MAILONLINE – The first modern humans to arrive in Europe and Asia migrated north out of Egypt around 55,000 years ago, according to new genetic research.
The study has answered a long standing question about the route early Homo sapiens took when spreading from the African continent.
It shows most Europeans and Asians living today are more closely related genetically to people living in Egypt than in Ethiopia.
This suggests Egypt was the last stop for people migrating out of Africa 55,000 years ago rather than taking a more southerly route through Ethiopia.
Some scientists believed that humans may have traveled from Ethiopia across the Bab el Mandeb strait to the Arabian Peninsula.
Two thirds of men modern-day Europe descend from just three Bronze Age leaders.
Genetic researchers estimate the three families, which originated around 5,000 years ago, rapidly expanded across the continent.
And the study suggests that the spread of modern populations across Europe occurred much later than had originally been thought.
Rather than occurring during the Paleolithic period as hunter-gatherers moved across the continent, it appears that most modern populations appear to have settled in Europe after the spread of farming during the Neolithic.
Professor Mark Jobling, a geneticist at the University of Leicester who led the research, said it was likely the forefathers of the three main paternal lineages detected were powerful Early Bronze Age tribe leaders
However, the new research suggests a northern route from Egypt, through the Sinai peninsula and then out into Asia and Europe was the most likely route.
The findings also support evidence that these first humans to leave Africa came into contact with Neanderthals in the Levant at the time.
Dr Toomas Kivisild, an anthropologist at the University of Cambridge who helped lead the study, said: ‘While our results do not address controversies about the timing and possible complexities of the expansion out of Africa, they paint a clear picture in which the main migration out of Africa followed a Northern, rather than a Southern route.’
His colleague Dr Luca Pagani, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the University of Cambridge, added: ‘The most exciting consequence of our results is that we draw back the veil that has been hiding an episode in the history of all Eurasians, improving the understanding of billions of people of their evolutionary history.
‘It is exciting that, in our genomic era, the DNA of living people allows us to explore and understand events as ancient as 60,000 years ago.’
To conduct their research, which is published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the researchers analysed the entire genomes of 225 people from modern Egypt and Ethiopia.
Previous studies have shown that the modern populations in these countries have genes that have flowed in from West Asia, so the researchers masked these modern Eurasian contribution to the genomes.
They found that the remaining genomic regions from the Egyptian samples were more similar populations who lived outside Africa than the remaining regions in the Ethiopian samples.
The researchers also estimated that people European and Asian populations appear to have split from the Egyptian genomes around 55,000 years ago. They last shared a common ancestor with Ethiopian populations 65,000 years ago.
This suggests that Egypt was most likely to be the gateway through which Homo sapiens spread out of Africa around the world.
Dr Chris Tyler-Smith, another of the studies authors at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: ‘This important study still leaves questions to answer.
‘For example, did other migrations also leave Africa around this time, but leave no trace in present-day genomes?
‘To answer this, we need ancient genomes from populations along the possible routes.
‘Similarly, by adding present-day genomes from Oceania, we can discover whether or not there was a separate, perhaps Southern, migration to these regions.
Source | Credit: RICHARD GRAY FOR MAILONLINE