Mysterious ancient human ancestor found in ‘ghost’ DNA from West Africa

A 'ghost population' of ancient humans has been found in the DNA of modern-day West Africans which evolved around 500,000 years ago.

The DNA doesn't match with Homo sapiens, Denisovans or Neanderthals and has been located in modern-day people, says a study in Science Advances.

Humans mated with the unknown specie of hominids around 50,000 years ago.

Scientist studied the genetics of 405 West African people from four populations in three countries: two from Nigeria, one from Sierra Leone and one from the Gambia.

Writing in the study, the authors said: 'These populations derive two to 19 per cent of their genetic ancestry from an archaic population that diverged before the split of Neanderthals and modern humans.'

The discovery of a new ancient human ancestor is still in its infancy.

But early indicators suggest the 'ghost population' shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans around a million years ago.

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Researchers estimate that between 360,000 and one million years ago, it branched off to become its own species.

This group then later bred with the ancestors of modern west Africans around 50,000 years ago.

Just last month, DNA discovered in four ancient child skeletons buried at a rock shelter at an archaeological site called Shum Laka in Cameroon suggested the existence of a 'ghost' line.

One-third of their DNA was similar to the hunter-gatherers of western Central Africa.

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The remaining two thirds of their DNA came from an ancient West African source, including a 'long lost ghost population' previously unknown to science.

Sriram Sankaraman, one of the study's authors said: 'We don't have a clear identity for this archaic group.

'That's why we use the term "ghost". It doesn't seem to be particularly closely related to the groups from which we have genome sequences from.'

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