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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Migration of Chadic speaking pastoralists within Africa based on population structure of Chad Basin and phylogeography of mitochondrial L3f haplogroup

Viktor Černý1, Verónica Fernandes2, Marta D Costa2, Martin Hájek1, Connie J Mulligan3 and Luísa Pereira24*

Author Affiliations

1 Archaeogenetics Laboratory, Institute of Archaeology of the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Prague, The Czech Republic

2 Instituto de Patologia e Imunologia Molecular da Universidade do Porto, (IPATIMUP), R. Dr. Roberto Frias s/n 4200-465 Porto, Portugal

3 Department of Anthropology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA 32610-3610

4 Medical Faculty, University of Porto, 4200-319 Porto, Portugal

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BMC Evolutionary Biology 2009, 9:63  doi:10.1186/1471-2148-9-63

Published: 23 March 2009

Abstract

Background

Chad Basin, lying within the bidirectional corridor of African Sahel, is one of the most populated places in Sub-Saharan Africa today. The origin of its settlement appears connected with Holocene climatic ameliorations (aquatic resources) that started ~10,000 years before present (YBP). Although both Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo language families are encountered here, the most diversified group is the Chadic branch belonging to the Afro-Asiatic language phylum. In this article, we investigate the proposed ancient migration of Chadic pastoralists from Eastern Africa based on linguistic data and test for genetic traces of this migration in extant Chadic speaking populations.

Results

We performed whole mitochondrial genome sequencing of 16 L3f haplotypes, focused on clade L3f3 that occurs almost exclusively in Chadic speaking people living in the Chad Basin. These data supported the reconstruction of a L3f phylogenetic tree and calculation of times to the most recent common ancestor for all internal clades. A date ~8,000 YBP was estimated for the L3f3 sub-haplogroup, which is in good agreement with the supposed migration of Chadic speaking pastoralists and their linguistic differentiation from other Afro-Asiatic groups of East Africa. As a whole, the Afro-Asiatic language family presents low population structure, as 92.4% of mtDNA variation is found within populations and only 3.4% of variation can be attributed to diversity among language branches. The Chadic speaking populations form a relatively homogenous cluster, exhibiting lower diversification than the other Afro-Asiatic branches (Berber, Semitic and Cushitic).

Conclusion

The results of our study support an East African origin of mitochondrial L3f3 clade that is present almost exclusively within Chadic speaking people living in Chad Basin. Whole genome sequence-based dates show that the ancestral haplogroup L3f must have emerged soon after the Out-of-Africa migration (around 57,100 ± 9,400 YBP), but the "Chadic" L3f3 clade has much less internal variation, suggesting an expansion during the Holocene period about 8,000 ± 2,500 YBP. This time period in the Chad Basin is known to have been particularly favourable for the expansion of pastoralists coming from northeastern Africa, as suggested by archaeological, linguistic and climatic data.