First things first: Pickrell et al. find West Eurasian admixture in the Hadza and Sandawe:
Both of these are consistent with west Eurasian (either European or, more likely, Arabian), gene ow into these populations. To further examine this, we turned to ROLLOFF. We used Dinka and French as representatives of the mixing populations (since date estimates are robust to improperly speci ed reference populations). The results are shown in Supplementary Figure S22. Both populations show a detectable curve, though the signal is much stronger in the Sandawe than in the Hadza. The implied dates are 89 generations ( 2500 years) ago for the Hadza and 66 generations ( 2000 years) ago for the Sandawe. These are qualitatively similar signals to those seen by Pagani et al.  in Ethiopian populations.The presence of West Eurasian ancestry in the Hadza and Sandawe was anticipated in my world9 calculator, where both these populations were shown to possess Caucasoid admixture entirely of the "Southern" component. This component peaks in Arabia, and is unaccompanied by any other type of Caucasoid element really only there. So, it is very likely that there was indeed such a migration into East Africa. What Pickrell et al. have added to our knowledge is that this migration is fairly recent.
repeats one of his favorite analogies about events taking place in Africa after the pyramids were rising in Egypt. I will use a Greek epic analogy, by pointing out that at the time that Memnon the Ethiopian led his contingent to the aid of Troy, these events had not yet taken place.
Depictions of Memnon changed during classical antiquity, from a Caucasoid norm, as in the red-figure kylix on the left, to a more stereotypically African form by Roman times. This is sometimes taken as simply a consequence of the fact that the ancient Greeks were unfamiliar with African phenotypes, and changed their portraiture of Ethiopians as they became more familiar with them during Hellenistic and Roman times.
But, the very name of Aithiopes first attested in Homer (8th c. BC) attests to the fact that the Greeks were aware of what Ethiopians looked like, at least in terms of their dark pigmentation. And, there are depictions of Africans in classical art, as well as a famous quote in Herodotus which makes abundantly clear that he was aware of the physical characteristics of what we would call "Sub-Saharan Africans".
We don't only need to look at Ethiopia for evidence of the strange events that were taking place in Africa during classical antiquity. A great punch-in-the-face reminder of these events comes from the much later Greek author Pausanias who records that a statue of Athena he observed in Attica had blue eyes which he ascribed to the Libyan origin of her myth. How strange it seems to us that one would look to Africa for an explanation for the blue-eyed goddess.
Libya was of course, the ancient name for Africa, and especially Africa west of Egypt, what we might call Berber-land. Egypt was often reckoned by the ancient as part of Asia. In any case, Pausanias' strange assertion finds support in the Egyptian monuments that really do depict the ancient Libyans (=Berbers) as Caucasoid, and often lighter than Middle Eastern people. This would also accord with Coon's famous discovery of "Irish-like" Berbers among the Riffians; I often dismissed such assertions, but in a landscape of human prehistory that is getting stranger by the month, it is worth digging for gold nuggets in old texts.
A recent study claimed that there was back-to-Africa gene flow into Eurasia more than 12,000 years ago. On the other hand, both HAPMIX and StepPCO estimate the admixture in Mozabite Berbers as taking place ~120 generations ago, or, about 3.5kya assuming a generation length of 29 years as Patterson et al. (2012) do. I have observed that rolloff produces generally lower dates than these two methods, so I would not be surprised if that is the case here as well.
It seems that as recently as a few thousand years ago, West Eurasian populations were moving into Africa from both north and east. As Pickrell et al. have discovered, their eastern branch also contributed to South Africans, tagging along the dispersal of pastoralists from East-to-South Africa.
The big question is: did West and Central Africa escape this population movement?
I seriously suspect that it did not. I base that assertion on several arguments, of varying strength:
- Why would they? If they inundated East and North Africa, why would they not venture further?
- Living Sub-Saharan African farmers are not symmetrically related to West and East Eurasians: they are closer to the former. West Eurasian back-migration would explain this phenomenon.
- The Great Event in Sub-Saharan Africa was doubtlessly the Bantu explosion, and it is a curious coincidence that this took place precisely close to the time of these events
- The Iwo Eleru crania from Nigeria are of late Pleistocene age, archaic in character, and unlike modern West Africans. Something did happen in West Africa over the course of, say, the last 10,000 years
Speaking of ancient DNA, this unexpected archaeogenetic study from the University of Khartoum, hints at important changes in Africa:
The area known today as
may have been the scene of pivotal human evolutionary events, both as a corridor for ancient and modern migrations, as well as the venue of crucial past cultural evolution. Several questions pertaining to the pattern of succession of the different groups in early Sudan have been raised. To shed light on these aspects, ancient DNA (aDNA) and present DNA collection were made and studied using Y-chromosome markers for aDNA, and Y-chromosome and mtDNA markers for present DNA. Bone samples from different skeletal elements of burial sites from Neolithic, Meroitic, Post-Meroitic and Christian periods in Sudan Sudanwere collected from . aDNA extraction was successful in 35 out of 76 samples, PCR was performed for sex determination using Amelogenin marker. Fourteen samples were females and 19 were males. To generate Y-chromosome specific haplogroups A-M13, B-M60, F-M89 and Y Alu Polymorphism (YAP) markers, which define the deep ancestral haplotypes in the phylogenetic tree of Y-chromosome were used. Haplogroups A-M13 was found at high frequencies among Neolithic samples. Haplogroup F-M89 and Sudan National Museum YAPappeared to be more frequent among Meroitic, Post-Meroitic and Christian periods. Haplogroup B-M60 was not observed in the sample analyzed.
I was reminded of it recently when this curious abstract came up, which I still believe is missing a zero somewhere, but these days you never know.
Evidence that Sub-Saharan Africans too have experienced gene flow from West Eurasians occasionally comes up, but formal tests of admixture, e.g., f3(Yoruba; San, French) usually do not achieve significance. But, we must be cautious: South Africans do appear admixed between San and East Africans, but this is a consequence of the fact that admixture is recent, leaving a trail of populations of varying East African ancestry, and the San still exist and can serve as one pole in a comparison of admixture.
David Reich has hinted at dual origins for West Africans. I am looking forward to learning what he means by it, but I would not be surprised if it involves admixture between a Eurasian-like population with a Palaeoafrican population of indigenous West African hunter-gatherers.
In any case, ex Africa semper aliquid novi even today. But, interdum, aliquid novum in Africam.
UPDATE: Pickrell and co-authors discuss their paper here.