Scientists have successfully extracted DNA from an ancient skull dating back 4,500 years.

The DNA, which was taken from a skull discovered in the highlands of Ethiopia, has been compared to the genetic material of people living in Africa today. And the results suggest there was a huge wave of migration into Africa around 3,000 years ago from Europe and Asia.

The findings of the research, which was published in the journal Science, claims up to 25% of the DNA of people living in modern-day Africa can be traced back to this mass migration. By extracting ancient DNA from the skull, scientists at the University of Cambridge were able to build up a complete picture of a man who lived in Ethiopia 4,500 years ago.

In the past, it has been difficult to sequence ancient genomes from Africa as the DNA is often damaged or destroyed by the hot and humid climate. The human remains involved in this study were found in a cave and had remained in good condition.

The petrous bone, which is found just below the ear, was intact and the research team were able to use it to extract DNA and reconstruct the whole genome of the male hunter gatherer.

DNA testing reveals historic answers

Dr Andrea Manica, who led the study, said: “We have the complete blueprint, every single gene, every single bit of information that made this individual that lived 4,500 years ago in Ethiopia.”

The genome revealed that the Ethiopian had purely African DNA, suggesting his ancestors had never left the continent. By comparing this data with modern African genomes, scientists now believe there was an influx of Neolithic farmers from western Eurasia into Africa around 3,000 years ago.

Dr Manica said: “In Ethiopia, about 20% – so a fifth – of the genome of people living there right now is actually of Eurasian origin, it actually comes from these farmers. But it goes further than that, because if you go to the corners of Africa, all the way to West Africa or South Africa, even populations that we really thought were purely African have 5-6% of their genome that dates back to these western Eurasian farmers.”

DNA can give us a large amount of information about people, whether they lived a long time ago or today. If you have questions about your own family history or the paternity of a child then a simple DNA test may be able to give you the answers you are looking for.

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