Skeletons of four prehistoric children in Cameroon reveal the complex history of Africa
Four skeletons, two from 8,000 years ago and two from 3,000 years ago, unearthed under a rock shelter in Cameroon, have shed light on how humans spread through Africa.
A pair of skeletons, one adolescent and the other his four-year-old male relative, possibly a brother cousin once retired, had a date of 8,000 years.
Two other young men lived 3,000 years ago and were also related. Possibly second-degree relatives, such as half brothers or uncle and nephew.
The DNA has survived in a remarkable state of conservation in all skeletons and the analysis reveals that, despite being separated by five millennia, they are genetically similar.
However, their DNA was extremely different from that of the Bantu-speaking people who live in the region today and are believed to have originated in this part of West Africa.
DNA is one of the oldest ever found in West Africa and scientists say it paints a complex picture of early human ancestry, but it also reveals strong evidence of the existence of a mysterious group known as ‘Modern Ghost’ people.
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Four skeletons, two from 8,000 years ago and two from 3,000 years ago, unearthed beneath a rocky shelter in Cameroon (pictured) have added to the mystery of how humans spread through Africa
WHAT IS SHUM LUKA?
Shum Laka is a rock shelter located in Cameroon.
Linguists identified him for a long time as the probable cradle of Bantu languages, an extensive and diverse group of languages spoken by more than a third of Africans today.
The Shum Laka rock shelter was excavated in the 1980s and 1990s by archaeologists from Belgium and Cameroon.
Its archaeological record covers the last 30,000 years.
Stone tools, remains of plants and animals, and finally the pottery found on the site indicates long-term hunting and gathering in the forest.
The analysis also reveals an eventual transition to the intensive exploitation of fruit trees.
Shum Laka is emblematic of the ‘Stone-to-Metal Age’, a critical era in the history of west-central Africa that finally led to the Iron Age metallurgy and agriculture.
During this era, the site repeatedly served as a family cemetery, with 18 individuals (mainly children) buried in two main phases about 8,000 and 3,000 years ago.
The rock shelter in Cameroon is a famous archeological site called Shum Laka, which researchers say is emblematic of the ‘Stone-to-Metal Age’.
Since its initial excavation in the 1980s, it has produced large amounts of data on early human history.
It was inhabited at a time when the west-central Africans began to cultivate and metallurgy.
The site was repeatedly used as a family cemetery, with 18 individuals (mainly children) buried in two main phases about 8,000 and 3,000 years ago.
“Such burials are unique to West and Central Africa because human skeletons are extremely rare here before the Iron Age,” said Dr. Isabelle Ribot, an anthropologist at the University of Montreal.
“Tropical environments and acidic soils are not good for bone preservation, so the results of our study are really remarkable.”
The findings of the historical study are published in the journal. Nature and reveal unexpected origins of the Bantu language.
West Africa and the areas of Cameroon have long been specifically identified as the birthplace of the Bantu languages that more than 30 percent of Africans use today.
Researchers believe that Shum Laka is emblematic of the ‘Age of Stone to Metal’. Linguists identified him for a long time as the probable cradle of Bantu languages, an extensive and diverse group of languages spoken by more than a third of Africans today.
In the photo: the Shum Laka rock shelter in Cameroon. here, remains of four young males were found that contained incredibly well preserved DNA in the inner ear
But the DNA extracted from oil, a super dense bone that covers the inner ear, of the four skeletons throws the origins into disorder.
It was assumed that the natives of the region developed the language, or it was brought to the region and then spread throughout the continent.
“The consensus is that the Bantu language group originated in central-western Africa, before spreading across the southern half of the continent after about 4,000 years ago,” said Dr. Mary Prendergast, professor of anthropology and president of the humanities on the campus of the University of Saint Louis. in Madrid.
But modern Bantu-speaking people have no relationship with ancient indigenous peoples.
“This result suggests that Bantu speakers living today in Cameroon and throughout Africa do not descend from the population to which Shum Laka children belonged,” said Dr. Mark Lipson of Harvard Medical School, lead author of study.
“This underlines the ancient genetic diversity in this region and points to a previously unknown population that contributed only small proportions of DNA to today’s African groups.”
The findings were expected to reveal a specific origin of the Bantu languages, but instead added to the mystery.
But DNA analysis has been used to help paint an image of what might have happened with the first Homo sapiens on Earth about 260,000 years ago.
A map showing the relative dates when humans arrived on different continents, including Europe 45,000 years ago. All mankind began in Africa and moved beyond after dispersing throughout the continent for thousands of years.
In the image, a potential choice of how different populations of people spread across Africa. Shum Laka people are shown as a distant relative of Bantu-speaking people as revealed by the latest study
In the image, another potential version of how the first groups of humans and hunter-gatherers diverged in Africa for thousands of years. Hypothetical people ‘Ghost Modern’ are shown as a genetic dead end and Shum Laka people remain distinct from Bantu-speaking people
The researchers examined the DNA of the Shum Laka children to DNA from a 4,500-year-old skeleton from Ethiopia, three former South Africans of approximately 2,000 years, two French individuals, a chimpanzee and a Neanderthal.
A computer model was used to predict how ancient populations in Africa diverged to form the groups that are seen in the fossil record and are alive today.
The incredible diversity of Africa is due to the fact that Homo sapiens is believed to have originated there.
The model states that Homo sapiens slowly outperformed other hominids and then four main lineages emerged at the same time and spread over several generations.
Three of them are known for science and became hunter-gatherers in central, southern and eastern Africa.
But the fourth group, which can be inferred from the fragile DNA record, remains elusive for science and is known simply as the “modern Ghost.”
“This quadruple radiation, including the position of a deeply divided” ghost “modern human lineage, had not been identified before from DNA,” said Dr. Reich.
Theories about the mysterious ‘Modern Ghost’ people include being hunter-gatherers who lived south of the Sahara, but no evidence has been found.
A group of East Africans finally extended their range to the west and mixed with hunter-gatherers from Central Africa.
This eventually generated the first West Africans of which the Shum Laka may be the descendants of this group.
But the evidence in this study reveals that these native West Africans, at some point, were removed from their territory since modern inhabitants are hardly related to them.
It is believed that a completely separate group of West Africans gave rise to the Bantu people that became a powerful culture.
They dominated large tracts of land with agriculture and over the millennia they expelled many of the hunter-gatherer populations.
As Bantu people prospered, hunter-gatherers were marginalized, and this could have been the fate that met the damned people of Shun Laka, the researchers say.
You can also explain what happened to the ‘Ghost Modern’ people.
This will remain only a theory until the remains of the hypothetical modern ghost people are found.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HUMANKIND’S JOURNEY OUT OF AFRICA?
The traditional ‘Outside Africa’ model suggests that modern humans evolved in Africa and then left in a single wave about 60,000 years ago.
The model is often held once modern humans left the continent, there was a brief period of crossing with Neanderthals.
This explains why today’s European and Asian heritage individuals still have ancient human DNA.
There are many theories about what prompted the fall of the Neanderthals.
Experts have suggested that early humans may have carried tropical diseases with them from Africa that annihilated their ape-like cousins.
Others claim that the fall in temperatures due to climate change ended with Neanderthals.
The prevailing theory is that the first humans killed the Neanderthal through competition for food and habitat.
How history is changing in light of new research
Recent findings suggest that the ‘Out of Africa’ theory does not tell the full story of our ancestors.
Instead, multiple and smaller movements of humans outside Africa that began 120,000 years ago were followed by a major migration 60,000 years ago.
Most of our DNA is made up of the latter group, but previous migrations, also known as ‘dispersions’, are still evident.
This explains recent studies of the first human remains that have been found in the confines of Asia for more than 60,000 years.
For example, remains of H. sapiens have been found in multiple sites in southern and central China dating back between 70,000 and 120,000 years ago.
Other recent findings show that modern humans arrived in Southeast Asia and Australia before 60,000 years ago.
According to these studies, humans could not have come in a single wave of Africa around this time, according to studies.
Instead, the origin of man suggests that modern humans developed in multiple regions of the world.
The theory states that groups of prehuman ancestors left Africa and spread throughout parts of Europe and the Middle East.
From here, the species became modern humans in several places at once.
The argument is for a new analysis of a 260,000-year-old skull found in Dali County in the Chinese province of Shaanxi.
The skull suggests that the first humans emigrated to Asia, where they developed modern human traits and then returned to Africa.