The History of African Gene Flow into Southern Europeans, Levantines, and Jews
Previous genetic studies have suggested a history of sub-Saharan African gene flow into some West Eurasian populations after the initial dispersal out of Africa that occurred at least 45,000 years ago. However, there has been no accurate characterization of the proportion of mixture, or of its date. We analyze genome-wide polymorphism data from about 40 West Eurasian groups to show that almost all Southern Europeans have inherited 1%–3% African ancestry with an average mixture date of around 55 generations ago, consistent with North African gene flow at the end of the Roman Empire and subsequent Arab migrations. Levantine groups harbor 4%–15% African ancestry with an average mixture date of about 32 generations ago, consistent with close political, economic, and cultural links with Egypt in the late middle ages. We also detect 3%–5% sub-Saharan African ancestry in all eight of the diverse Jewish populations that we analyzed. For the Jewish admixture, we obtain an average estimated date of about 72 generations. This may reflect descent of these groups from a common ancestral population that already had some African ancestry prior to the Jewish Diasporas.
Southern Europeans and Middle Eastern populations are known to have inherited a small percentage of their genetic material from recent sub-Saharan African migrations, but there has been no estimate of the exact proportion of this gene flow, or of its date. Here, we apply genomic methods to show that the proportion of African ancestry in many Southern European groups is 1%–3%, in Middle Eastern groups is 4%–15%, and in Jewish groups is 3%–5%. To estimate the dates when the mixture occurred, we develop a novel method that estimates the size of chromosomal segments of distinct ancestry in individuals of mixed ancestry. We verify using computer simulations that the method produces useful estimates of population mixture dates up to 300 generations in the past. By applying the method to West Eurasians, we show that the dates in Southern Europeans are consistent with events during the Roman Empire and subsequent Arab migrations. The dates in the Jewish groups are older, consistent with events in classical or biblical times that may have occurred in the shared history of Jewish populations.