U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Hunter-gatherer genomic diversity suggests a southern African origin for modern humans

NCJ Number
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Volume: 108 Dated: 2011 Pages: 5154-5162
Date Published
8 pages

Since Africa is inferred to be the continent of origin for all modern human populations, but the details of human prehistory and evolution in Africa remain largely obscure owing to the complex histories of hundreds of distinct populations, this article presents data for more than 580,000 SNPs for several hunter-gatherer populations, the Hadza and Sandawe of Tanzania and the ≠Khomani Bushmen of South Africa, including speakers of the nearly extinct N|u language. 


This study found that African hunter-gatherer populations today remain highly differentiated, encompassing major components of variation that are not found in other African populations. Hunter-gatherer populations also tend to have the lowest levels of genome-wide linkage disequilibrium among 27 African populations. This study analyzed geographic patterns of linkage disequilibrium and population differentiation in Africa, as measured by FST. The observed patterns are consistent with an origin of modern humans in southern Africa rather than eastern Africa, as is generally assumed. Additionally, genetic variation in African hunter-gatherer populations has been significantly affected by interaction with farmers and herders over the past 5,000 years due to both severe population bottlenecks and sex-biased migration; however, African hunter-gatherer populations continue to maintain the highest levels of genetic diversity in the world. (publisher abstract modified)

Date Published: January 1, 2011