Vicente M, Lankheet I, Russell T, Hollfelder N, Coetzee V, Soodyall H, Jongh M, Schlebusch CM
BMC Biol. 19 (1) 259 [2021-12-07; online 2021-12-07]
Hunter-gatherer lifestyles dominated the southern African landscape up to ~ 2000 years ago, when herding and farming groups started to arrive in the area. First, herding and livestock, likely of East African origin, appeared in southern Africa, preceding the arrival of the large-scale Bantu-speaking agro-pastoralist expansion that introduced West African-related genetic ancestry into the area. Present-day Khoekhoe-speaking Namaqua (or Nama in short) pastoralists show high proportions of East African admixture, linking the East African ancestry with Khoekhoe herders. Most other historical Khoekhoe populations have, however, disappeared over the last few centuries and their contribution to the genetic structure of present-day populations is not well understood. In our study, we analyzed genome-wide autosomal and full mitochondrial data from a population who trace their ancestry to the Khoekhoe-speaking Hessequa herders from the southern Cape region of what is now South Africa. We generated genome-wide data from 162 individuals and mitochondrial DNA data of a subset of 87 individuals, sampled in the Western Cape Province, South Africa, where the Hessequa population once lived. Using available comparative data from Khoe-speaking and related groups, we aligned genetic date estimates and admixture proportions to the archaeological proposed dates and routes for the arrival of the East African pastoralists in southern Africa. We identified several Afro-Asiatic-speaking pastoralist groups from Ethiopia and Tanzania who share high affinities with the East African ancestry present in southern Africa. We also found that the East African pastoralist expansion was heavily male-biased, akin to a pastoralist migration previously observed on the genetic level in ancient Europe, by which Pontic-Caspian Steppe pastoralist groups represented by the Yamnaya culture spread across the Eurasian continent during the late Neolithic/Bronze Age. We propose that pastoralism in southern Africa arrived through male-biased migration of an East African Afro-Asiatic-related group(s) who introduced new subsistence and livestock practices to local southern African hunter-gatherers. Our results add to the understanding of historical human migration and mobility in Africa, connected to the spread of food-producing and livestock practices.