Archive for February, 2014

Restoring the Gap, Part 1 – The Delayed Non-African Expansions of Modernity

February 20, 2014 10 comments

More pieces of the puzzle of human evolution and dispersal are becoming available than anybody thought was ever possible only a short while ago. Almost all new pieces are equally surprising and difficult to incorporate within mainstream thought. The humerus sample (MA-1) of the 3-4 year old Mal’ta boy, whose Middle Upper Palaeolithic (MUP) remains were found along the Belaya River near Lake Baikal, south-central Siberia, may supply decisive evidence on great population movements of early modern humans, and offer an explanation why local continuity by hybridization of archaic humans in a multi-regional setting often resulted so difficult to confirm. The genome of this approximately 24,000-year-old individual (MA-1) was sequenced successfully, thus being the oldest anatomically modern human genome reported to date:

The MA-1 mitochondrial genome belongs to haplogroup U, which has also been found at high frequency among Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic European hunter-gatherers, and the Y chromosome of MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and near the root of most Native American lineages. Similarly, we find autosomal evidence that MA-1 is basal to modern-day western Eurasians and genetically closely related to modern-day Native Americans, with no close affinity to East Asians. (Raghavan et al., 2013)

Four venuses.

Few would see anatomically modern women in the Upper Paleolithic venuses found all over Europe. Still, they mark the advent of anatomically modern humans into northern Eurasia that in turn are linked with the First Native Americans. Venuses of Hohle Fels, Dolní Vestonice and Willendorf. To the right venus Mal’ta 24, whose great facial height relates to Native Americans and suspects reminiscent Neanderthal influences.

This considerably exceeds the results on the 40,000 year old “Tianyuan 1” specimen near Peking, that concentrated on chromosome 21 and mtDNA. Where the correlation of the Tianyuan sequences is ancestral to modern East Asian and Native American populations, the Mal’ta boy sequences represent a prehistoric element that once enjoyed a much wider geographical range within northern Eurasia, being closely related to modern western Eurasians but currently extinct in the wider region of the site. Intermediate between “West-Eurasian” and Native American populations, his kind was closely related with those that peopled Beringia and eventually the Americas, Moreover, results from a culturally related second site in south-central Siberia, Afontova Gora-2 (~14,000 BP), indicate genetic continuity for this element that persisted throughout the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM, ~26,000 – 19,000 BP). Their lack of East Asian affinity was interpreted as indicative for the dual origin of Native Americans.
Mal’ta was excavated between 1928 and 1958. Finds included 30 anthropomorphic Venus figurines that are ‘rare for Siberia but found at a number of Upper Palaeolithic sites across western Eurasia’ (Raghavan et al., 2013). Upper Paleolithic “Venus” figurines were already included in the Aurignacien of Hohle Fels Cave in the Swabian Jura of southwestern Germany, that range from 40,000 – 31,000 years ago. Carved out of stone, antler, bone and ivory, their popularity persisted until the end of the Upper Paleolithic, but the theme survived the Neolithic advance in some ceramic figurines. The Gravettian culture, dated 32,000 until 22,000 years ago, whose small pointed blades were also used for hunting the contemporary megafauna in the northern plains, was characterized by an abundance of Venus figurines. According to Gvozdover thighs and hips were accentuated in Western Europe, and breasts and bellies in Eastern Europe, while an intermediate position was attributed to Central Europe – that thus includes the oldest find in Hohle Fels. But the Siberian finds didn’t express such clear prevalences and mainly contrasted with the European finds for being fully clothed. What may have linked Siberia with the earliest modern humans that peopled Europe?
A greater Upper Paleolithic cultural sphere of influence, spanning Europe, Siberia and Beringia, has always been presumed on archeological grounds. Since Beringia commonly figured as the hypothetical entrance point to the Americas, this view suggested that the same stock of modern humans that “replaced” Neanderthal in Europe also peopled Siberia and reached the Americas.

‘Since in no case, either on East European Plain, or in Siberia or China, have archaic-looking industries ever been found in a clear association with the remains of Neandertals or other pre-sapiens humans, one may reasonably suggest that all these industries were manufactured by anatomically modern humans. Their advancement proceeded from the west to the east, covering the entire East European Plain and further spreading into southern Siberia, Mongolia, northern and central China and the Russian Far East.’
‘The next stage in the settlement of northern Eurasia by early modern humans occurred during the time-span of 32-18 thousand years ago. This was the coldest period of the Last Ice Age that included the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM).
Remarkably this episode coincided with the quasi-total depopulation of western and central Europe with all Palaeolithic sites virtually disappearing in that area […] Significantly, during the same period the AMH population density rose on [the] East European Plain, the frequency of Palaeolithic sites markedly increasing at 29-26 ka BP and forming a clear maximum at 24-18 ka BP.
This suggests a large-scale eastbound migration of groups of modern humans during the coldest episode of the Last Ice’ (Dolukhanov, 2003)

Circumstantial evidence suggests the Amerindian entrance in the Americas, including all nascent modernity inherited by their modern Native American descendents, was much earlier than still commonly accepted. Evidence of human–megafauna interaction in the Arroyo del Vizcaíno site near Sauce, Uruguay, on ‘over 1000 bones belonging to at least 27 individuals, mostly of the giant sloth Lestodon’ were ‘unexpectedly old (between 27 and 30 thousand years ago)’ (Fariña et al., 2013). Also the new phylogeny of dogs and wolves (Thalmann et al., 2013) may give a clue, since it may change our view on the human interaction on wolves, the Beringian wolves whose mtDNA converge to the roots of dog clades D, A and C in particular. Ancestral to the mtDNA of virtually all modern wolves having ‘wolf’ haplotype 1 (Pilot at al., 2012) – that now apparently includes the second largest dog clade B as well – dog clades rather suggest massive introgression of early dog-like lineages back into wild populations of wolves, not unlike the collateral domestication processes I described in an earlier article on domestication for what happened with feral chicken DNA to the expense of wild diversity in the red junglefowl. This may explain the complete lack of wolf haplogroup 1 and dog mtDNA B in the paleolithic samples. Hence, the true course of dog and modern wolf evolution rather followed the genetic developments of those lineages that found significant selective advantages in human cohabitation, as can be seen in Thalmann’s phylogenetic representation showing extinct dog variety in the Altai dog being ancestral to clade D (and thus also more or less ancestral to clade A), and the older Goyet dog in Belgium being genetically ancestral even to the Altai dog. Belgium’s Trou de la Naulette site may even suggest the selective advantage of wild canids in close human contact to have been at work since Neanderthal. Alternately, the oldest specimen of the Beringian megafaunal predator (with short and wide dog-like snouts) was dated 28,000 BP, thus probably setting the stage for the first Native Americans as evidence they were around.
That much of the post-LGM (western) European Plain may thus have been repopulated rather as a back-migration from the east could make an elegant alternative to the moribund Iberian glacial refuge hypothesis. However, genetic results suggest this may have been true only partially. Patterson et al. (2012) were the first to detect ‘a clear signal of admixture into northern Europe, with one ancestral population related to present day Basques and Sardinians, and the other related to present day populations of northeast Asia and the Americas’. A subsequent paper of Lipson et al. (2012) asserted ancient northern Eurasian admixture in European populations up to 20-40% — including previously undetected admixture in Sardinians and Basques. Unfortunately, the latter published their calculations before the newly sequenced genome of Mal’ta boy (MA-1) could fairly represent such a hypothetical ancient population. This triggered Lazaridis et al. (2013) to introduce an ancestral West-Eurasian relatedness of Amerindians that rendered all previous estimations obsolete. Malta boy shared its mtDNA haplogroup U, by far the dominant mitochondrial haplogroup in Palaeolithic Europe, with 7,000-year-old Mesolithic individuals from the La Braña-Arintero site in León (Northwestern Spain) that despite their U5b2c1 assignation apparently lacked any measurable Amerindian admixture in their nuclear genome (Dienekes, Oct. 21, 2012). This feature was confirmed as a Mesolithic pattern in Western Europe by Lazaridis et al. (2013) when they published the mitochondrial (mtDNA U5b1a) and nuclear genome of an ~8,000 year old hunter-gatherer from the Loschbour rock shelter in Luxembourg. Like with La Braña, this individual essentially missed admixture of the Amerindian component. this alone was enough to make clear that the Amerindian component elsewhere, especially in modern northern Europeans, couldn’t be anything else but the result of gene flow back into Europe, maybe accelerated by means of a back-migration.
Loschbour apparently marks the transition between the Middle Mesolithic RMS (Rhine-Meuse-Schelde) cultural complex and a Late Mesolithic local “Montbanien”. According to Heuertz’s anthropological study (1950), the body is that of an adult male, about 1.60m tall. Its skull is hyperdolichocephalic, with a cranial capacity of 1584cm3. Its basal relationship with the Amerindian component was probably equaled (or exceeded?) by La Braña 1, that was sequenced shortly after: ‘Mal’ta is significantly closer to La Braña 1 than to Asians or modern Europeans […] despite the vast geographical distance and temporal span, La Braña 1 and Mal’ta share common genetic ancestry’ (Olalde et al., 2014).
What matters is the geographic gravity of basal West-Eurasian peoples, that during LGM shifted towards a North Eurasian east where they differentiated into an Amerindian stock, apparently without East Asian admixtures. Only when the gravity of northern Eurasian populations shifted back west again (I would say already much earlier than 7 kya), such Amerindian-related populations could actually become the neighbours of more basal populations, including non-Amerindian admixed “La Braña”-like populations in the west, while in Asia the Amerindian element eventually diminished or vanished in favor of new East Asian expansions in northern direction.
The presumptions of contemporaneous investigation in the vein that the European plains were ever completely abandoned, or that replacement happened afterwards, have always been precarious. Brace (1998) already asserted that the ‘craniofacial form of Cro-Magnon allies it with the living populations of northwestern Europe, specifically with the fringes in Scandinavia and England, but not with the European continent.’, suggesting less admixture than should be the case with full replacement. Hellenthal et al. (2014) recently confirmed this picture since their study could ‘not detect admixture in any of the Northwest European populations’. While actually meant to assess admixture during the last four millennia, the almost indistinguishable ADMIXTURE results between the indicated European groups suggest ‘any event(s) may have influenced them all, and thus is most likely to be ancient’.Now, Lazaridis et al. (2013) identified a separate “West European Hunter-Gatherer” (WHG) meta-population, where the the Amerindian component – now rebaptized as the Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) component – virtually didn’t reach. ANE admixture thus is a welcome contribution to our knowledge of northern European variety. Unfortunately, already available information on yet another pole of genetic diversity in northern Russian populations (Khrunin et al., 2013) was not mentioned by Lazaridis’ team, adding another deficiency in previous admixture analyses where until recently only a single pooled “northern European” component was applied where actually there are at least three. Hence, post-LGM western, and probably central Europe either, can’t so easily be imagined as entirely repopulated from the east. Instead, seven ~8,000 year old specimens from Mesolithic hunter-gatherers from the Motala site in southern Sweden could be modeled as a mixture of Loschbour and MA-1, suggesting the ANE component is related, but not identical to a thus separate ancient component represented by western European hunter-gatherers. The Motala individuals cluster with ~5,000 year old hunter-gatherers from the Pitted Ware Culture (PWC) in Sweden, suggesting a “Scandinavian Hunter-Gatherer” (SHG) meta-population that maintained biological continuity across the Neolithic transition. In the phylogenetic representation of figure 12.7 (Supp. Lazaridis et al., 2013) the ANE and WHG clades branch from the same basal West-Eurasian root, but SHG (represented by Motala12 for having the highest coverage at 2.4-fold), despite an overlap, didn’t fit any clade exactly, suggesting SHG and MA-1 share more common drift together than Loschbour and MA-1.
Another European component of interest was retrieved by the team of Lazaridis from a ~7,500 year old early farmer from the Linearbandkeramik (LBK) culture from Stuttgart in Germany. Despite 66% of this specimen could be attributed to hunter-gatherer related ancestry, Lazaridis’ team developed a method for estimating mixture that breaks down in three components: MA-1 as a representative of ANE, Loschbour of WHG, and Stuttgart of EEF (Early European Farmers). Contrary to Lazaridis’ predecessors that published on the Amerindian component in Europeans, his team’s method considerably reduced the ‘Amerindian’ signal in European populations. Actually, the ANE component ranges from 0.8% in Sardinians to 18% in Scottish, Estonians and Hungarians (Lazaridis et al. Table S12.7). The choice of a Stuttgart specimen to represent the Neolithic farmers may be unfortunate for being a northern outpost already deep into European territory, hence it comes to no surprise that all modern Europeans are strongly tilted towards the hybrid EEF component. Also, despite increased ANE admixture, the increased distance of modern Europeans with MA-1 compared with basal West-Eurasians, may be attributed to this third element, ie. derived of recent basal Eurasian admixture of possibly southern European precedence. More surprising is the overdose of the WHG component elsewhere, even in more southern Europe where modern populations approximate EEF most such as Sardinians, that measure 17.5% more WHG than EEF. Apparently, the northern Neolithic farmers were already heavily mixed with local populations. Even more interesting is this Neolithic adsorption of Mesolithic components continued while a mobile Mesolithic source population remained able to move freely within territories commonly considered exclusively “Neolithic” (see “The Mesolithic Blind Spot”), apparently to the result that any modern European population reveals a higher grade of Mesolithic admixture nowadays than the northern ‘EEF’ reference sample did.
Again, we can’t be sure yet how e.g. mediterranean or balcanic Mesolithic populations were alike genetically and we have to be cautious to hold Ötzi-like populations (or EEF) for exclusively “Neolithic”. It may be tempting to assume the southern Mesolithic was identical to La Braña or WHG and utterly wiped out by immigrant Neolithic farmers. However, La Braña may also represent an immigrant group from the north that penetrated deep into alien Mesolithic territory, while still making a cluster with Loschbour. For instance, both La Braña 1 and the Loschbour individual, unlike the Stuttgart early farmer, were homozygous for SNP rs12913832 of the OCA2/HERC2 genes that is a key factor for blue eyes. In this, WHG-like populations were very similar to modern European- and especially Northern European populations.
Whatever the origin of Mesolithic blue eyes, the truth about one single mutation once again reveals the nonsense of Kurganist- and Orientalist- claims alike on Indo-European origins. Eiberg et al. (2008), recalling Cavalli-Sforza et al. (1994), still thought the ‘mutations responsible for the blue eye color most likely originate from the near east area or northwest part of the Black Sea region, where the great agriculture migration to the northern part of Europe took place in the Neolithic periods about 6–10,000 years ago.’. Now, this all being reversed with respect to agriculture, would utter Neolithic replacement of Mesolithic WHG-like populations in southern Europe rather imply a process instead where blue eyes were once dominant also in the south, to become extinct especially there during the Neolithic only to return and expand ever since? To me it seems more conceivable that the successful Neolithic populations that came to conquer Europa culturally, originated themselves from native populations that already roamed the south and southeast of Mesolithic Europe, carrying a lower WHG component. Physical differences between north and south could have been less obvious once if pre-Neolithic populations shared more of the ancestral state of genes that became subject to recent natural selection. For instance, surprisingly, both La Braña and Loschbour lacked the derived allele of polymorphism rs1426654 at locus SLC24A5, one out of many SNP’s that contribute to a lighter skin. But the focus on SLC24A5 to define white skin may not be entirely justified since many more genes above the few being investigated for Stuttgart and both West-Eurasian hunter gatherers apply for “intermediate light” skin tones. Since La Braña had a derived ‘white’ allele for the TYRP1 gene where Loschbour had the ancestral variety, the southern hunter gatherer must have been even a bit lighter-skinned than the Loschbour individual! Nowadays this particular SNP reaches saturation level in West-Eurasian populations, suggesting this attribute expanded only very recently, making it less likely skin tone was a distinctive trait in pre-Neolithic Europe.
An interesting assumption of Lazaridis’ team is the purported Near Eastern origin of the “white skin” haplotype (C11) of the SLC24A5 gene. Actually, the most likely location for the origin is commonly thought within the region in which it is fixed or nearly so, where all ancestral haplotypes are close to extinct. Canfield et al. (2014) made an assessment that revealed C11 as a hybrid cross-over event between two unrelated non-African haplotypes, C3 and C10. Both ancestral haplotypes still exist in equal proportions in the New World, though since only C10 could also be considered overwhelmingly East Asian, the simple equation of mixed Amerindian ancestry as revealed by the Mal’ta boy implies that C3 was part of their West-Eurasian heredity. Unfortunately, this has not been verified yet with Loschbour, the Mal’ta boy nor La Braña, and the question remains where C3 met C10 intensively enough to make such a low probability hybridization event feasible. At least this is potential evidence for an actual Amerindian back migration. Beleza’s (2013) and Canfield’s (2014) estimates for the date of origin, based on microsatellites, are in agreement with up to twelve millennia before the attestations in Stuttgart and the Neolithic Advance. Rather than white skin being standing variation among the ancestors of Neolithic farmers, the North Eurasian “Amerind” potpourri mentioned above could have provided the genetic base. Already on their way to become “lighter” before their entrance in the Americas, as attested by the comparative light skin tones even in tropical regions, an actual back mutation could have done this trick. Although Mal’ta Boy, despite his freckles, still attested pretty dark in tentative genetic assessments. In an earlier article I mentioned the hypothesized Dené–Caucasian linguistic unity that link northern Native American Na-Dené languages (including Apache) with central Siberian Yeniseian languages, but also including Sino-Tibetan, North Caucasian, Basque and Burushaski. Some descendents of the source population would thus probably be closely involved in the Neolithic expansion in Europe and elsewhere. For sure this unique intercontinental relatedness, however vague, makes an American back migration a pretty uncertain key event. The ~12,600 BP genome sequence of a male infant (Anzick-1) in western Montana, directly associated with the Native American Clovis culture at the end of the last glacial period, attests gene flow from the Siberian Upper Palaeolithic Mal’ta population, implying the latter must have predated this ‘linguistic’ back-migration for too many millennia. Anzick-1 ‘shows the same relative affinity to Western and Eastern Eurasians as present-day First American populations’, and hence it is possible the Clovis culture represents the ‘last common ancestral population of the Northern and Southern lineage, after which the Northern lineage received gene flow from a more basal lineage.’ (Rasmussen et al., 2014). Linguistic ties would indeed make a rather east Siberian location of this basal Amerindian lineage most likely. They contributed to the First Americans, and again in a second wave limited to the northern continent, until they all but disappeared from northern Eurasia after tens of millenia of genetic continuity. Apparently they gave way to a new generation of mongoloid Old World Arctic populations that were more closely related with Koryaks, Chukchis and the extinct Palaeo-Eskimo of the Saqqaq Culture, predating Inuit, whose genome sequence was obtained from a 4,000-year-old permafrost-preserved hair in Greenland.
The paleogenetic results on Anzick-1 were ‘consistent with previous models derived from mtDNA, which imply that Native American populations primarily derive from a single-source population, but that there was a secondary movement into northern North America’ (Rasmussen et al., 2014). An Amerindian back migration of any significant proportions would thus be increasingly unlikely from Native American soil, despite the perfect mix of skin tones required for the emergence of the ‘white’ C11 haplotype in the west. However, most likely the same mix was readily available in the apparent basal Amerindian population that thus must have roamed eastern Siberia for millennia and crossed Beringia at least twice, before eventually turning west.
Instead, Peter Frost tries to make a case for Mesolithic European skin tones to be derived of the “negroid” paleolithic Grimaldi specimens or some relative of Mali’s Neolithic Asselar Man. Despite the supposedly Neolithic context of most of such finds this type was often recognized in older anthropologic assessments, like the human skeleton found by René Bailly (1928) in the caverns of Moniat, near Dinant in Belgium. E.g. Brace linked the transitional Neolithic Natufian culture in the Near East to Sub-Saharan Africa. Also according to Angel (1972) ‘one can identify Negroid (Ethiopic or Bushmanoid?) traits of nose and prognathism appearing in Natufian latest hunters (McCown, 1939) and in Anatolian and Macedonian first farmers (Angel, 1972), probably from Nubia (Anderson,1969)’. Indeed, most of all the negroid element was traditionally associated with the Neolithic advance and especially noted in Near Eastern Neolithic contexts. Unfortunately, current speculation on Loschbour’s dark skin being all but African may be the result of over interpretation, for the facts are more nuanced:

The results of the 8-plex skin pigmentation model were inconclusive for both the Loschbour and Stuttgart individuals. However, the Loschbour and Stuttgart genotypes at rs1426654 in SLC24A5 indicate that the Stuttgart individual may have had lighter skin than the Loschbour hunter and gatherer. (Lazaridis et al., 2013 supp)

Light skins of the past may be perceived to be of dark complexion nowadays, and cultural selection may be the most likely process at work for past tone enhancements, turning white skin the most likely legacy of the new Neolithic way of life. Already the dark skin of Denisovans implied that SLC24A5 was not always needed to compensate for an agricultural induced “natural lack of vitamin D”.
Alternately, the lightest traits may have survived as an oddity that passed over between populations for a longer period, depending on the ancestral time depth. Dark European ancestry may still be recognized in the Palaeo-Atlantid type that allegedly pops up in the north, from Wales to Norway, apparently in line with a native trait whose high age was already obvious for years. The jury is out on those dark skins being actually any darker than the ‘light Amerind skins’, albeit not yet defined by the C11 haplotype. Unfortunately, the white skinned Early European Farmer of Stuttgart didn’t show much – or any – direct ANE influence, so at present a direct Amerind link seems out of the question.
The full impact of ANE influence in Europe still has to be considered and may be well-hidden. It’s remarkable that even the ancient specimens of Motala carrying the ANE component did not give us any clue on where the current dominance of YDNA R haplogroups in Europe came from. All verified Mesolithic samples attested haplogroup I, including subclades that resemble those apparently limited nowadays in southern or eastern Europe. The earliest YDNA R in Europe are still Late-Neolithic, those from a Corded Ware context in Eulau for R1a and from a Bell Beaker context in Kromsdorf for R1b. One Bronze Age find in Lichtenstein Cave yielded some R1b and R1a samples within a host of unrelated haplogroup I2a2b samples, suggesting a geographically strongly differentiated European population where any intrusive ANE-related YDNA R might have thrived at most within certain as for now unknown geographic isles – if indeed already present since ancient times. Paleogenetic evidence indicates such YDNA R1 isles apparently linked the roots of Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures, though unrelated cultures elsewhere in the north may have survived as well in conservative haplotypes such as those in Scotland. Much of Mesolithic Northwest Europe, where the oldest European R1 has been found in Late Neolithic contexts, still remains paleogenetically unexplored, most of all the territories of the Swifterbant culture where Beaker cultures have an exceptionally long and continuous history.
The mechanism behind the sudden success of YDNA R and sudden decline of YDNA I in western Europe may well be described by Sayres et al. (2014):

The human Y chromosome exhibits surprisingly low levels of genetic diversity.
Here, using genome-wide analyses of X, Y, autosomal and mitochondrial DNA, in combination with extensive population genetic simulations, we show that low observed Y chromosome variability is not consistent with a purely neutral model. Instead, we show that models of purifying selection are consistent with observed Y diversity.

This importance of natural selection reduces migration and admixture over time to mere seeding events. While migration may result in the expansion of a successful set of Y chromosome lineages, and admixture between divergent populations may boost diversity in a population, mere numbers are no protection against selective disadvantages – even though it may help some lineages to persist over a longer period. The selective advantage of e.g. YDNA R, whatever the cultural trigger, is strongly suggested by its wave-like distribution, centered in Central Asia, that even includes west Africa; its proliferation among Native and Black Americans; and its apparent Late Neolithic replacement of once much more diverse West European YDNA I. However, I figure migration may also impose a new cultural parameter on alien territories what may help the expansion of lineages amongst populations that previously remained exempt of these same haplogroups, despite thousands of years regional coexistence: YDNA I and YDNA R already existed for tens of millennia, and even the ANE-admixed Motala Scandinavians still didn’t show a trace of YDNA R. This cultural factor can’t be dismissed lightly, since where most of the ancient YDNA I lineages became extinct in Northwestern Europe, e.g. I2a1b remained highly diverse (though rare) in Britain while a single lineage managed to thrive in Eastern Europe. A simple explanation might be that I2a1b was seeded in Eastern Europe by migration and turned out to have a selective advantage within the new cultural reality. Elsewhere, those same migrant YDNA I lineages were most likely to disappear if they came in low numbers and without cultural or natural advantage. An alternative migration scheme based on natural selection and seeding may propose a single population where R1b and R1a dominated, as already attested in Beaker populations of northern continental Europe, that was in close contact with I2a1b and expanded in different directions, including the Mediterranean (R1b) and the Adriatic Sea (I2a1b), while another mutational cline towards the east can be perceived for R1a.

Already EEF (or the Stuttgart specimen) was carrier of a strong WHG component. This must have been contracted in the neighbourhood of Hungary, or before that in the Balkans if an earlier southern ‘Neolithic’ impetus petered out before LBK culture entered its formative stage. However, the most obvious was not stated by Lazaridis’ team, ie. that Stuttgart and Hungary, where the LBK homeland were centered, are already pretty deep into European territory for immigrants that purportedly arrived all the way from the Near East. Stuttgart’s heterozygosity was increased accordingly, but it would require quite a detour across the Alpes to actually ‘infer that southern Europeans received their European hunter-gatherer ancestry mostly via EEF’. Do we really have to believe that, already in the Late Neolithic, Ötzi had received his basal Eurasian share from the north? Or do we have to assume that WHG was also omnipresent everywhere else in Europe? However, it should also be noted that any local WHG admixture from anywhere apparently didn’t result in significant ANE measures for Early European farmers either, suggesting the current peak values in Hungary must have been the result of more recent gene flow:

Loschbour and Stuttgart had little or no ANE ancestry, indicating that it was not as pervasive in central Europe around the time of the agricultural transition as it is today. (By implication ANE ancestry was also not present in the ancient Near East; since Stuttgart which has substantial Near Eastern ancestry lacks it. (Lazaridis et al., 2013)

It is tempting to attribute contemporaneous ANE admixture in Hungary to the Uralic roots of its current population, but elevated ANE values can be discerned in the wider Balkanic region. The Mesolithic boundaries of the ANE component thus appear to have been much more to the north (and east), leaving most of pre-Neolithic Europe potentially within the range of a rather exclusive WHG-like population.
We should be careful, though, not to confuse the non-WHG ‘basal’ component in EEF with a fixed set of genes that are shared by closely related populations. Lazaridis’ team invented the “basal Eurasian” component, actually a wild card for potentially unrelated genes that have some genetic distance with European hunter-gatherers, or their ancestors, in common.

We conclude that a model in which (i) gene flow into the Karitiana originated from a basal West-Eurasian population and (ii) Neolithic farmers such Stuttgart had admixture from a Basal Eurasian population is consistent with the evidence (Lazaridis et al., 2013)

The identity of basal Eurasian is ambiguous, since EEF shares with WHG a lower genetic distance in relation with other populations: ‘All three hunter-gatherers and Stuttgart are genetically closer to Native Americans than to other eastern non-Africans.’ (p. 9 of the main text), and ‘both Stuttgart and Loschbour are genetically closer to Karitiana than to Onge’ (p. 74 of the supplement). Apparently this relates to an ancestral relationship rather than admixture. A closer EEF relatedness may be recognized between Ötzi, Sardinians and one Funnelbeaker farmer in Scandinavia (Gök4, Skoglund et al. 2012), though so far few evidence has been forwarded to show a similar close relationship exists with Near Eastern populations. Actually, no exclusive relatedness between e.g. Sardinians and Near Easterners has been identified at all so this basal Eurasian component has all appearance to be a construct meant to describe ancestral relatedness at most. Unfortunately, the assumption that Neolithic farmers, early southern Europeans and Sardinians all descend of Near Eastern immigrants requires two precarious prerequisites: that WHG mixture occurred with pre-Neolithic inhabitants of the Balkans and Central Europe – without knowledge on how much these populations related to the genome of the hunter gatherer of Luxembourg; and that the calculated value of the basal component depends on how much current Near Eastern populations can be assumed to be less representative nowadays as a source population due to e.g. more recent African admixture. Lazaridis et al. figured the Stuttgart specimen contained more of the basal Eurasian component, while this seems at odds with their statement that ‘(Oceanians, East Asians, Native Americans, and Onge, indigenous Andaman islanders) are genetically closer to ancient Eurasian hunter-gatherers (Loschbour, Motala12 and MA-1) than to Stuttgart’. As such this construct appears an abomination, since here Lazaridis’ team actively suggest the “basal Eurasian” component unifies non-similar populations in a single basal pool that e.g. ties Neolithic populations together with Near Eastern populations – while actually “basal” should refer to being reminiscent of a much older layer. However, closer investigation on the basal character of European reference populations rather reveals a dual polarity in the basal relatedness of non-African populations, what might explain the contradictory construct mentioned above.
The concept of an ancestral basal Eurasian component might not help so much to understand the Neolithic as an exclusive Near Eastern exploit, though it may be useful to track down early AMH expansions. At least, the movements of non-Africans that strange enough are all genetically closer related to each other than each of them to Africans. Rasmussen (2011) confirmed this feature even applies to Aboriginal Australians, though a detailed study on how this relatedness may have evolved is still missing. In the studies on Ötzi it became clear e.g. Sardinians are genetically conservative, what may be due to such a basal element, close to the origin of modern non-African humans. An analysis on pairwise nucleotide differences among chromosome 21 sequences (Fu et al., 2012), taking the principle of fossilized paleogenetic distances for granted, even reveals a genetic triangle defined by the proximity of Sardinian with Karitiana (20,470) and Tianyuan (22,906) on one side and the proximity of Sardinian with Dai (21,683) and Papuan (21,968) on the other side. Indeed, close relatedness of all modern humans outside Africa, including the early anatomically modern human of Tianyuan Cave outside Peking, seems to radiate out of the Sardinian reference sample. This closeness is contrasted by much larger genetic differences with and in between African reference samples, that are even intermediate for San and Mbuti (33,860) compared with Denisovan (47,535 resp. 47,167). This central position of the Sardinian genome is also contrasted by the higher distance of Karitiana (22,210) and Tianyuan (23,756) with the Papuan reference sample. Unfortunately, the analysis doesn’t supply a Near Eastern reference sample to find out this Sardinian proximity might be due to a more general basal Eurasian component, but is has a French reference sample that might serve as an approximation to WHG or basal West-Eurasian (though ANE admixed). Thus, French turn out to be closer to Karitiana (difference: 132 mutations less), Han (794 less) and especially Dai (1472 less) than Sardinian, partly consistent with Amerind influence in more northern European populations on one hand and consistent with a higher degree of gene flow with respect to East Asian populations on the other hand.

Fu's table

Fossilized paleogenetic distances on chromosome 21 may be the key to the main non-African migration patterns of modern humans.

It should be noted that Sardinian is still slightly closer to Tianyuan than French is (262 differences), what should make us wonder about the origin of these purported East Asian derived differences of French. If “Amerind”, this would imply that Amerind genetic backflow included a slight overdose of mutations that must have been acquired by North Eurasian admixture of undefined source. However, the shared drift with Dai suggest French received their excess of differences from an East Asian origin different (more southern?) than Tianyuan. This means Sardinian closeness with Tianyuan is difficult to attribute to the basal West-Eurasian component. Still, WHG or basal West-Eurasian (the shared source of WHG and ANE) can’t be distinguished from basal Eurasian by relatedness with Tianyuan! Almost indistinguishable ADMIXTURE results for the Chinese Tujia minority compared with Northern Han suggest a representative, ancient mixture event that may or may not be reminiscent to basal Eurasian or basal West-Eurasian influences:

The Northern Han Chinese (but not the Southern Chinese Han) show evidence of a small admixture event (6%), between an East-Asian Tujia-like group and, interestingly, a group similar to present-day populations from Armenia and Turkey, and dominated by haplotypes shared with modern-day West Eurasians (Hellenthal et al., 2014)

“Basal Eurasian”, in case Sardinian truly represents such an older, rather Anatolian element, thus offers but a slight indication to the origin of the first important AMH expansions outside Africa. Instead, genetic affinities and the old age of AMH in Europe suggest a small distance of a “basal” Eurasian expansion event that could as well have been West-Eurasian. The pretext that a distinguished basal Eurasian component in EEF should necessarily originate in the Near East appears ever more precarious. If Sardinian is a valid stand-in for basal Eurasian, this component certainly could have been native to southern and southeastern parts of Europe already before the Neolithic.
A second look at Fu’s pairwise nucleotide differences for chromosome 21 reveals Han moved away considerably from their Tianyuan forebears: especially into the direction of Dai “East Asianness” (minus 4,814 mutations), and the Karitiana (minus 3,176) and French (minus 2,684) “West-Eurasianness”, suggesting the East Asian and basal West Eurasian gene flows that affected the New World, also affected China. Also the shared drift of Han with Papuan (minus 2,150) is considerable and supersedes the drift with Sardinian (minus 1,628), though remains well below the drift with French. This corresponds to a model with two secondary admixed expansion nodes that occurred next to the initial AMH expansions in Eurasia, one Gravettian or basal West-Eurasian that appears predominantly congruent with the genetic triangle mentioned above, and the other probably closely related but located in Southern China expanding southeast- and northwards. Both expansions brought their share of archaic admixtures with them or acquired more on the road. Both expansions met or overlapped in the New World as well into the direction of Papua New Guinea. As far we can draw such far-reaching conclusions on the assumption of reminiscent paleogenetic distances, it wouldn’t come as a surprise that populations at the endpoints of these movements are least related one with the other: of all populations outside Africa Papuan is significantly distant from Karitiana. However, Papuan is most distant to French, what probably can’t be entirely attributed to two way interaction between both nodes and historic contact. French and Sardinian are closer to each other than to other populations, and still French is 662 mutations further away from Papuan, 794 mutations closer to Han and even a staggering 1472 mutations closer to Dai. Due to a lack of reference points we may indicate Sardinian as the best approximation to the first expansion node, having both Tianyuan/Kiritiana and Papuan as low distance endpoints and thus actually a potential AMH expansion, indeed in line with Lazaridis’ basal Eurasian concept. French may be added as a third ‘western’ endpoint to this expansion due to its higher distance to Papuan.
However, the comparative closeness of French with Karitiana, as could partially be expected by the intermediate position of Mal’ta boy with the higher WHG component in French, as well as with Han/Dai, remains unexplained by just assuming a simple single ‘Sardinian’ (or basal Eurasian) expansion model. Some taphonomical complications in the interpretation of overlapping expansions are most likely when over time migrations occurred through the same migratory pathways. So, instead we could presume a dual expansion node in Sardinian and French, the latter being secondary to Sardinian and having Karitiana (not Tianyuan!) and Dai as low distance endpoints. Contradictory evidence in the low distance between the Karitiana/Dai endpoints of this overlapping ‘expansion’, however, imply another overlap with the earlier proposal of a second expansion node in southern China (Dai), whose low distance endpoints in Papuan and Karitiana are congruent with those of the first (dual) expansion node.
So eventually the Karitiana genetic proximity with Tianyuan on chr 21 might be due to the wider affinities of basal West-Eurasian, of which Mal’ta boy is a testimony and ‘French’ a WHG reference, with another as yet unidentified migratory precursor, referenced as ‘Sardinian’ and basal Eurasian, that was equally pervasive but preceding the basal West-European expansion of the Gravettian period.


Ancestry components of Mal’ta Boy (MA-1) that reappear after millennia of spatial isolation and drift in western Eurasia (dark blue, 34%), the Americas (orange and pink, 17%), central and south Asia (green, 37%) and even Oceania (purple, 4%). This model, found to have the best predictive accuracy, uses nine modern reference populations (K=9), and strongly indicates an early worldwide human expansion having MA-1 near the epi-center. Apparently, East Asian, Siberian, Near Eastern and African components were not available during the initial Northern Eurasian expansion, while the higher levels of ‘dark blue’ and especially ‘green’ suggest a longer period of shared drift within the wider expanse of Northern Eurasia against an earlier Amerindian split-off.

The northern pathway of both migrations is obvious, though evidence for a migratory component in southern direction is more difficult to untangle. Of interest is MA-1’s significant Denisovan signal in Raghavan’s figure SI 12, albeit lower than in Oceania. This seems to confirm that Denisovan admixtures in Oceania may indeed originate in the wider neighbourhood of Denisova Cave in southern Siberia, more specifically by basal West-Eurasian relatives of Mal’ta boy, or their basal Eurasian forebears, that hence turned south.
Actually, Raghavan’s figure SI 9 gives another hint into this same southern direction since it reveals shared ancestral variation between MA-1 and Central and South Asians and Oceanians. Also the newly discovered YDNA MP grouping suggests a close connection that involves West-Eurasians/Amerindians (predominantly P derived, including YDNA R and Q) and Papuans (where YDNA M totals one-third to two-thirds of the population):

[…] that the haplogroup M sample shares derived status with haplogroup P samples at several SNP sites, indicating the existence of an “MP” haplogroup upstream of haplogroup P and haplogroup M, and downstream of haplogroup K(xLT). (Magoon et al., 2013)

The clear Denisovan signal in Oceania can’t be dismissed lightly as an indication of the ultimate northern (Siberian) origin of at least one southern non-African immigration component, though it remains difficult to link Denisovan introgression to any modern human period in particular. The Denisovan component was not found in Tianyuan and is considered predominantly ‘lost’ in South Asia and different in East Asia, thus making poor evidence for a more recent East Asian migratory pathway. Traces in southern China and even among Khoisan in comparison with near zero values in neighboring Africans, suggests Denisovan admixtures in Central Asia were already reminiscent at the time of MA-1, and thus hard to relate exclusively to Gravettian period migrations. Even an association with basal Eurasian migrations can’t explain the whole southern stretch of Asia to be virtually devoid of Denisovan admixture. Was there an even earlier non-African expansion that was neither basal West-Eurasian nor basal Eurasian nor even congruent to their expansion patterns?
But not in the non-African YDNA MP dichotomy mentioned above, found in a northern P spectrum west to east, and a southern YDNA M. This was not the only non-African bipolarity in YDNA groupings. At least one more ancient YDNA lineage but MP achieved a wider Eurasian West-East diffusion combined with a clear cut North-South differentiation, ie. YDNA C1 encompassing the C-K29 lineages that link (southern) European C6 and Japanese C-M8 in northern Eurasia, against Indian C5 in southern Eurasia – all recently unified in a single C1-branch by ISOGG. Since YDNA C-K29 has a closer affinity with ‘southern Europe’, this may confirm ‘basal Eurasian’ as an older expansion marker than ‘basal West-Eurasian’, and hence the dual polarity of both basal lineages whose expansion patterns appear related and partially congruent. The other YDNA C lineages center further east, hence the hypothesized origin of C* and C3 somewhere between South Asia and Southern China is strongly suggestive for an ever deeper, or ultimate, non-African origin of basal Eurasian in a more eastern direction. But we have to be careful: ‘Melanesian/Polynesian’ C2 may be yet another C-K29 lineage, just like Aboriginal YDNA C4. The latter is still suspected to make a Holocene cluster with Indian C* (Redd 2002, Pugach 2013), what is a feat since this would imply considerable Y-DNA replacement from a single Indian source not so very long ago, against 11% contemporaneous Indian autosomal admixture.
A sister lineage of YDNA MP was another important YDNA K-derived lineage: YDNA NO (ancestral to YDNA N and YDNA O), that must have been involved in seeding the East Asian expansion node. Oceanian YDNA S may be closely related. YDNA N and O are thought to originate in southern or southwestern China: YDNA O became the most important marker for East Asian peoples, while only YDNA N also expanded further back north and northwest into northern Eurasia. As far we know of, neither ever reached the New World thus adding further evidence that more recently contemporary groupings were rather moving into (southern) East Asia than genetically evolving in situ.
Hence, the dual dispersion of basal populations throughout Eurasia might as well be the start- and endpoint of a continuous process in the period between the earliest Eurasian AMH and Gravettian expansions, that spawned new CF-derived YDNA lineages (C1, G, H, IJ, L, T, MP, NO) all the time from a central or northern position all over Eurasia. This must have been at the expense of older lineages that shortly lingered within the centers (e.g. YDNA F*, K*) before their virtual replacement, or of those that once flourished on the fringes of their expansion. These once consisted of a wide spectrum of archaic subclades and probably also early modern subclades. The latter for sure includes YDNA DE, that next to YDNA K and YDNA C is one of the big expansive branches of YDNA that extend well beyond the racial boundaries from east to west. This suggests the key to our quest for the reasons behind a close unity north of the Sahara may be found in the hybridization events that mark the earliest attestations of modernity in East Asia.

Could such a pattern of early AMH migrations be confirmed by the archeological record? This would require a thorough reassessment of global morphological changes. Indeed, it would be a huge mistake to think that modern humans appeared out of the void as a single phenotype that was the blueprint of modern humanity. There is a discussion between parties that imagine all modern human morphology as originating within a single lineage “Out if Africa” (ROAH), and those that imagine most morphological changes to be reductive or ontogenic and secondary to changes in brain size and shape, thus equally affecting virtually all archaic human lineages that hence made a common transition to modernity (Multiregional). Genetic evidence for both a huge gene flow and hybridization suggests the truth may have been somewhere in between. Both insights should be considered to reconstruct a plausible model for the main Eurasian migrations, that may or may not be applicable also to the African transition to modernity.
Unfortunately, most “anatomically modern” features follow from generic changes. Being most of all related to new selective pressures, especially those inducing changed brain shape, these are difficult to attribute to a single archaic lineage. As explained in the dissertation of Masters (2008), rectangular orbits, typical for the earliest Cromagnoids all over the world, are predominantly the result of forward and downward expansion of the frontal lobes, affecting the roof of the orbit most rapidly by growth during the first three months after birth. The onset towards ‘modernity’ is when ‘cerebral expansion, and in particular a more anterior position of the frontal lobes, has repositioned the brain atop the eyes and created a situation in which two different functional systems (the eyes and brain) both make use of the frontal bone.’ Moreover, ‘the frontal lobes have expanded and moved forward to the point that they have come to rest atop the eyes, and have all but erased the supraorbital tori in modern humans’. Simply because the brain and cranium grow first, the rest of the face develops accordingly, to the result that a ‘larger brain throughout hominine evolution has shifted the timing and shortened the duration of growth in the mid and lower face.’ So, the emergence of a new craniofacial morphology is only systematic in time though not very useful as a migratory marker. Archaic humans of the Middle Paleolithic could thus rapidly change almost beyond recognition, and converge without much gene flow, whereafter the transitional processes only accelerated: ‘Prominent trends of cranial expansion and facial reduction that occur during hominine evolution are minimal in relation to shape changes in the skull since the European Upper Paleolithic’ (Masters, 2008). Being predominantly driven by common cerebral evolution, true morphological evolution could thus be reduced to the observation that eventually only ‘the extent to which the entire skull has rotated, and the face and orbits have become tucked up under the brain, is a unique derived feature of anatomically modern humans’. However, some orbit related parameters (orbital frontation, breadth, and volume), evolve less in response to brain evolution. Their geographical patterns may even suggest a deeper time line and the influence of various archaic phenotypes.
Nowadays, humans are much more alike than they resemble their ancestors. Modern humans today are simply very different from the modern humans that took control about forty millennia ago. Before migrational arguments may be asserted to explain the advance of new “geographical” phenotypes, it should be recognized that a new common phenotype still evolves on a global scale. The main current tendency is that ‘the cranium becomes wider and anteroposteriorly shorter, or more brachycephalic […] and recent data indicates that these features are still evolving in similar ways’ (Masters, 2008). Gene flow can’t be the driving force, since ‘a decrease in craniofacial size and robusticity, as well as a shift toward brachycephalization, occur relatively ubiquitously across different regions during the last 7,000 – 10,000 years’. Some of these changes have been linked with juvenile-onset myopia, a distortion of the eyeball-orbit relationship whose negative selective connotation renders it ‘improbable that a mutation affecting eye growth would cause the same distortion of the eyeball throughout the world’. Myopia ‘affects 80-90% of individuals in some East Asian populations’, what appears related with a tendency of increased orbital heights that occurred ‘most rapidly in the last 3500 years’.
Orbital heights are linked with a global increase of facial height, that occurs in association with a reduction in facial width and a global decrease in cranial size and robusticity. Especially ‘the Asian group is characterized by a much taller and narrower orbital outline’, probably enhanced by lower orbital breadths compared with Europeans. Different patterns of growth lead to inter-group variation in the orbital margins that are ‘commonly used to determine ancestry in skeletal samples as a result of common population differences in the relative size of orbital breadth and orbital height’. Traits that are most variable among the modern human groups investigated in Masters’ analysis (2008) include orbital depth, orbital volume, and shape of the exterior orbital margins, while ‘orbital volume, orbital frontation, and interorbital breadth show no relationship to time.’ Human evolution typically resulted into ‘the most exposed sclera relative to eye outline of any species, and an extraordinarily elongated eye outline in the horizontal direction the larger absolute volume of the human eyeball’, what may give a special evolutionary connotation to the wide orbital breadth that is most evolved in modern Africans and Upper Paleolithic Europeans, and that still separates Africans most from Asians – reflecting the much broader and taller cranium, as well as a taller and more orthognathic face for Asians and Europeans in relation to Africans. Modern tendencies tend to reduce orbital breadth slightly faster in Western Europe in comparison with Asia, while the opposite is observed for the increase of orbital heights – to the result that between the Neolithic and recent periods the overall orbital shapes in Eurasia tend to converge.
Also orbital frontation is strongly tied to deep tendencies in human evolution. It is found to evolve in response to brain shape changes caused by the temporal lobes. Only orbital volume doesn’t have any clear relation with modern human evolution, and has all appearance of reminiscent introgressed variety. The larger orbital volume for Europe’s earliest Cromagnoids is indeed consistent with the unique, almost oversized Neanderthal orbital volume.
Now, considering Masters’ nine orbital variables, features that share ‘a pattern of inter-group variation’ indicate that Africans are more similar to Europeans than Asians ‘with the exception of orbital frontation and orbital volume’ (Masters, 2008). This means that Europeans and Asians are notably similar exactly for the few stable orbital parameters, and notably unsimilar for the orbital parameters most liable to change.
Brace (1996) already promoted that differentiation of modern human anatomy derive from their archaic predecessors. In his view, the European Cromagnoids were fully derived from Neanderthal. Brace asserted he was ‘quite happy in seeing a European “classic” Neanderthal become transformed by gradual means into a modern European but yet has trouble seeing how the transformation of an African craniofacial pattern into a European one could take place within the same period of time.’ Next to craniofacial reduction, he cited Neanderthal dental reduction as the result of the “obligatory use of cooking”, initiated in the north where people of the ‘temperate zone still have the smallest teeth in the world.’ Yet another global tendency towards modernity, gracilization, he interpreted as post-cranial modernization due to the use of projectiles. The earliest potential arrow heads, however, date only from about 64,000 years ago in the South African Sibudu Cave, though long gaps in the subsequent record of bows and arrows imply the morphological transformation attributed to this cultural stage could happen only much later in Neanderthal territory:

In both the details of its dental and craniofacial size and form, Qafzeh is an unlikely proto-Cro-Magnon, but it makes a fine model for the ancestors of modern sub-Saharan Africans. Along with the microfauna at the Qafzeh site […], the human remains are best regarded as evidence for a temporary intrusion of African elements into the Middle East that had no direct long-term consequences. Indirectly, however, the adoptation of projectiles by their Neanderthal contemporaries – whether at that time, or earlier – led to those selective forces changes that produced the transformation of Neanderthal to “modern” post-cranial form. After another 50,000 years, Cro-Magnon was just what one would expect to see, but as the result of a transformation from a Neanderthal ancestor and not one that looked like Qafzeh (Brace, 1996)

To deny the effects epigenetic change, gene flow, shared evolution, and hybridization on a global scale would imply the crazy scenario of a virtually continuous process of global replacements, one after the other. However, evidence for a rich variety of processes emerged at unexpected places such as the divergent remains found in China’s famous Zhoukoudian cave complex:

Zhoukoudian (Dragon Bone Hill), located 50 km southwest of Beijing, China, is made up of a series of limestone cave sites that were discovered and excavated beginning in the early twentieth century
Perhaps the second-most-recognized site is Zhoukoudian Upper Cave (ZKD UC), discovered in 1930 during fieldwork at Locality 1 and excavated in 1933 and 1934 (Pei 1934, 1939). ZKD UC is best known for the human fossils it contained; those remains purportedly were in cave sediments as a result of deliberate burial. The three human crania (UC 101, 102, and 103) have been used either to strengthen or to weaken the regional-continuity model in East Asia (Norton & Gao, 2008)

Unfortunately these finds were lost amidst Japanese military aggression during world war II, except for Weidenreich’s plaster casts and supporting materials that could be salvaged. Over time dismissed as an as yet undifferentiated and variable early modern human population that expanded across Eurasia in the Late Pleistocene, the sequenced paleogenes of a subsequent much older find nearby in Tianyuan Cave, sometimes referred at as Zhoukoudian Locality 27, contradicted this view by already revealing Asiatic divergence from the ancestors of modern Europeans. Now Weidenreich’s earlier conclusion ‘that the Upper Cave group was a highly heterogeneous “proto-Mongoloid” population’ could thus be confirmed, his observation these finds were ‘not particularly similar to later East Asian groups’ remains difficult to conciliate with ‘normal’ early variability. What ‘proto-‘ or ‘paleo-Mongoloids’ could mean anyway, if inclusive Native Americans now emerge as a hybrid population between fully non-Mongoloid Eurasians represented by the Mal’ta boy, and a fully Mongoloid East Asian population?

AMH sites in eastern Asia

Red dots mark the sites of quite heterogeneous modern human remains in eastern Asia: Mal’ta, Zhoukoudian Upper Cave, Minatogawa and Liujiang. The demise of the single origin doctrine now implies their phylogenetic usefulness.

Indeed, the recent discovery that also archaic hominines contributed to modern populations rendered the doctrine of early modern human uniformity obsolete, even counterproductive. Possible archaic features are no longer necessarily shared on a global scale, but instead became more easily recognized as an indication of archaic introgression and regionality. Far from being the result of local drift where members of a single stock entered Eurasia to evolve naturally into different phenotypes, the true source of some outstanding features may now be sought much deeper in local admixture or even hybridization events. Indeed, the scenario of heavy population movements in northern Eurasia must have had a profound influence on the contemporaneous racial composition as far as the Zhoukoudian Upper Cave (UC). Apparent “Cromagnoid” – or European early modern humans (EEMHs) – features are about to regain their phylogenetic usefullness now even the slightest differences may violate the concept of a single origin. E.g., the low and rectangular orbits of the Old Man of Upper Cave 101 (UC 101) are not unlike the European Cro Magnon 1 skull that is about the age of Mal’ta boy. In general UC 101’s ‘Ainu’ characteristics ‘may be extended to the entire Ice Age population of Northern Eurasia’ (Dolukhanov, 2003). A more extensive comparative list of ‘early traits’ based on PC analysis:

Archaic specimens score high on PC 2, which reflects supero–inferiorly tall, anteriorly projecting faces, retreating frontal squama, heavy browridges with projecting glabella, and narrow, sagittally rotated zygomatic regions. Modern specimens score low on this axis, reflecting supero–inferiorly short faces, with light browridges and a flatter glabella, steeply rising frontal squama, and broader, coronally rotated zygomatics. Both Upper Cave specimens fall well within the range of modern human variation along this axis, showing similar scores to most Upper Paleolithic Europeans. (Harvati 2009)

Kamminga (1992) argued UC 101 to be distinct from the “modern Mongoloid morphology” and to be relatively close to that of the ‘Japanese’ Ainu – generally considered physically closer to Caucasians. Ainu have their hypothesized origin in 22,000 BP Hokkaido human occupation that was culturally linked to the Mal’ta culture, now revealed to have essentially west-Eurasian roots. This apparent ancient “European” signature of Ainu has by now been obfuscated by contact and “more recent” expansions of East Asians – actually a new brand of hybrids. Al least their ‘Jomonese’ ancestors in Japan showed closer affinity with the skeletons excavated from Lagoa Santa, Brazil, than the Ainu, so the genetic resemblance of Tianyuan with the South American ‘Kiritiana’ reference sample being closer than with East Asians isn’t an isolated phenomenon. The Lagoa Santa people in Brazil most likely gives us an impression of how this ancient signature once looked like – probably slightly more Cromagnoid (“Western”) than Tianyuan. Though the Ainu affinity of the prehistoric Jomon may be deceiving and doesn’t automatically imply a West-Eurasian affinity of the Jomon as well.
The older Minatogawa skeleton no I (male) of Okinawa, dated 16,600-18,250 BP, ‘has a lower, wider and longer face than in recent males. The orbital openings are low and their superior margins are straight. In contrast, in recent orbits the openings are high and the margins are round’ (Baba, 1991). However, despite these “Western” features this fossil may easily be recognized as Mongoloid since, not unlike UC 103, Liujiang, and Jomon, its zygomatic bones are situated anterolaterally and face anteriorly. Actually, it exhibits ‘morphological features slightly closer to the Wadjak 1 skull in Java than to the Zhoukoudian Upper Cave and Liujiang skulls in China. This suggests that there were no major human migrations between China and Japanese Islands in Late Pleistocene’ (Baba e al., 1998).
The occipital bun, as attested in Neandertals and more or less present in all UC skulls, Liujiang and even Wadjak, are not developed in Minatogawa, Jomon or a reference sample of recent Japanese skulls. An apparent lack of Neanderthal features is compensated by archaic traits that rather reminds to Homo Erectus: Minatogawa’s temporal fossa being comparable to those of archaic Homo sapiens and Homo erectus, but missing in Jomon and recent skulls; a thick vault wall and small cranial capacity; a frontal bone like Wadjak 1, even smaller than Liujiang. Its anterior development type of masticatory muscles ‘is usually seen in Northeast Asians and, in extreme degree, in Australopithecus boisei’. Wedge shaped nasal bones, wider on top, that link P. boisoi, Australopithecus afarensis and Homo, are narrow in P. boisei and the Herto, but wide in the unique Neanderthal nose, with especially Cro Magnon approaching this condition (Aiello & Dean, 2002). Narrow nasal bones are prevalent in Minatogawa, but rare in Jomon skulls, thus, by the exclusion of other players of the kind, eventually betraying Neanderthal influences only in northern Japan.
The original contention that a more archaic Minatogawa must have been ancestral to Jomon was nuanced by strong evidence of long term influences from the Lower Amur region, in the prehistoric Jomon attested by their genetic ties with Udegey people and in their Ainu descendents by their cultural orientation with Okhotsk people, that themselves ‘are closely related to modern populations distributed around the Sakhalin and downstream of the Amur River as well as to the Ainu people of Hokkaido.’ Since ‘the Okhotsk people were an intermediate in the gene flow from the Nivkhi to the Ainu’ while much of the remainder was genetically unique (Sato et al., 2007), their diverging phenotype (high and round neurocranium, large mandible, flat face, and extremely shallow canine fossa, that all apparently links closer to Eskimo than Aleut) may have been acquired more recently. Instead, according to Adachi et al. (2009), the Udegey influence represents a closer tie of Jomon with Native Americans. Apparently the Lower Amur region once represented a hybrid zone in transition where influences that relate to both Mal’ta and East Asia, met. Hence, Minatogawa and even Jomon may have been much closer to the northeastern Asian prototype than Ainu, whose actual habitat may now rather be characterized as a refuge that only in time acquired a more West-Eurasian paleolithic signature.
In summary, the apparently prolonged western influx remains difficult to correlate with typical East Asian features, that thus must have another source. Dwindling west-Eurasian influences in East Asia may be identified and coexisted with a certain generalized Cromagnoid basal morphology like in Minatogawa that had already evolved, though in conjunction with some retention of robust Homo Erectus features that apparently exceed the basal features of western Cro Magnon.
The hybrid character of early East Asians implies the ultimate dominance of only a subset of the mixed population to be the ultimate source of mongoloid traits: ‘Thoma (1964) concluded that the facial projection in Upper Cave 101 and 102 indicates their close relation to the Eastern Neandertals’, while only Upper Cave 103 was ‘already in possession of a fully developed flat Asian face’ (Baba, 1998). In a way even “Tianyuan 1” could be interpreted as ‘west-Eurasian’ for ‘several features that place it close to the late archaic humans (represented primarily by the Neandertals) or between them and EMHs’ (Shang et al., 2007). This is not unlike the Inner Mongolian Ordos Man of the Salawusu site, dated between 50,000 and 37,000, for which Shang et al. (2006) ‘arrived at a preliminary conclusion that this Salawusu scapula is characterized by modern features of Upper Pleistocene humans mixed with a Neanderthal-like feature.’
Prüfer et al. (2013) showed ‘that hominine groups met and had offspring on many occasions in the Late Pleistocene, but that the extent of gene flow between the groups was generally low’, implying paleogenetic reminiscence may indeed be wielded as a valid tool to trace ancient gene flow. Even the earliest attestations of Neanderthal traits in East Asia can’t be separated from the attestation of modern human anatomy. Prüfer’s team asserted that ‘the Neanderthal-derived DNA in all non-Africans is more closely related to the Mezmaiskaya Neanderthal from the Caucasus than it is to either the Neanderthal from Siberia […] or to the Vindija Neanderthals from Croatia’, though broader Neanderthal influences from further west or east may be at play in East Asia. Living Native Americans and many East Asians often share e.g. facial skeleton features with Neanderthal, characterized by great facial height and high orbits. This feature already diminishes considerably in southern China and further down, suggesting Neanderthal traits are a variable constituent element of modern East Asian morphology that may have entered the region from the north together with already hybridized populations similar to the Mal’ta-like West-Eurasian source population. Large faced individuals are currently not uncommon in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Near East, also corroborating a broader western link. However, Thoma’s assertion above about eastern Neanderthal influences is consistent with the Altai specimen, whose DNA was found closely tied with Denisovan introgression:

In the Sardinian and French genomes from Europe we find genomic regions of Neanderthal origin and few or no regions of Denisovan origin. In contrast, in the Han Chinese, the Dai in southern China, and the Karitiana and Mixe in the Americas, we find, in addition to regions of Neanderthal origin, regions that are consistent with being of Denisovan origin
We find that Denisovan heterozygosity is increased in regions where the Neanderthal and one Denisovan allele are close, indicating that gene flow from Neanderthals into Denisovans occurred, and estimate that a minimum of 0.5% of the Denisovan genome was contributed by Neanderthals. The Denisovan genome shares more derived alleles with the Altai Neanderthal genome than with the Croatian or Caucasus Neanderthal genomes […], suggesting that the gene flow into Denisovans came from a Neanderthal population more related to the Altai Neanderthal than to the other two Neanderthals. (Prüfer et al., 2013)

Prüfer et al’s ‘failure to detect any larger Denisovan contribution in the genome of a 40,000-year-old modern human from the Beijing area suggests that any Denisovan contribution to modern humans in mainland Asia was always quantitatively small.’ Hence, direct Denisovan influence in East Asians is out of the question. Prüfer’s team estimated ‘that the Denisovan contribution to mainland Asian and Native American populations is ~0.2% and thus about 25 times smaller than the Denisovan contribution to populations in Papua New Guinea and Australia’. Neither the archaic element in Denisovans arrived directly in East Asian and Oceanic populations. While ‘the split time between the introgressing Denisovan and the Denisovan genome to 276,000–403,000 years ago […] is consistent with the Denisovan population being larger, more diverse and/or more subdivided than Neanderthal populations, and with the idea that Denisovans may have populated a wide geographical area’, the archaic component in the genomes of people in Papua New Guinea and Australia attests introgression ‘from a group related to the Denisovans and not from an unknown archaic hominine’ (Prüfer et al., 2013).
The lack of any close affinity to East Asians in the Amerindian boy of the paleolithic Mal’ta culture came as a surprise, since the East Asian component is strong among Native Americans. It was estimated ‘that 14 to 38% of Native American ancestry may originate through gene flow from this ancient population’ of West-Eurasian ancestry, allocating all the rest to East Asian ancestry (Raghavan et al., 2013). The transition of Native American ancestors to the current mixture must have happened somewhere else and, except for the most audacious time lines of early American habitation, considerably later. Current homogeneity of Native Americans in their constituent components doesn’t allow much room for speculation on the arrival of unmixed groups. On the other hand, early Native American skeletons suggest considerable shared drift and morphological change in the Americas. This implies possible unmixed groups of West-Eurasian ancestry must have been quickly absorbed by other groups, while the current absence of barely mixed groups of East Asian ancestry suggests such ancestral groups were extremely rare or non-existent in the Americas. Indeed, much of the ‘admixture event occurred prior to the first migration into Beringia and the Americas’ (Rasmussen et al., 2014), possibly somewhere in northeast Asia. Evidence in China’s Dragon Bone Hill suggests admixture was a common East Asian phenomenon. But Mal’ta boy doesn’t attest participation in this process. Hence it may be deduced that gene flow was originally unidirectional into East Asia. Indeed, the apparent absence of an East Asian component in Mal’ta boy wouldn’t contradict East Asian affinities only if modern East Asians were Mal’ta-admixed hybrids. This could be confirmed by ample evidence of West-Eurasian similarities in the region. Apparently, due to the observed importance of hybridization events for the advent of ‘modernity’ we may now insist on migrational answers for the close Upper Paleolithic link between Chinese Upper Cave finds (and some others) and early modern European samples – the latter including Gravettian-era finds:

Particularly striking is the finding that, out of a large sample of modern human specimens, UC 101 was closest neighbor in the shape of its vault (as measured by Procrustes distance) to Predmostí 3, while UC 103 was nearest to Mladec 1 in the shape of its face.
The present analyses also fail to reveal strong affinities between the UC specimens and any of the recent human samples measured.
The Upper Cave specimens also do not show particular resemblances to archaic human fossils
The most recent assessment of the Upper Cave non-metric morphology (Liu et al., 2006) used twelve East Asian non-metric traits and showed that the three most complete crania (UC 101, 102, and 103) differ from Holocene East Asians in the expression of eight of these features. (Harvati, 2009)

Obviously, Harvati was not focused on finding regional influences. After all, her research was named one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of the year 2007 by TIME magazine for demonstrating the African origin of all modern humans, thus apparently rewarding also her agility to dismiss compelling counter-evidence. She only brought forward morphological affinities of Zhoukoudian with the early modern humans of the European Upper Paleolithic to prove the existence of ancestral morphological retentions that she considered the exclusive heritage of a single hominine lineage. In this process, evidence of true cross-continental affinities that might reveal the geographic history of the initial AMH dispersal event, were systematically defused. Nevertheless, she couldn’t but confirm some striking individual AMH similarities:

It is interesting to note that, in their recent publication of the early modern human remains from Tianyan cave, Zhoukoudian, Shang et al. (2007) reported a close resemblance in the dental morphology of this specimen with that of Upper Paleolithic specimens from Arene Candide, Dolní Vestonice, and Mladec, a result very similar to the one reported here. (Harvati, 2009)

True to her obsolete stance Harvati likewise dismissed these even earlier “archaic”-like traits of Tianyuan as ‘retentions of ancestral modern human morphology, rather than the result of admixture with local archaic populations.’
So retentions, more specifically, most probably of west-Eurasian immigrants? And what about the differences? Even the high level of morphological heterogeneity in the UC sample doesn’t fit in with the homozygousity commonly observed in archaic samples, including in the Denisovan individuals whose hybridization with Neanderthal and more archaic hominines has nevertheless been attested. Massive regional continuity of a locally dominant population may be difficult to uphold, though introgression into AMH immigrants of some archaic traits that may count as ‘Asiatic’ by hybridization certainly is a feasible option. Some degree of genetic affinity between Tianyuan and Han, albeit hardly tremendous, has been attested, while three out of eight dental features that according to Turner (1990) ‘have higher frequencies and pronounced expressions in modern East Asian Sinodont populations’ (Liu et al., 2009), ie. shovel-shaped incisors, double shovel-shaped upper central incisors, and enamel extension of the upper molars, were identified in the Late Pleistocene but otherwise poorly dated Huanglong Cave human teeth in northern Central China. It can’t be ruled out some typical modern East Asian features are a more recent development. One stems from an adaptive variant of the human Ectodysplasin receptor, EDARV370A (370A): increased hair thickness, an increased number of active eccrine glands, reduced mammary fat pad size, and increased mammary gland branch density. This gene has not been attested yet in paleolithic samples, but haplotype analysis ‘supports a single origin of the derived allele […], with the mutation lying on a unique, nearly unbroken haplotype extending more than 100 kb among both East Asians and Native Americans’. The selective coefficient of the 370A allele ‘is one of the highest measured in human populations’ and it’s origin based on allele frequencies converges towards ‘central China more than 30,000 years BP’ (Kamberov et al., 2013).
Though the effects of homozygousity are not verifiable on mice, the dental patterns due to 370A result enhanced in the sinodont phenotype. A less outspoken variety can be found in a nowadays more southern sundadont phenotype:

Turner (1979, 1985, 1986a,b, 1987, 1989a, 1990a,b, 1992) has proposed an alternative view, by which typical Mongoloids are derived from the more generalized Southeast Asian populations. Turner identified a dental morphological complex (sundadonty) that characterizes prehistoric and recent Southeast Asian populations (including southern China). This dental pattern, characterized by a relatively generalized morphology, with low frequencies of incisor shoveling, doubleshoveling, lower first molar cusp 6, lower second molar cusp 5 and 3-rooted first molars, is observed in Southeast Asian crania from the late Pleistocene. Turner also recognizes an intensified expression of this dental complex, typical of Eastern and Northeastern Asian populations and Amerindians, which he named sinodonty. (Lahr, 2005)

Sundadonty, more current in ancient populations, is often taken for granted as ancestral to sinodonty, though the opposite may be the case if sundadont attenuation could be attributed to heterozygousity. Indeed, AMH introgression is likely to have diluted most archaic genes, but not the hybrid genes that became fixed in the East Asian type. Unfortunately, the genetic background of sundadonty still awaits deeper analysis and may be independent from sinodonty, what may extend the genetic survival of an archaic source population to a much wider region. However, any introgression of the particular EDAR haplotype must have been a onetime event, at such an early stage that it could participate in some of the earlier important AMH expansions. The origin puzzle is complicated, since the selective advantage of EDAR370A is often attributed to more abundant sweat glands, rather typical of warmer, more southern climates. This kind of details seems to confirm the more southern origin of some important mongoloid characteristics, what in the case of 370A can’t have been much further south than southern China – thus neatly confirming the existence of an expansion node from southern China.
Interesting is that ‘Habgood […] detected resemblances between UC 101 and the Wadjak individuals, UC 102 and the Southwest Asian specimen Hotu 2, and between UC 103 and Liujian’ (Harvati, 2009). Would the apparent affinity of UC 101 and UC 103 to Gravettian specimens in west Eurasia imply this phenotype was already seeded within a southern Chinese expansion node? At least the ~10kya old Wadjak individual could be explained by the proposal of an Upper Paleolithic expansion from southern China, and so could UC 101 and UC 103. However, the southwestern Asiatic Hoto 2 individual was too far out of range and suffered poor dating conditions, while Liujian is too old for being implied in the same expansion.
The modern traits of the Liujian remains, found in a cave southwest of Luizhou, Guangxi, in southern China, most likely predated all other attestations of Eurasian modernity and hence has been cited as an important argument for continuity in the human evolutionary sequence of China.

The orbital index of the Liujiang Upper Paleolithic skull found in China is also rather low (68.7) and the orbits of this specimen are also rectangular in shape. Chinese Mesolithic (Djalainor found in Inner Mongolia) and Neolithic (as from Baoji, Shaanxi) skulls have orbital indices (77.5 and 77.3) for Djalainor, 78.0 for the Baoji specimens) intermediate between Chinese Paleolithic and modern populations. These data indicate a transitional development of the orbital index from Upper Cave through modern Chinese. Besides, although Melanesians have lower orbits compared with other modern populations, their average orbital index is still higher than Upper Cave no. 102 (73.3)
Weidenreich mentioned many characters of no. 102 as evidence for attributing it to the Melanesoid type (Wolpoff et al., 1984)

Conceivably, the Upper Cave finds represents close affinity with southern China and consists of hybrids already on their way up north to people, or conquer, the north Eurasian expanse and the Americas – that may or may not have been already occupied by small groups of derived West-Eurasian signature. These hybrids, beside probably carrying immigrant Neanderthal and admixed northern and southern Chinese archaic elements, were also subject to UC 102’s resemblances with ancient populations that encompass the extreme west and east of southern Asia. This wider affinity may reflect the lower distances between French and Dai, except that not any upper paleolithic culture has been identified to cover such a wide area, and certainly none was included in the Gravettian complex to understand the French-Dai affinity. There is no way the southern Chinese region could be posited as a diverged endpoint within the non-African pool of closely related Homo Sapiens. Overlap of this area of Dai affinity with the supposed center of basal European populations in the Near East rather insinuates a much older origin. So far the fossils ‘indicate that the appearance of modern human biology in portions of western and eastern Eurasia occurred in the early Late Pleistocene, long before the appearance of Upper Paleolithic (sensu lato) behavioral complexes’ (Liu et al., 2010). Shen et al. (2002) suggested ‘a possible coexistence in China of two distinct hominid populations or species in the late Middle Pleistocene or early Late Pleistocene.’ This suggests the southern Chinese expansion node deducted from the genetic studies on Tianyuan Man and Mal’ta boy, must have been preceded by a long local history of ‘modernity’ of humans whose cultural stage has yet been distinguished from their archaic neighbours.
East Asia was definitely an early stage for modernity ‘experiments’. Shen et al. (2013) even ‘[…] envisage southern and central China as a new hotspot for studying the origin of AMH.’
Thorough examination of the available genetic data now requires evidence that the neighbourhood of southern China was an important cradle of modern human culture and anatomy. But strange enough, from an Out of Africa perspective the identification and dating of East Asian early AMH fossils traditionally suffer disproportional doubt compared with the few African early AMH fossils dated older. These finds, however, are “modern” in only certain anatomical features. Fossils of an ‘African Transitional Group’ are considered old enough for their modern traits to be presumed ‘ancestral’, but are they really older than China? Ethiopia’s Omo I and the much more archaic Omo II hominid fossils are considered the oldest anatomically modern humans in the world, being indirectly dated at ~195 kyr BP by McDougall et al. (2005). Despite their morphological differences, both are derived from comparable stratigraphic levels within Member I of the Kibish Formation. Omo II was a surface find without stratigraphic context, but assumed from the same level as Omo I. Butzer et al. reported a Th230/U234 date of ~130 on Etheria (bivalve sweet water molluscs) from essentially the same level as the Omo I hominid, albeit at 50% probability (Habgood), while McDougall (2005) retrieved an Ar40/Ar30 date from alkali feldspars separated from pumice clasts from impure tuffs 4.6 m below the levels from which both fossils were derived. It was noted that dating molluscs may be ‘unreliable’, but impure tuffs in a fluvial contexts may have been transported from elsewhere, likewise casting some doubt on McDougall’s result. Using samples above this levels, it could be confirmed the fossils were older than 104 kyr. So indeed, the Omo finds were older than an apparent AMH mandibular fragment from Zhirendong, southern China (dated >100 ka), but it can’t be excluded they might have been younger than Liujiang (~153 ka, Shen 2007) and its African contemporary Homo sapiens idaltu (Herto Man, ~160 ka).
Younger dates for the oldest African fossils that were transitional to modern human anatomy could help to solve the ever increasing problem of a would be plesiomorph mosaic of modern traits in more recents fossils. But not quite! In Africa, the problem already starts with Omo II: though considered ‘transitional’, it was much more archaic than its Omo I contemporary and thus in a way ‘already’ anachronistic. In a 1982 analysis (Day & Stringer) it clustered with archaics like Ngandong (Solo Man, Indonesia) and Kabwe (Rhodesian man), and with Omo I albeit not to other modern humans. Other examples include archaic hominines with modern traits that were dated too recently to be possibly ancestral on a straight evolutionary line: Dar-es-Soltane and Témara were associated with the Aterian lithic assemblage, elsewhere in Morocco dated between ~107-96 ka; the Klasies River Mouth remains are dated >101 ka and >64–104 ka; Nazlet Khater 2 was below 42 ka; and Hofmeyr, that despite archaic features shows a strong affinity with Eurasian Cromagnoids, was dated ~36 ka. Only remains from Iwo Eleru (Nigeria) were ‘clearly of similar age to the Chinese remains’ being dated ~16.3-11.7 ka (Curnoe et al., 2012), and still ‘morphology intermediate in shape between archaic hominines (Neanderthals and Homo erectus) and modern humans’, what triggered the conclusion that ‘the transition to anatomical modernity in Africa was more complicated than previously thought, with late survival of ‘archaic’ features and possibly deep population substructure in Africa during this time’ (Harvati et al., 2011). Indeed, an important argument against a single origin of modern humans was precisely that ‘the evolutionary continuity proposed for Africa is based on phenetic, not cladistic, evidence’ (Smith, 1989). For sure, freed from the narrow doctrine of the Recent Out of Africa Hypothesis (ROAH), only thorough and progressive hybridization processes, anywhere and anytime, could explain the mosaic, anachronistic course of this transition.
A complex evolutionary history also applies for East Asians. This may especially be illustrated by the skeleton remains of Longlin Cave (Guangxi Province) and Maludong (Yunnan Province), that all span the Pleistocene-Holocene transition between ~14.3 – 11.5 ka. They ‘share no particular affinity with either Pleistocene East Asians, such as Liujiang or Upper Cave 101, or recent East Asians’, while still ‘at the edge of variation within Pleistocene H. sapiens, and in some analyses, on the edge also of H. erectus variability’. Contrary to the much older human remains from Zhirendong, more pronounced still in Minatogawa, Moh Khiew, Tianyuan, and Zhoukoudian-Upper Cave, specimens LL 1 (Longlin) and MLDG 1706 (Maludong) ‘lack a vertical keel and lateral tubercles, features which form the major components of the modern human ‘inverted-T’ form chin’. To find human remains that display ‘such a combination of modern (H. sapiens) and archaic (putative plesiomorphic) characters is unusual, especially in Eurasia’ and most of them are much older (Curnoe et al., 2012).

Based on the continuity and gene flow between China and the West, human evolution in China can best be characterized as Continuity with Hybridization
Hybridization or interbreeding reduced the degree of isolation between different populations and maintained the unity of humankind in one species without speciation after going through a rather long process of evolution.
Gene flow became a more potent force in later periods such as the Late Pleistocene and Holocene, thus diminishing the differences between the human populations of China and those westward. (Wu et al., 2004

Evidence of gene flow from the west include ‘the protruding nasal saddle of skull No. 2 from Yunxian and skull No. 1 from Tangshan, Nanjing (Wu et al., 2002), the circular orbit and sharp inferolateral orbital margin of the skull from Maba, the surface bulge between the piriform aperture and orbit in the skull from Dali and skull No. 1 of Nanjing, the chignon-like structure in the occipital region of skulls from Ziyang, Liujiang and Lijiang, and the more lateralward orientation of the anterolateral surface of the frontosphenoidal process of the zygomatic bone in the skull of Upper Cave No. 102. In the Pleistocene, all of these features were rarely seen in China, but were more often shown in Africa and Europe, especially in the Neanderthal lineage’ (Wu, 2004)
In general, modern traits in East Asian fossils are much at risk to be discarded as recent plesiomorphisms. The oldest modern human in East Asia remains the Liujiang skeleton, though ‘its estimated age lies within the broad range of >153-30 ka; the Upper Cave remains have ‘estimates ranging from ~33-10 ka’; and despite some modern characteristics, the taxonomical status of the hominin metatarsal of Callao Cave, Luzon, Philippines, dated ~66.7 ka, and also the mandibular fragment from Zhirendong, Southern China, reliably dated on stratigraphic grounds to >100 ka, didn’t receive universal recognition (Curnoe et al., 2012).
The Callao matatarsal’s gracile structure clusters ‘close to that observed in other small-bodied Homo Sapiens’, such as the small-sized and slightly built ‘Negritos’, modern humans also ‘inhabiting regions of Luzon Island close to where Callao Cave is located’. Its location already ‘demonstrates the abilities of humans to make open ocean crossings in the Late Pleistocene’ even though it ‘also falls within the morphological and size ranges of Homo habilis and H. floresiensis (Mijares et al., 2010). But gracile humans like LM3 (40 +/- 2 kyr ago, Bowler et al., 2002) were also ‘present at Lake Mungo by 50–46 kyr ago, synchronously with, or soon after, initial occupation of northern and western Australia’ (Bowler et al., 2002), that ‘arrived in Australia well before robust morphology’ (Adcock et al., 2001). But even well isolated from human migrations ‘down under’ the morphological changes towards modernity were enormous:

The morphologies of the more robust ancient individuals are outside the range of living indigenous Australians, but unlike the situation in Europe, there is a consensus that all prehistoric Australian human remains represent part of the ancestry of living Aboriginal Australians.

Nevertheless, ‘the closest approximations among modern [pleistocene] individuals to the overall morphology, size and facial robusticity are found in some Australian and Oceanic individuals, although these are also clearly distinct from the Herto hominids’ (White et al., 2003). Even the ‘plesiomorph’ phenotype of Iwo Eleru in West Africa, though apparently distinct from recent African groups, has its nearest recent human neighbor in an Australian female (Harvati et al., 2011). Australia thus preserves some interesting retentions that could easily pass for reminiscent of huge migrations that originated from the Oceanic region – except for being attested subject to intense hybridization more than anywhere else, with Neanderthal and especially Denisovan DNA:

Aboriginal Australians, Near Oceanians, Polynesians, Fijians, east Indonesians, and Mamanwa (a “Negrito” group from the Philippines) have all inherited genetic material from Denisovans, but mainland East Asians, western Indonesians, Jehai (a Negrito group from Malaysia), and Onge (a Negrito group from the Andaman Islands) have not. (Reich et al., 2011)

Any hope on a clear difference between ‘transitional AMH’ and ‘plesiomorph archaic’ may be the phantom of a single origin illusion altogether. Even the Herto hominids were ‘morphologically and chronologically intermediate between archaic African fossils and later anatomically modern Late Pleistocene humans’ for no more than just a few traits. Apparently derived from ‘H. rhodesiensis’ (Bodo, Kabwe), ‘many morphological features shared by the Herto crania and AMHS, to the exclusion of penecontemporanous Neanderthals, provide additional fossil data excluding Neanderthals from a significant contribution to the ancestry of modern humans’ (White et al., 2003). Unfortunately, this exclusion was predominantly inspired by Herto itself and doesn’t involve the more recent hybrid lineages that dominate the early non-African habitat.
There is no secure way to design a cladistic divide that with any certainty could keep away archaic humans from the ancestral modern humans ‘on their way to being modern’. However, this doesn’t preclude the emergence and diffusion of modern traits in a scenario that involves hybrid-driven, non-cladistic mosaic evolution. Modernity was never secluded within a single branch of humans. Wolpoff felt ‘this quest for the beginnings of modernity is doomed to failure; we are seeking something that doesn’t exist.’ Finally it’s time ‘to stop talking about ‘anatomically modern humans’ for the same reasons that we don’t talk about ‘anatomically modern elephants’.’ (Wolpoff, 1996).
The non-African network of genetically closely related modern humans and their hybrid identity attest significant levels of gene flow that are in stark contrast with the African situation. In Africa, ‘the amount of allele frequency change (genetic drift) that has occurred in present-day Africans since the split from Neanderthals is too small to explain the extent of sharing of derived alleles fixed in Africans’ (Prüfer et al., 2013). But gene flow of modern African ancestors to Neanderthals after their split from Denisovans and vice versa can’t explain the sharing of derived alleles fixed in Africans without much drift. Also in Fu’s table Africans remained heterogeneous, indicating African drift was too low to unify divergent hominines as much as elsewhere. Still, current heterogeneity can’t be fully attributed to a lack of African gene flow, since ‘admixture is identified in all sub-Saharan African groups’ (Hellenthal et al., 2014). This raises several questions on the African gap in relatedness with non-Africans. Comparing the divergence of Neanderthals and Denisovans, that should share equal proportions of derived alleles with Africans since both are thought to have split off from African hominines contemporaneously, it turned out that African genes are shared considerably more with Neanderthal. This is especially true for genes that are fixed in Africans, hence can’t be explained by the mechanism of gene flow, that should predominately contribute alleles at low frequency:

one might expect present-day Africans to share equal proportions of derived alleles with these two archaic groups. However, we find that African genomes share about 7% more derived alleles with the Neanderthal genome than with the Denisova genome […] and that this is particularly the case for derived alleles that are fixed in Africans, of which 13–16% more are shared with the Neanderthal than with the Denisovan genome (Prüfer et al., 2013)

The apparent Homo Erectus contribution to Denisovans was hailed to support this feature at least partially, though its significance remains in contradiction with the non-African pattern of gene flow, where the lack of regions of Denisovan origin in Sardinian and French genomes didn’t compromise their exceptionally low genetic distances with other non-Africans. It may be inferred from this data that a separate modern human component closer to Neanderthal affected the fixed alleles of the genome of Africans, albeit to a lesser degree than in non-Africans. Instead, the well-known genetic dichotomy between Africans and non-Africans may have an equally separate origin:

Recent research has provided increasing support for the origins of anatomically and genetically ‘modern’ human populations in Africa between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago […]. However, the central question of why it took these populations 100,000 years to disperse from Africa to other regions of the world has never been clearly resolved. Mellars (2006)

Fu’s table indeed seems to reflect this 100,000 year gap, since Africans appear too divergent from Eurasian populations to be recognized as “basal” or “conservative” with respect to the apparent Cromagnoid expansions at issue. So far the origin of Cro Magnon lacks a consistent picture altogether: they suddenly dominate Eurasia in the earliest Upper Paleolithic, while in Africa there is a dearth of Cromagnoid finds of this same period. Just the Hofmayr skull in South Africa could be considered closely related to the Eurasian AMH specimen, though more recent African phenotypes strongly diverge what indeed seems to confirm the genetic gap.
While the origin of modernity apparently involved a global tendency that is difficult to pinpoint to a single location, this only applies partially for the subsequent swift global expansions of modernity. In fact, several non-African elements have been highlighted as pivotal to the current non-African distribution of humanity. Independent of their ultimate origin, where Africa is most often considered, these expansions also affected Africa. As a matter of fact, Y chromosome evidence has often cited as evidence for important back-migrations into Africa: only a minority of African YDNA belong to clades (YDNA A and YDNA B) whose African origin remains undisputed. Instead the non-African origin of the most abundant African clade, YDNA E, is nowadays widely accepted. This also has far-reaching consequences to the validity of the current mtDNA phylogeny.
The Lippold et al. (2014) investigation on the paternal and maternal demographic histories of humans results in the full mtDNA phylogeny as provided in their Supplementary Figure 14. Here, it could be observed that mtDNA L3 and mtDNA M emerge as members of a single subclade of mtDNA N. However, the approach is very global and I figure this could serve as a guideline to identify mutations with more security as ancestral or derived, since obviously the current tree is just a guess. The authors don’t comment on it, but taken ‘as is’ this new representation conflicts with several stem mutations of mtDNA that are not shared by most M and L3+ subclades. These could be solved by a thorough re-assessment of the ancestral state of each basepair. In other words, to apprehend the new phylogeny you should be prepared to consider the defining mutations of mtDNA N to be potentially ‘ancestral’, and those of L3+ and M all derived.
The arbitrarity of the current mtDNA phylogeny could be illustrated by Mal’ta boy’s A16399G mutation, while 16399G is ancestral in primates, Denisova, Sima and the Insert of chr.11. This ‘mutation’ is recurrent in L3, L4, M and P and defines U5a1 – the latter situation would thus require an intermediate flip in U to sustain the current mtDNA phylogeny.
In the current phylogeny, mtDNA N is defined by the mutations G8701A, C9540T, G10398A and C10873T, and the A15301G! back mutation.

  • All the sequences before the N* point have C10873T and C9540T. Since mtDNA N is older than M and L3, these may be back mutations on the stem downstream the L2’N trunk
  • Already in favor of the proposed ‘new phylogeny’ is the A15301G! back mutation in mtDNA N that is actually ancestral now we can compare the mtDNA reference sequence rCRS with the genomes of Sima/Denisova – what means ‘more basal’ than M and L3. Instead, G15301A may be proposed as an mutation (rather than back mutation) that potentially unites U5a2b4 and the subclade for L3+ and M
  • mtDNA N’s defining G8701A mutation also exists in L3e1c (found in South Africa and Oman). ‘Back mutations’ in N21, R0a2e, U5b3e may be interpreted in the new phylogeny as actually more basal within mtDNA N
  • mtDNA N’s defining G10398A mutation also exists in L3e1a3 (found in Chad and Syria). ‘Back mutations’ in N8, S3, Y, N1a’e’I, P4, R11, R12’21, R0a2k1 may be interpreted in the new phylogeny as actually more basal

Hence the point of divergence for L3+ and M may e.g. be imagined being after C10873T and C9540T, halfway N and nearest to L3e1c/L3eia3. Interesting is that, despite L3e’s current west-African connotation, the Near Eastern location of various branches of the L3e1 lineage have all appearance the subclade coalesced much more to the east very long ago.
Moreover, the whole N’L3’M branch is currently defined by A769G ‘mutation’ that is actually attested ancestral. This may be important to redefine the phylogeny of the remaining L-clades as well. Of L2’s defining mutations only C16311T may be presented as ‘inherited’ by N’L3’M. Indeed, only this single mutation separates a common L2’N’L3’M clade from the African lineages L0 and L1, commonly presented as ‘ancestral’ in the current phylogeny. I figure that for making an ever better mtDNA match with YDNA, Lippold et al. should rather have proposed the back migration of an entire Eurasian L2’N’L3’M-clade, analogous with the E clade of CFDE. Despite C16311T was also found in the very divergent mtDNA of Lake Mungo 3, Lippold’s team apparently probably scared away from such a revolutionary proposal. Alternately, the mitochondrial sequence of Lake Mungo 3 may be our best evidence of a much more varied Eurasian mtDNA palette in the distant past.
So what does this phylogeny actually change? Lippold’s team agrees that ‘[…] The age of the mtDNA ancestor is estimated to be about 160 thousand years (ky), and the ages of the non-African mtDNA lineages M and N are about 65-70 ky, in good agreement with previous estimates.’ But a non-African origin of virtually all non-African, and quite a bit of African mtDNA, comparable to the global populations history of YDNA, implies that even the Out of Africa model now has to deal more explicitly with this enormous gap of at least 100 ky wherein modernity developed further in Eurasia and came back to Africa. This gap between the African origin and global dispersal of modernity was previously attributed to stalling African impetus during this period. This unidirectional presumption may now be rejected.
Without any doubt the phenomenal success of modern morphology started with the Cromagnoid physique. It contrasted with most archaic hominines in generalized higher facial width-to-height ratios (fWHRs), normally explained as the morphological result of a changed brain. The pressures of growing brain tissues on the orbits may have prejudiced their vision. Would archaic hominines have looked upon their ‘modern’ kin as deformed creatures? Not necessarily. Several studies ‘support the idea that fWHR is a physical marker of dominance’ related with higher levels of testosterone that nowadays are often indicative of being ‘more aggressive, more powerful, and more financially successful’ (Valentine et al., 2014). Apparently, the ratio of facial width to upperfacial height (distance between upper lip and brow), ‘becomes larger in men after pubertal testosterone exposure.’ Correspondingly, women ‘perceived men with wide faces as dominant and were attracted to them for short-term relationships. The results complement and extend the large body of work on facial metrics and attraction, as well as recent work on mate choice in live-interaction mate-selection contexts, and highlight the importance of deducing why dominant men are alluring to women.’ (Valentine et al., 2014).

square jaws

Robust jaws of a wide face mimic the physiological effects of social success. However, this physical marker of dominance may also be acquired genetically. Early introgression from robust East Asian hominines may be an option.

Indeed, dominance is an important marker of success in hierarchic societies, readily enhanced by a physique of wide zygomatic bones (cheekbones) and a wide inferior maxillary bone (jawbone). Would these traits ever have been sexually alluring without such a modern association of social success? Why not, even the ‘modern’ projecting tuber symphyseos (marked chin), instead primarily the result of facial retraction, has a similar connotation. Modernity may thus simply be “also” the evolutionary result of the profound social changes and interhuman bonding that characterized the Upper Paleolithic transition. But increased fWHRs were already nascent in more robust archaic Asian lineages, that apparently inherited an adaptation to high chewing stress in hypothesized Proto-Asians like the Minatogawa 1 fossil. This trait also gave rise to a horizontally flatter face among Mongoloids, while flatter faces are also a feature of modern humans compared with their archaic predecessors. In a later stage, flat faced descendents in Northeast Asia adapted ‘to a cold environment, which resulted in further flattening of their faces in the horizontal plane.’ (Baba et al., 1998). Would modernizing hominines of this Asian build have had an edge above other early modern phenotypes? After all, their special proportions must have mimicked the physiological effects of social success already at an early stage. Square jaws were also a feature of another fossil in the wider region, H. floresiensis. This apparent robust heritage may imply East Asians to be involved in some of the most defining tendencies towards modernity, apparently derived from an early concept of social dominance, and the subsequent emergence of some idealized ‘flatter’ facial proportions that most modern humans have still in common.


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The Depletion Of Our Hybrid Neanderthal Heritage – Or Is It?

February 2, 2014 3 comments

Two competing papers that recently explored the possible genetic effects of Neanderthal-related hybridization, caught my attention. Loss of genetic integrity caused by a hybridization event may lead to rapid genetic changes within a species, what may have been an important agent for the rapid morphological changes associated with the advent of modern humans. However, true hybridization between species, or hybrid speciation, is a punctuated event often characterized by chromosome rearrangements. Both studies intend to describe hybrid-related gene-loss as an ongoing process. Instead, McVicker et al. (2009), referred to in both studies, declared ongoing ‘selection to remove less-fit functional variant from a population’ to the effect of varying sequence differences across the genome between species, not necessarily the result of hybridization.

Vernot & Akey – Resurrecting Surviving Neandertal Lineages from Modern Human Genomes, 2014 (Science)

Anatomically modern humans overlapped and mated with Neandertals such that non-African humans inherit ~1-3% of their genomes from Neandertal ancestors. We identified Neandertal lineages that persist in the DNA of modern humans, in whole-genome sequences from 379 European and 286 East Asian individuals, recovering over 15 Gb of introgressed sequence that spans ~20% of the Neandertal genome (FDR = 5%). Analyses of surviving archaic lineages suggests that there were fitness costs to hybridization, admixture occurred both before and subsequent to divergence of non-African modern humans, and Neandertals were a source of adaptive variation for loci involved in skin phenotypes. Our results provide a new avenue for paleogenomics studies, allowing substantial amounts of population-level DNA sequence information to be obtained from extinct groups even in the absence of fossilized remains.

Sankararaman – The genomic landscape of Neanderthal ancestry in present-day humans, 2014 (Nature)

Genomic studies have shown that Neanderthals interbred with modern humans,and that non-Africans today are the products of this mixture. The antiquity of Neanderthal gene flow into modern humans means that genomic regions that derive from Neanderthals in any one human today are usually less than a hundred kilobases in size. However, Neanderthal haplotypes are also distinctive enough that several studies have been able to detect Neanderthal ancestry at specific loci. We systematically infer Neanderthal haplotypes in the genomes of 1,004 present-day humans. Regions that harbour a high frequency of Neanderthal alleles are enriched for genes affecting keratin filaments, suggesting that Neanderthal alleles may have helped modern humans to adapt to non-African environments. We identify multiple Neanderthal-derived alleles that confer risk for disease, suggesting that Neanderthal alleles continue to shape human biology. An unexpected finding is that regions with reduced Neanderthal ancestry are enriched in genes, implying selection to remove genetic material derived from Neanderthals. Genes that are more highly expressed in testes than in any other tissue are especially reduced in Neanderthal ancestry, and there is an approximately fivefold reduction of Neanderthal ancestry on the X chromosome, which is known from studies of diverse species to be especially dense in male hybrid sterility genes. These results suggest that part of the explanation for genomic regions of reduced Neanderthal ancestry is Neanderthal alleles that caused decreased fertility in males when moved to a modern human genetic background.

In both studies, the identification of introgressed sequences is not exactly done by counting Neandertal-specific mutations. Instead, only a pre-selected set of candidate introgressed sequences, using patterns of variation in contemporary human populations by a method of Plagnol & Wall (2006), is compared to the Neanderthal reference genome. Logically, this involves predominantly ‘adaptive’ sequences, where strong selective forces are at work. Other studies (Hochreiter, Hawks) already attested a completely different picture when departing from Neanderthal-specific mutations eg. to characterize candidate haplotypes, even revealing up to 40% more Neanderthal specific haplotypes in Europe compared to Asia (explained in Rokus Blog: Expanding Hybrids And The Rise Of Our Genetic Common Denominator).
Vernot & Akey’s study compared the fixed differences between modern humans and Neanderthal for introgressed versus non-introgressed sequences, and arrived at 6.1X more fixed differences (FD) for non-introgressed sequences (17.3 vs. 2.8 FD/Mb). This value was claimed as uniform, while larger non-introgressed sequences having more fixed differences were considered significantly depleted of Neanderthal introgression.
Sankararaman (2014): ‘An unexpected finding is that regions with reduced Neanderthal ancestry are enriched in genes, implying selection to remove genetic material derived from Neanderthals.’. Moreover, there is ‘evidence for widespread negative selection against Neanderthal ancestry’ to the result that sequences having a higher density of ‘functionally important elements’ (low B) are ‘significantly correlated to low Neanderthal ancestry’. Since 20% of the genome where B is highest have about 1.54 x higher Neanderthal-like sequences, it could be deduced the portion of Neanderthal sequences on the modern human genome before the onset of this replacement process was ~3% against only ~2% nowadays. However, this does not explain the much higher estimate for Ötzi (5.5%), just a few thousand years ago.

This replacement process hit the X-chromosome harder than elsewhere on the genome, in the current papers dealing with this subject explained as a side-effect of hybridization. However, Vicoso (2006):‘Under some conditions, the X chromosome is expected to accumulate beneficial mutations at a faster rate than the autosomes’. This accumulation process effectively involves the replacement of proven, stable genes by non-deleterious mutated genes by positive selection. Wouldn’t this open the alternative possibility that replacement of conservative (defined ‘Neanderthal’) sequences by ones having a higher count of fixed differences, is just a normal evolutionary process? Instead, negative selection tends to keep the average number of fixed mutations of otherwise stable ‘original’ sequences low – at least until its successful replacement.

The gene content of X chromosomes is generally considered very stable, so large scale replacements should indicate important evolutionary shifts. The X chromosome is thought to preferentially accumulate genes with sex-biased fitness effects, and actually there isn’t any reason not to believe sex-biased fitness was quite important in post-Neanderthal populations. Moreover, nobody would deny the evolutionary shift was high since Neanderthal, and actually only accelerated since the Neolithic revolution.

Wouldn’t it be much more productive to find out where the successful sequences of higher fixed mutation counts are still coming from, and what ongoing genetic process might produce new sequences? The genetic laboratory for evolutionary change is still barely understood. Actually, variable haplotypes are most likely to originate in the copynumbers of duplicate sequences, where mutations are allowed without restriction or deleterious consequence. There is no way to tell apart breakaway mutated duplicates from a modern human genetic heritage whose unity and design we may only presume. Most of all, the Neanderthal genome may have offered a mechanism all of its own to engineer modern genetic replacements:

A comparison to any single present-day human genome reveals that 89% of the detected duplications are shared with Neandertals
We identified only three putative Neandertal-specific duplications with no evidence of duplication among humans or any other primate […] and none contained known genes. (Green et al., 2010)

I suggest the observed process of genetic replacement should first be verified with the Neanderthal duplicated potential before an ongoing removal of Neanderthal derived sequences in modern humans may be taken for granted.


  • Green et al. – A Draft Sequence of the Neandertal Genome, 2010, link
  • Hawks – Which population in the 1000 Genomes Project samples has the most Neandertal similarity?, Blog February 08, 2012, link
  • Hawks – Neandertal ancestry “Iced”, Blog August 15, 2012, link
  • McVicker et al. – Widespread Genomic Signatures of Natural Selection in Hominid Evolution, 2009, link
  • Plagnol & Wall -Possible ancestral structure in human populations, 2006, link
  • Sankararaman – The genomic landscape of Neanderthal ancestry in present-day humans, 2014, link
  • Vernot & Akey – Resurrecting Surviving Neandertal Lineages from Modern Human Genomes, 2014, link
  • Vicoso & Charlesworth – Evolution on the X chromosome: unusual patterns and processes, 2006, link