Coutinho A, Malmström H, Edlund H, Henshilwood CS, van Niekerk KL, Lombard M, Schlebusch CM, Jakobsson M
Am. J. Phys. Anthropol. 174 (4) 701-713 [2021-04-00; online 2021-02-04]
Previous studies show that the indigenous people of the southern Cape of South Africa were dramatically impacted by the arrival of European colonists starting ~400 years ago and their descendants are today mixed with Europeans and Asians. To gain insight on the occupants of the Vaalkrans Shelter located at the southernmost tip of Africa, we investigated the genetic make-up of an individual who lived there about 200 years ago. We further contextualize the genetic ancestry of this individual among prehistoric and current groups. From a hair sample excavated at the shelter, which was indirectly dated to about 200 years old, we sequenced the genome (1.01 times coverage) of a Later Stone Age individual. We analyzed the Vaalkrans genome together with genetic data from 10 ancient (pre-colonial) individuals from southern Africa spanning the last 2000 years. We show that the individual from Vaalkrans was a man who traced ~80% of his ancestry to local southern San hunter-gatherers and ~20% to a mixed East African-Eurasian source. This genetic make-up is similar to modern-day Khoekhoe individuals from the Northern Cape Province (South Africa) and Namibia, but in the southern Cape, the Vaalkrans man's descendants have likely been assimilated into mixed-ancestry "Coloured" groups. The Vaalkrans man's genome reveals that Khoekhoe pastoralist groups/individuals lived in the southern Cape as late as 200 years ago, without mixing with non-African colonists or Bantu-speaking farmers. Our findings are also consistent with the model of a Holocene pastoralist migration, originating in Eastern Africa, shaping the genomic landscape of historic and current southern African populations.