The sons of Ham and Shem


Recently I had the pleasure of having lunch with David Reich and he asked me about my opinions in relation to the Afro-Asiatic languages. I thought it was a strange question in that I get asked about that in the comments of this weblog too. Why would I have any particular insight? I gave him what I thought was the likely answer: Afro-Asiatic languages probably emerged from the western Levant. The ancient textual evidence indicates that to the north and east of Mesopotamia the languages were not Semitic. Though Akkadian, a Semitic language, was present at the dawn of civilization, Sumerian was the dominant language culturally in the land between two rivers, and it was not Semitic. As Lazaridis et al. did not detect noticeable Sub-Saharan African ancestry in Natufians, or later Near Easterners, I have become skeptical of any Sub-Saharan African origin for Afro-Asiatic.

But after the earlier post I made a few mental connections, and so I’ll put something up which pushes forward my confidence on a few issues. They lean predominantly on Y chromosomes. I understand that this sort of phylogeography has been shown to be not too powerful in the past, but in the scaffold of the ancient DNA framework it can resolve some issues.

About a decade ago study of Adolf Hitler’s paternal lineage (through male relatives) indicated that his haplogroup was E1b1b. Though reports that Hitler was non-European, because this is a very common lineage in non-Europeans, as well as Jews, were incorrect, it does turn out that Hitler’s paternal lineage is not associated with the Indo-European migrations. That is, unlike me, Adolf Hitler does not descend from the All-father, but rather one of the men who were conquered and assimilated by the steppe pastoralists.

But E1b1b is an interesting lineage. First, it is very common in much of Africa, especially the north. Second, it is common among the Natufian people according to Lazaridis et al. In contrast the Neolithic Iranian farmers seem to have harbored haplogroups J. Today the Near East is a mix of the two, which makes sense in light of the fact that reciprocal gene flow has occurred in the last 6,000 years.

Looking at E1b1b frequencies you notice a few things. The highest frequencies with large N’s are in the Cushitic and Berber languages. Haplogroup J has a different distribution, being skewed more to West Asia. In Ethiopia E1b1b is more common, but J is far more prevalent among the Semitic Amhara than the Cushitic Oromo. Though it is subtle autosomal DNA makes it clear that the Semitic speaking populations in Ethiopia-Somalia have more Eurasian ancestry than the Cushitic ones. I believe this is evidence of the multiple migration pattern discerned earlier.

If you go further south in East Africa and compare E1b1b and J you see a skew in the ratio. E1b1b declines in frequency, but J basically disappears. Among the Masai, who have a clear minor West Eurasian ancestral component, albeit far less than Ethiopians, 50% carry E1b1b. Among the Sandawe, who are a language isolate  with clicks, but exhibit Cushitic genetic affinities, 34% carry E1b1b. Among their Hadza hunter-gatherer neighbors, 15% do so. Among many Khoisan groups the frequency of E1b1b is 10%. Most of these groups exhibit no J haplogroup. This aligns easily with what Skoglund was reporting earlier: the first pastoralists had no “eastern farmer,” but did have “western farmer.” The Natufians were E1b1b. The wider reach of E1b1b in Africa in comparison to J is likely due to the fact that the admixed pastoralists were pushing into relatively virgin territories. Later Eurasian backflow events, which brought Semitic languages, encountered a much more densely populated Africa.

The hypothesis I present is that after the descendants of the Natufians made the transition to farming, some immediately pushed into areas of Africa suitable for farming and/or pastoralism. They quick diversified into the various Berber and Cushitic languages. The adoption of Nilo-Saharan languages, and later Khoisan ones, was simply the process of successive and serial admixture into local populations as these paternal lineages introduced their lifestyle. In the Near East many distinct Semitic languages persisted across the Fertile Crescent, and for whatever reason the various non-Semitic languages faded and Semitic ones flourished.

37 thoughts on “The sons of Ham and Shem

  1. How funny. I found out just a couple days ago that my paternal haplogroup is an offshoot of E1B1B l, and I was looking through your posts for references to it. It is unexpected for me as my surname and family history on my father’s father’s side is decidedly British–making us an unlikely carrier.

    For what it’s worth, my own amateur exploring of the haplogroup’s history agrees with your hypothesis.

  2. Hmm. Didn’t a significant amount of Northwest Africans migrate from Western Europe in prehistory? Hence how so many of them are rather fair skinned?

  3. Speaking of David Reich, you have mentioned a couple times on twitter that he’s writing a book about human history as revealed by ancient DNA. Is this true? I understand if you have to keep secrets, but is there anything you know about it?

  4. C. M. Campbell, i haven’ tasked for a draft. i don’t think u’ll be surprised.

    Hmm. Didn’t a significant amount of Northwest Africans migrate from Western Europe in prehistory? Hence how so many of them are rather fair skinned?

    1) no.

    2) prehistoric western europeans were very dark skinned according to the most recent ancient dna.

  5. Razib Khan, the consensus within linguistics is that Afroasiatic emerged in North East Africa. Please stop misleading your readers. This not a fantasy novel you are talking about here. It’s actual history!

  6. Razib Khan, the consensus within linguistics is that Afroasiatic emerged in North East Africa. Please stop misleading your readers. This not a fantasy novel you are talking about here. It’s actual history!

    ah, the linguistic consensus. i’m shaking my boots!

  7. So dear ol’ Uncle Addie was not an Aryan (R1a) and not even an Indo-European (R1b). Ooops!

    It gets even more ironic when you consider that the Slavs he attacked out east were disproportionately R1a.

  8. I was talking about modern Northwest Africans (Moroccans, Algerians, Tunisians) being fair-skinned. See here:

    many of the genes for light skin come from the middle east into europe. you don’t need european ancestry to explain light skin outside of europe.

    1) there is selection for it in many cases

    2) western europeans themselves were not particularly light skinned in all likelihood relatively recently in the past

    3) there is minimal evidence of european gene flow into NW africa, though some. probably mostly through mozarbs -> moriscos who left spain mostly. and some in antiquity.

  9. A Levantine origin for Afroasiatic would tend to imply that Semitic and non-Semitic should be the fundamental clades of AA. That does not seem to be the case based on the linguistic data. The picture would be complicated a bit if we posit more than one pre-Semitic AA migration event into Africa. Several layers of intrusion into Africa would create the illusion of an eastward migration out of Africa if the language communities that remained in the Levant failed to diversify (or there, of course, was diversity that was subsequently wiped out with no traces). But that scenario is starting to get a bit convoluted.

    You could also get some mileage out of questioning what really is Afroasiatic after all, e.g. some have questioned whether Omotic is really part of the family or simply evinces extensive contact effects.

  10. The previous comment about linguistic consensus regarding the Afroasiatic Urheimat is false. Alexander Militarev argues in favor of a Levant origin:

    Proto-Afrasian Lexicon Confirming West Asian Homeland: Pastoralism (PDF)

    As near as I can tell, this debate seems to be between a very small group of academics, among whom actual linguists can be counted on one hand. Note the opposing position relies on claims such as “the archaeology of northern Africa does not support demic diffusion of farming populations from the Near East”.

    http://science.sciencemag.org/content/306/5702/1680.3

  11. For my part I think the “Afro Asiatic Language Family” is too wide, shallow, and ill-attested at the fringes to call it a family at all yet. How does that model compare with, say, a set of overlapping Sprachbuende?

    To give an example of a language family that works, I offer Indo-European, where everyone agrees first exited Anatolia, next Tocharia, last the ancestors to the Indo-European languages known to William Jones. Another example is, it so happens, Semitic (East Semitic first out the door in this case). But with “Afro Asiatic” instead I have seen too many mutually-incompatible tree diagrams.

  12. Militarev and no other linguist.

    Other than Christopher Ehret, who else is even relevant at this point? Ehret actually uses the E1b1b to argue in favor of African origin. Quoting again from the text I linked to in my last post:

    The geography of the M35/215 (or 215/M35) lineage, which is of Horn/East African origin, is largely concordant with the range of Afroasiatic languages.

    That was before genetic data from Natufians had been published.

    I think other linguists who’ve spent considerable effort addressing the issue can be forgiven for not considering the genetic evidence, since most have been dead for several years.

  13. Can you share what David Reich had to say on the subject?

    I have heard the idea before but evidence indicates the Phylogeny of E-M35 lineages dont support a origin and diversity in the Southern Levant with that of Africa being levantine subsets. Its quite the oppose with the African side of the Red Sea having deep rooted lineages and diversity simply not found in West Asia.

    Also you have to question why Natufian “Farmers” enter Africa so early, Early enough for African specific Afroasiatic language groups (Berber, Chadic, Egyptian, Cushitic, and arguably Omotic and Ongota…In other words the majority of AA) to have such deep time-depth, show linguistic exchanges with Nilo Saharan and Niger-Kordofanian all the while not actually bringing “Farming” technology which only shows up some 7 to 6 THOUSAND years after being discovered by Natufian.

    This argument by itself is hard to take seriously, at nearly every avenue the cornerstone arguments are contrary to the data. Here is an analogy that may help you understand:

    How would I look if I argued that R1 carrying Indo European South Asians brought Indo European languages and R1 derived lineages into Central and Western Europe? Perhaps we can use the “absence of evidence is not evidence of Absence” approach and argue that R1a/R1b diversity in India as well as phantom/unknown Indo-European languages that “may have existed” have simply been “Erased” and lost over time due to climactic events and the turnover of ancient civilizations.

    I think its almost a Red Herring to look for Sub Saharan specific ancestry as signatures of hypothesized Afroasiatic speakers from Africa (Especially if you believe the Horn of Africa has harbored fully “Eurasian” populations in Antiquity). Most of these AA Groups sans the potential Omotic and Ongota show a migrations from North Africa. Maybe you should consider African signatures different than those concentrated below the Sahara? I think its quite obvious that the E-M35 diversity you see in modern Non-Africans and Ancient non-Africans was not introduced by populations with predominant Sub Saharan ancestry, See Natufians. On the other hand, Some of these populations CAN though be modeled as partly North African: See Natufian.

  14. thanks for the comment.

    david had no thoughts he suggested to me. he just asked what i thought.

    need to think on your comment a bit more and how it would work with demographic models.

  15. I am open to a Levantine origin for Afroasiatic. That, or highly Natufian-like North African Proto-Afroasiatics (if such people existed in Mesolithic North Africa), are pretty much the only options as I see it.

    I am more skeptical about E1b1b1-M35. Sure, modern variation indicating a North African origin can be deceiving, so the Natufian M35 aDNA is important. However, modern M35 is not the only piece of evidence, which includes M215(xM35) lineages in southern Ethiopia (M215 is about 35 ky old compared to 25 ky for M35), and the more general African distribution of E1/E1b1 clades. Natufians may lack SSA admixture in formal stats, but they do show some minor “African” affinity in TreeMix, ADMIXTURE etc. lacking in West Asians outside of the Levant, which may represent the influence of some unsampled North African group. Natufians also happen to sit right at the African border, and some archaeologists have suggested a NE African influence in the Levantine Epipaleolithic.

    I must also add some complexity regarding J and E, Cushites and Semites. The overall conclusion about an early wave of western farmers and a later wave (e.g. by Semites) containing some eastern farmer ancestry is certainly accurate. But there really is no dichotomy between Cushites and Semites with regard to Y-DNA J. The bottlenecked South Cushites, along with Somali and southern Oromos with very limited Y-DNA diversity, largely lack Y-DNA J. However, Central Cushites, Afar East Cushites, Oromos from regions of higher population density in central Ethiopia, many Highland East Cushites, and Beja, have a lot of Y-DNA J. From this thesis with very large sample sets from all groups, Oromo showed 24% J, Afar 26%, Agaw 22%, Alaba 24%, Amhara 26%, Tigray 21%. Add the fact that Omotics are understudied, the only typed Omotic group showed minor J(xJ1,J2) that has never been reported in Cushitic/Semitic Ethiopians, and the importance of J1-P56 in East Africa, which is largely absent in West Asia and has a Neolithic TMRCA. You get the feeling that the story of J in East Africa looks more complicated than it is usually given credit for.

  16. @Lank

    Regarding J in both Cushites and Semites, there is also a linguistic parallel. One of the confusing aspects of determining the Afroasiatic phylogeny is the fact that Cushitic and Semitic are in many ways more similar to each other than either are to Egyptian.

    Also related, Militarev and Belova claimed Old South Arabian had a Cushitic substrate.

  17. @Labayu “That was before genetic data from Natufians had been published.”

    You sound confused. The Natufians carried E1b1b , an African paternal clade. Yet in your mind, it’s evidence for AA having a non African origin. The proposed homeland for AA is NA, Southern Egypt and Northern Nubian, close to the Red Sea coast. How on earth does Natufians not having genetic affinities with modern SAAS have any bearing on that fact?

  18. I distinctly remember Lazaridis et al stating very clearly that E1b1b in Natufians supports the idea that Natufians had at least partial African ancestry. I am simply puzzled as to why Lazaridis et al is being argued to support the idea of a Levantine origin for AA:

    “Craniometric analyses have suggested that the Natufians may have migrated
    from north or sub-Saharan Africa, a result that finds some support from Y chromosome analysis which shows that the Natufians and successor Levantine Neolithic populations carried haplogroup E, of likely ultimate African origin, which has not been detected in other ancient males from West Eurasia”
    http://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2016/06/16/059311.full.pdf

    PS: I did not mean to come across as an asshole. Frankly, I fail to see the assholeness in anything I have said.

  19. next two sentences after what you quoted:
    However, no affinity of Natufians to sub-Saharan Africans is evident in our genome-wide analysis, as present-day sub-Saharan Africans do not share more alleles with Natufians than with other ancient Eurasians (Extended Data Table 1). (We could not test for a link to present-day North Africans, who owe most of their ancestry to back-migration from Eurasia.

  20. Razib, the AA urheimhat is proposed as NA—Southern Egypt and Northern Sudan. That is not SSA. A lack of affinity with modern day SSAs has no bearing on a proposed North African origin of AA. I think you are conflating SSA with the whole of Africa. The traditional arcaheology which Lazaridis makes reference to talks about SSA affinity in Natufians mostly in terms of morphological features. It simply means that Natufians had facial features typical of modern day SSAs. However, most of that research suggests that the African cultural links of Natufians are rooted in North Africa in the Egyptian and Northern Sudanese Nile Valley. There is nothing in Lazaridis et al. which contradicts that.

  21. >It simply means that Natufians had facial features typical of modern day SSAs.

    The populations with the most Natufian mixture don’t look like SSAs.

  22. @Nelson

    You sound confused. The Natufians carried E1b1b , an African paternal clade. Yet in your mind, it’s evidence for AA having a non African origin.

    Clearly I made no such argument. What I actually referred to was Ehret’s argument that the presence of E1b1b in Afroasiatic speaking populations was evidence against Natufians being the source of the Afroasiatic languages.

    You are mistaken regarding linguistic consensus. Various linguists have placed the AA urheimhat anywhere from the Horn of Africa to the Southern Levant. The genetic evidence from Natufians may arguably falsify the Horn of Africa as the Afroasiatic urheimhat, but it does not falsify the Southern Levant. Of course, Afroasiatic having originated among a Natufian-like North African population is a possibility that is still on the table.

    My main objection to your position is your likening the Levant hypothesis to a “fantasy novel”.

    Quoting archaeologist Peter Bellwood:

    Ehret et al. suggest that early Afroasiatic languages were spread by Mesolithic foragers from Africa into the Levant. In our Review, we did not positively favor either the African or the Levant origin hypothesis (p. 601). But in the map (Fig. 2), I chose the Levant hypothesis, because I believe, on balance, that it provides the best explanation for the evidence that has survived through 12,000 years of prehistory.

    In linguistic terms, Ehret (1) has presented a phylogenetic history for Afroasiatic languages, based on shared phonological innovations, that contains a primary division between the Omotic languages of Ethiopia and an Erythraean subgroup that includes all other Afroasiatic languages (including Semitic and Ancient Egyptian). This ordering, if correct, suggests an African origin for the family. But is it correct? Diakonoff (2, 3) has offered a completely different grammatical subgrouping structure for Afroasiatic, in the process, casting doubt on Omotic as a member of the family and suggesting [(2), p. 218] that the predomestication [but probably early cultivating (4)] Natufian archaeological complex of Palestine matches well with proto-Afrasian (Afroasiatic) cultural and environmental vocabulary reconstructions. Militarev’s reconstructed proto-Afroasiatic vocabulary (5), whether “agricultural” or not, is also peopled with animals and plants of Levant, not African, origin and matches a Natufian cultural landscape. Ehret et al. point out that Militarev’s semantic reflexes are mixed, but perhaps this is to be expected given that plants of Levant (winter rainfall) origin did not spread prehistorically into the desert or summer rainfall belts of northern Africa beyond the Mediterranean coast, Egypt, and highland Ethiopia.

    In archaeological terms, I agree that early Saharans managed cattle, and Ehret himself convincingly relates the earliest appearance of this tradition to Nilo-Saharan-speaking populations (6). The Egyptian Neolithic economy, however, was manifestly of Levant and not African origin. Domesticated sheep and goats were probably introduced via Arabia into the Horn of Africa at a similar time, circa sixth millennium B.C.

    My assumption is that the spread of Afroasiatic occurred as a result of actual human movement, not language diffusion alone. There is no significant archaeological evidence for a population movement from Africa into the Levant, whether Mesolithic or Neolithic, at the time in question. The genetics papers quoted by Ehret et al. do not settle this matter. The Y chromosome evidence appears to signal complex two-way population movements, with very uncertain chronologies. My working assumption, therefore, is that early Afroasiatic languages spread from the Levant into Africa between 7000 and 12,000 years ago, probably in more than one movement.

  23. The claim regarding North African archeological influence on the Levant is also mistaken. Ehret and S. O. Y Keita cite Bar Yosef (1987) who argued that the Natufians were a result of a fusion of the Kebaran and Mushabian cultures, the latter of whom Bar Yosef assumed to have moved from the Nile Delta into the Sinai and Jordan Rift valley about 14,500 BP, bringing with them the microburin technique for cutting lithic blades. This then is the time Ehret and Keita posit proto-Semitic arrived in the Levant.

    However, Bar Yosef’s assumption about the origin of the Mushabian culture was based on bad information:

    At the time that Henry and Garrard analyzed and published the Tor Hamar assemblage, it was commonly believed that microburin technique appeared relatively late in the Levantine Epipaleolithic sequence, perhaps being derived from microburin technique in Egypt. Since then, however, several Jordanian sites have produced evidence of microburin technique well in advance of the latter part of the Epipaleolithic sequence. These include Wadi Uwaynid 18 and Wadi Uwaynid 14 in the Azraq region of Jordan, with radiocarbon dates between 19,800 and 18,400 uncal. BP, Tor at-Tareeq in the Wadi al-Hasa area of Jordan, with radiocarbon dates between 16,900 and 15,580 uncal. BP, and Tor Sageer, also in the Wadi al-Hasa area, with radiocarbon dates between 22,590 and 20,330 BP. This new evidence clearly documents the use of the microburin technique in the inland Levant during the earliest phases of the Epipaleolithic.

    Issues in the Epipaleolithic: The Madamaghan, Nebekian, and Qalkhan

    It seems Ehret and Keita were also wrong about the origin of African cattle:
    Ancient African cattle first domesticated in Middle East

    As we all know, they were wrong about agriculture spreading to Africa without demic diffusion.

    Really, the only thing left supporting their particular view is Ehret’s disputed Afroasiatic phylogeny and reconstructions.

  24. @Labayu: “The genetic evidence from Natufians may arguably falsify the Horn of Africa as the Afroasiatic urheimhat, but it does not falsify the Southern Levant. Of course, Afroasiatic having originated among a Natufian-like North African population is a possibility that is still on the table.”

    As I have already explained, there is nothing in Lazaridis et al. to “falsify the Horn of Africa as the Afroasiatic urheimhat”. Lazaridis explicitly says that E1b1b in Natufians support the African connection of the Natufians. I was under the impression that “Afroasiatic having originated among a Natufian-like North African population” was the most likely probability as opposed to simply being on the table, as you put it. You appear to have things backward.

    Discovering an African paternal clade in Natufians would suggest that Bar Yosef was obviously correct about linking Natufians to North Africa. The information about cattle genetics is based not on ancient dna but modern cattle dna. Ancient human dna has already shown us how useless modern dna can be in predicting the population patterns of the past.

    Again, you need to contend with the fact that E1b1b is recognized as an African paternal clade, and that the Afroasiatic Urheimhat is widely recognized as North East Africa. You are pretending as if your Levantine hypothesis is the mainstream position as opposed to a fringe theory.

  25. I’d have no problem with the idea that the Basal Eurasians were hanging out in North Africa somewhere suitably isolated, and helped to give rise to the Natufians (it was my own hypothesis in the past). However, the level of Basal Eurasian ancestry was discovered last year as actually higher in early Iranian populations than in Natufians. This seems to suggest that Basal Eurasian was likely not hanging out in North Africa, but somewhere in the Middle East – perhaps in South Arabia (which would make sense if the initial OOA path was crossing the Red Sea).

    Regarding the origins of Afroasiatic, IIRC Greenberg was the first one who suggested that you look for the origin of a language family not near its current geographic center, but where its most basal branches are located. This clearly works for Bantu, and for Austroasiatic. But it might not work in all cases if the origin point for a language family was itself later overrun by either one of its daughter branches or an entirely different family.

  26. @Nelson

    The Levant hypothesis is not mine, nor do I have a strong preference for it. This is the second time you’ve mischaractized my views rather than replied to what I’ve explicitly written. I do however have difficulty with believing Semitic is 13,000 plus years old or that it replaced an earlier language family in the Levant more recently, when the majority of evidence of major human movements since the Neolithic go the opposite direction (Iran into the Levant, the Levant into Africa, etc.). These are issues I believe need to be addressed before dismissing the hypothesis.

    The mainstream archaeological view is that the Natufian culture arose from local precursors. Bar Yosef apparently no longer holds the view that influence from Egypt was involved, as he has never mentioned it in writing since the belief on which he based that hypothesis has been falisified.

    You criticize the use of modern cattle DNA, which is fair enough, but on what ancient DNA then do you base the claim that E1b1b is ultimately of African origin? It may not even matter of course, since E1b1b is almost certainly older than the Afroasiatic languages so its presence in the Levant doesn’t necessarily imply it arrived there with Semitic. Furthermore, E1b1b in Natufians means that the fact that E1b1b is common among Afroasiatic speakers cannot be used to falsify the Levant hypothesis as Ehret had argued.

  27. What’s missing in this conversation is a discussion of E1b1b’s phylogeny — something critical given we’re talking a haplogroup with deep, deep Paleolithic roots.

    If I’m not mistaken, what was found in the Natufians of Raqefet cave was E-Z830*, the antecedent of E-M123 and E-V1515 (E-M123 and some of its downstream clades almost certainly existed then, but they aren’t attested until PPNB).

    E-M123 (synonymously with its downstream marker M34) has long been known to be a Levantine-associated, Near Eastern, and more broadly, Mediterranean, lineage, in its distribution (it is also quite common in Ethiopia, not just among Ethiosemites). Its distribution has been conjectured to reflect a Proto-Semitic population movement, in the African AA model, but there are a few issues here: J-P58 is consistently commoner, and also seems to reflect Proto-Semitic population dispersals, despite its Caucasian/Iranian/Asiatic origin. Plus, E-M34 is as common in Cyprus and Kurdistan as it is in parts of the Semitosphere – despite these areas never having been predominantly Semitic-speaking.

    Meanwhile: E-V1515 is found among AA and non-AA speakers from Tanzania down to South Africa. Both the genetic evidence you’ve discussed, and material cultural hints (worth checking out the posts at Anthromadness – can’t link), suggest an ancient dispersal of Cushitic down into SE Africa, associated by whatever process with Natufian-like (and probably not specifically Ethiosemitic!) Eurasian ancestry.

    So E-Z830 (to a basal lineage of which 3% of Ashkenazi Jews, including my best friend, belong) clearly connects the Epipaleolithic Levant to population dispersals as far south as South Africa.

    It’s also worth bearing in mind that E-Z830’s sibling is E-L19, directly ancestral to E-M81, the classic Berber/Western Saharan marker. Berber is generally considered to be one of Semitic’s closer relatives. The divergence dates to ca. 24 kya, deeper than any linguistic divergence could possibly be – and almost certainly happened in Africa.

    Meanwhile, most E1b1b out there in the world is E-V68/M78, with most particular clades concentrated in Afroasiatic-speaking territories (Egypt/Southern Levant, Horn, Northwest Africa), with the exception of European E-V13. E-V68 is as deeply diverged from E-Z827 (parent to Z830 and L19) as most different-lettered haplogroups, and the divergence certainly didn’t happen in the Levant.

    This is all to say, to speak of E1b1b as a unified phenomenon, associated with one direction or another of genetic and linguistic diffusion, doesn’t really make sense. Most E1b1b subclades with Afroasiatic subfamily-specific associations don’t seem to have anything to do with the Natufians, with the important exception of E-Z830.

    Anyway, I’m agnostic here. I’ve always bought into the Ehret hypothesis, because Semitic is nowhere near the root of the family tree — but considering we’re talking a divergence timescale up to 2.5x deeper than Indo-European’s, there are probably a good deal of unknown unknowns. A prehistoric Basal Eurasian presence in NE Africa would seem to tie up all the loose ends, though. The truth doesn’t always lie in the middle, though.

  28. @Karl Zimmerman: “I’d have no problem with the idea that the Basal Eurasians were hanging out in North Africa somewhere suitably isolated, and helped to give rise to the Natufians (it was my own hypothesis in the past). However, the level of Basal Eurasian ancestry was discovered last year as actually higher in early Iranian populations than in Natufians.”

    The only way to conclusively disprove a North African origin for Basal Eurasian is to analyze ancient DNA of sufficient age from NA. There is no reason not to expect that mesolithic or preneolithic DNA from that region would be more pristinely Basal Eurasian than anything discovered so far. Discounting NA as a source of Basal Eurasian is premature as it’s based on the glaring absence of ancient DNA from North Africa of sufficient age to compare to ancient Eurasian DNA samples. The oldest DNA from Africa so far is just 3000 years old.

  29. @Labayu: “I do however have difficulty with believing Semitic is 13,000 plus years old or that it replaced an earlier language family in the Levant more recently, when the majority of evidence of major human movements since the Neolithic go the opposite direction (Iran into the Levant, the Levant into Africa, etc.). These are issues I believe need to be addressed before dismissing the hypothesis.” More ancient DNA from North Africa should clarify exactly what the nature of the population movements between Africa and the Middle East. So far, most of the ancient DNA has been from the Middle East. I don’t know why anyone should be so sure about what “the majority of the evidence’ says when the ancient dna record is so fragmentary and incomplete.

    “The mainstream archaeological view is that the Natufian culture arose from local precursors. Bar Yosef apparently no longer holds the view that influence from Egypt was involved, as he has never mentioned it in writing since the belief on which he based that hypothesis has been falisified.”

    Natufians having a paternal African clade clearly supports African ancestry in Natufians. How else do you interpret the presence of an African paternal clade in Natufian populations?

  30. @ben-canaan:
    Your analysis of the M35 phylogeny is very sound.

    If we had access to a decent number of Natufian Y-DNA samples at the sufficient resolution, that would be very informative. 2 of the Natufians from Lazaridis 2016 are Z830(xM123), one of them also tested negative for V1515. Those particular samples may be dead ends, or related to the Z830* found in modern Jews and some other groups. The rest of the Natufian samples look like they were also some sort of M35, but not enough markers have been tested to determine if they were also Z830.

    V1515, the East African “Cushitic” Z830 clade, has a TMRCA dated to 13 kya. This predates any known intrusion to Africa, but is within the Natufian period. You wouldn’t expect V1515 to be Levantine based on its modern distribution, but if it is found in the ancient Levant when more Natufians are tested at the sufficient resolution, that would be a smoking gun for a Levantine origin of pre-proto-Cushites.

    Let us not forget the Omotic speakers, either, they are an important piece of the Afroasiatic puzzle. M34 (downstream of Z830 and M123, TMRCA 15 kya) peaks in southern Ethiopia among Omotic speakers, but we still need to determine the date of divergence of Omotic M34 from Semitic M34. That would be very interesting to find out once some Omotic Y chromosomes are sequenced.

  31. @Nelson

    Natufians having a paternal African clade clearly supports African ancestry in Natufians. How else do you interpret the presence of an African paternal clade in Natufian populations?

    On its own, the question is irrelevant since the age of the clade predates the earliest estimates of proto-Afroasiatic by many thousands of years. If it turns out that no antecedent E was present in the Kabaran culture, then it might become relevant.

  32. Re: linguistic evidence, it *does* strongly favor an African origin. Only one branch of AA is found outside Africa, and the distribution of Semitic is consistent with a single small branch of AA languages migrating to the Levant and diversifying there. Linguists often, though not universally, agree that Semitic, Berber, and Egyptian are closer to each other than to the other branches of AA; it looks like there was a northern branch of AA that diversified in North Africa into Berber, Egyptian, and a branch that would settle in the Levant and produce the proto-Semites. This northern branch was one of many; two other branches now survive as Chadic and Cushitic (I’m not counting Omotic), separated from the northern branch by the desertification of the Sahara.

    That said, the linguistic evidence is also consistent with a Levantine origin. AA could have originated with the Natufians. The first farmers and herders who spread into Africa brought AA with them, while expansion to the east was blocked by the non-AA-speaking eastern farmers, and the farmers who spread from Anatolia into Europe were a group who didn’t speak AA (pre-IE European languages don’t show any affinity to AA). Then, if the proto-Semitic expansion erased all non-Semitic AA languages in the Levant, you could have a linguistic situation like the one attested in historical linguistics. The Levantine origin model is more complicated, less parsimonious, and less elegant than an African origin model. It requires a few extra bells and whistles to put the most basal branches of AA far from AA’s origin and then erase all branches of AA save Semitic from the Levant.

    So far, though, the ancient DNA evidence is more consistent with the Levantine origin. AA-speaking sub-Saharan Africans have considerable Levantine ancestry, while ancient AA-speaking North Africans and Levantines lack sub-Saharan African ancestry. It’s also consistent with the specific extra bells and whistles required by the Levantine origin model to make it consistent with the linguistic evidence. In the past few years I’ve been updating towards a Levantine origin of AA. I don’t yet see it as confirmed the way the steppe origin of IE is confirmed, but ancient DNA will settle it.

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