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PLoS One. 2009 Jul 29;4(7):e6366. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006366.

Autosomal resequence data reveal Late Stone Age signals of population expansion in sub-Saharan African foraging and farming populations.

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ARL Division of Biotechnology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, United States of America.



A major unanswered question in the evolution of Homo sapiens is when anatomically modern human populations began to expand: was demographic growth associated with the invention of particular technologies or behavioral innovations by hunter-gatherers in the Late Pleistocene, or with the acquisition of farming in the Neolithic?


We investigate the timing of human population expansion by performing a multilocus analysis of > or = 20 unlinked autosomal noncoding regions, each consisting of approximately 6 kilobases, resequenced in approximately 184 individuals from 7 human populations. We test the hypothesis that the autosomal polymorphism data fit a simple two-phase growth model, and when the hypothesis is not rejected, we fit parameters of this model to our data using approximate Bayesian computation.


The data from the three surveyed non-African populations (French Basque, Chinese Han, and Melanesians) are inconsistent with the simple growth model, presumably because they reflect more complex demographic histories. In contrast, data from all four sub-Saharan African populations fit the two-phase growth model, and a range of onset times and growth rates is inferred for each population. Interestingly, both hunter-gatherers (San and Biaka) and food-producers (Mandenka and Yorubans) best fit models with population growth beginning in the Late Pleistocene. Moreover, our hunter-gatherer populations show a tendency towards slightly older and stronger growth (approximately 41 thousand years ago, approximately 13-fold) than our food-producing populations (approximately 31 thousand years ago, approximately 7-fold). These dates are concurrent with the appearance of the Late Stone Age in Africa, supporting the hypothesis that population growth played a significant role in the evolution of Late Pleistocene human cultures.

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