get exaggerated and pieces of information are forgotten over time, so look for sources to compare the facts. You can find many good sources online to help you do this. In general, if you find the same story with the same facts in three unrelated pieces, you can (cautiously) trust the facts as truth. Be open-minded to discovering mistakes in these stories in later research.

As you delve farther and farther into history, you will probably need to rely heavily on the records kept by slave owners and ship captains. It is almost impossible to find the exact tribe from which your ancestor was taken, but you may be able to find a region from African where the ship was docked. Follow bills of sale and, if you are very lucky, ship logs and journals to determine when your ancestors gained freedom, bounced from owner to owner, and arrived in America. Don’t get discouraged easily. Studying African American family history is a daunting task, but with some dedication to the project, you might surprise yourself with the results.