Scientists find evidence of ‘ghost population’ of ancient humans

Traces of unknown ancestor emerged when researchers analysed genomes from west African populations

A Homo neanderthalensis skull: The ghost population split from the ancestors of Neanderthals and modern humans between 360,000 and 1 million years ago. Photograph: The Natural History Museum/Alamy Stock Photo

Scientists have found evidence for a mysterious “ghost population” of ancient humans that lived in Africa about half a million years ago and whose genes live on in people today.

Traces of the unknown ancestor emerged when researchers analysed genomes from west African populations and found that up to a fifth of their DNA appeared to have come from the missing relatives.

Geneticists suspect that the ancestors of modern west Africans interbred with the yet-to-be-discovered archaic humans tens of thousands of years ago, much as ancient Europeans once mated with Neanderthals.

“In the west Africans we looked at, all have ancestry from this unknown archaic population,” said Sriram Sankararaman, a computational biologist who led the research at the University of California in Los Angeles.

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