MADRID – When was agriculture introduced to Africa? There are various theories about this. According to some, agriculture was brought by immigrants from the Middle East thousands of years ago.
However, according to others, by immigrants from the Iberian Peninsula. And according to yet more others, agriculture arose naturally in Africa, independently of developments elsewhere. But new research brings clarity to this discussion. The conclusion: all theories are true in some sense. But those processes did not occur simultaneously. The Iberian peoples were the first to introduce agriculture to Africa some 7,400 years ago.
Archaeological and DNA research
The research was done by a research team of Spaniards, Swedes and Moroccans. Moreover, the team consists of archaeologists and DNA experts. Data from excavations and DNA research were combined. Therefore, this provided a fascinating picture of the changes that occurred in Europe and Africa some 8,000 to 6,000 years ago. The research was led by specialists from the universities of Burgos (Spain) and Uppsala (Sweden). The results were then published June 7 in the journal Nature.
The researchers examined several archaeological sites. The most important was the cave Kaf That El-Ghar located on the Moroccan side of the Strait of Gibraltar. Human remains have already been found here, in addition to seeds and potsherds. Furthermore, it is known to be the oldest site in North Africa of a sedentary lifestyle.
It has been known for some time that these remains had a connection with Iberian peoples. The drawings on the potsherds are almost identical to ceramics from this period that have been found on the Iberian Peninsula. Now, DNA research has definitively proven this. These were farmers who crossed from the Iberian Peninsula to what is now Morocco around 7,400 years ago.
The DNA material of these farmers corresponded for 75% with that of the Iberian peoples in the same period. The remaining 25% were largely of North African origin. Therefore, the farmers that settled here mixed with the local population.
1,000 years earlier
The wave of migration from the Iberian Peninsula has occurred in several short phases, each consisting of a few dozen migrants. The researchers suspect that the farmers crossed in wooden boats with oars. However, there is no archaeological evidence of this yet. Migration brought agriculture to Africa for the first time, around a thousand years earlier than previously believed.
Research of other sites also yielded surprising insights. A few hundred kilometres away, in Ifri n’Amr o’Moussa, excavations have been made of a settlement of about 100 years later. Remains of seeds, livestock and ceramics have also been found here. But no traces of European or other immigrants have been found in the DNA of the human remains. This probably shows that these inhabitants have ‘copied’ agriculture from their Iberian neighbours.
This cultural assimilation is, as far as we know, unique in world history. Wherever agriculture was introduced by immigrants, it was through genetic mixing. This is the only place where it occurred through cultural transmission.
Farmers from the Middle East
In other places in Morocco from about a thousand years later, genetic and archaeological material has been found from farmers from the Middle East. A second wave of migration occurred at that time. Still, later sites show a mixture of the original population with people from both the Middle East and the Iberian Peninsula.
The general conclusion is that the emergence of agriculture in Africa occurred in different phases. In some places by mixing with Iberian peoples. In other places through cultural transmission. And in other places by mixing with immigrants from the Middle East. The research team concludes that migration and cultural transmission are timeless.