Morocco and North African Mitochondrial DNA study

Human mitochondrial DNA sequence variation in the Moroccan population of the Souss area

Various populations have contributed to the present-day gene pool of Morocco, including the autochthonous Berber population, Phoenicians, Sephardic Jews, Bedouin Arabs and sub-Saharan Africans.

Objective: The primary objective of the study was to complete a genetic description of the Berber-speaking population in the Souss region of southern Morocco, based on mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence analysis.

Subjects and methods: The first hypervariable segment of the mtDNA control region was sequenced in a sample of 50 individuals from the Souss Valley, and the results compared with the extensive body of data available on mtDNA sequence variation in Europe and sub-Saharan Africa.

Results: Thirty-four different sequences were found; an estimated 68% of the sequences occurred throughout Europe, West Asia and North Africa, 26% originated in sub-Saharan Africa, and 6% belonged to the North African specific haplogroup U6. The Souss Valley mtDNA sequences indicated the presence of two populations which expanded at different times: the West Eurasian sequences in the Souss sample had a smaller average number of pairwise differences than pairs of sub-Saharan sequences.
Conclusion: Detailed knowledge of the possible geographic origin of each sequence facilitated an interpretation of both internal diversity parameters and between-population relationships. The sub-Saharan admixture in the Souss Valley matched the south-north cline of sub-Saharan influence in North Africa, also evident in the genetic distances of North African populations to Europeans and sub-Saharan Africans.

Unfortunately I can’t paste the relevant table neatly, but I can reproduce it here for the genetic origins of each population. This gives a very good outline of the genetic composition of North Africa

  •                                      North African         Sub Saharan           Eurasian
  • Souss                                    6%                             26%                       68%
  • NC Morocccan Berber      8.3%                          3.3%                      88.4%
  • Moroccan Arab                6.5%                          21.9%                    71.8%
  • Mozabite                         31.8%                        11.8%                    56.4%
  • Saharawi                          8%                             44%                       48%
  • Mauritanian                   20%                            43.3%                    36.7
  • Tuareg                             7.7%                           84%                       7.7%
  • Egyptian                          1.5%                           30.9%                     67.6%
  • Nubian                             0%                              40.5%                    59.5%

As you can see, North central Berbers have a very low amount of Sub Saharan ancestry, but the southern Tuaregs who have reached down into Mali show a very high level. Other DNA studies have shown the European admiture into North Africans to be around 4%, the Eurasian Mt DNA comes from the paleolithic westward expansion one Eurasian, and the later Neolithic expansion of Eurasian into North Africa about 6,000 years ago.

Previously, it was believed that the expansion took place from East Africa, but more recent Y chromosome studies by Cruciani have shown a very young age for most Y chromosomes in North Africa, with an origin in the near East.

A rather fuzzy chart showing the genetic distances between various populations . It can be seen that Moroccan Berbers are very similar to the Spanish . My apologies for the poor definition. Essentially, Berbers are a Caucasian people native to North Africa with varying degrees of sub Saharan ancestry, more as you go Southwards.

I would just like to comment the the Egyptian DNA figures appear to match Southern Egypt, in particular a study of Gurna I saw. I am fairly sure there’s rather less African DNA at the delta end. It was rather a surprise to see how much of the Nubian ancestry was Eurasian though.


8 responses to “Morocco and North African Mitochondrial DNA study

  1. the study that you are talking about, that discusses the 4% european admixture, is for Y-chromosomes only.

  2. Interesting DNA results, I think I’ve come across them before. This also seems quite consistent with actual people representing each group. Moroccan Berbers and other Berbers from the Mediterranean coast and Atlas Mountains range are very Caucasian-looking overall, and tend toward a light-skinned Mediterranean type most akin to Iberians, and blonds are also not unknown as some of these pics illustrate.

    However, the specifically Arab populations are usually darker and display sub-Saharan admixture from my experience (legacy of the trans-Saharan trade which involved mainly Arabs rather than Berbers). The “Arabs” in North Africa appear to be just varying blends of Berber, Middle Eastern Arab, and sub-Saharan African ancestry (with minor European contributions I’d guess too). Hence you have a large rainbow of appearances there. The average North African Arab I’ve seen is rather brown-skinned, with black/dark brown curly hair, dark brown eyes, and usually Semitic/Mediterranean features but sometimes sub-Saharan influences too.

    North African Arabs are clearly distinguishable from those of the Levant in my opinion. My guess is that Levantines have far less sub-Saharan admixture (if any), and have more significant European admixture (especially Greek, Italian, or French via the Crusades). Furthermore, the bulk of their ancestors are said to be groups like the Canaanites and Phoenicians who adopted the Arabic language and Islam after Arabs from Arabia imposed their language and religion on the local inhabitants.

    • Last time looked there was surprisingly little historical European ancestry in North Africa. It think ity’s mainly a matter of just having less maternal SSA ancestry in them. The coastal Berbers seem to have kept their mt DNA mainly Eurasian,the same is it was in the 12k old Moroccan specimens (Taforalt). The Arab slave trade seems to have affected them least.

  3. Yes, it appears that the Arab-identified portion of the North African population is overall a shade or two darker than it was 1,000+ years ago as a result of the gradual absorption of SSA genes into the population over the course of centuries, usually via female slaves (hence a higher concentration on the mtDNA).

    The medieval Moors who would’ve conquered Spain, Portugal, and Sicily were to a large extent physically indistinguishable from the people they were conquering. It’s probable that the Visigothic portion of the Spanish population coined the term “Moor” connoting “dark” or “black” merely because compared to them, the Arabs and Berbers would’ve been comparably dark. Despite this, they were still Caucasoid. “Black” back then certainly did not equate to SSA, as it does today.

    Today’s North African immigrants living in southern Europe are, however, easily recognizable probably 90% of the time from the natives. Present-day Moroccans stick out in Spain, and Tunisians in Sicily are also easily distinguished.

    Of course, both the Iberian peninsula and Sicily were also somewhat repopulated after ousting the Moors. Spain was repopulated from the north, and Sicily received a large influx of Normans, Lombards (northern Italians), southern Italians, Frenchmen, and other Catholic immigrants of Romance speech. Of course some of the Moorish inhabitants in both places remained to be assimilated into the population, but their genetic impact was diluted due to warfare, emigration, and/or expulsion.

    Sorry to rattle off on a tangent there, but I feel that many people fail to understand the big picture. I personally find it somewhat irritating when people make false claims that Iberians and Sicilians are somehow less European due to Moorish admixture (with people usually ignorantly claiming that Moors were SSAs).

    The fact is, no population in the world is genetically “pure” as humans have been migrating around since time immemorial, but in the case of southern Europe, the Moors by no means replaced the previous inhabitants of the lands they conquered, contrary to popular belief. It was really to a large extent a question of converting the natives to Islam and imposing the Arabic language.

    • Very true about racial purity ANA.

    • Anna you stated: Today’s North African immigrants living in southern Europe are, however, easily recognizable probably 90% of the time from the natives. Present-day Moroccans stick out in Spain, and Tunisians in Sicily are also easily distinguished.

      I disagree with you on this point!
      If you went to Kabylia in Algeria and had a good look at the Kabyle Berbers who have lived in this region for thousands of years, you would think that they were Europeans. They are indistinguishable from Europeans, some with red hair like the Scottish, or the Irish, some like the Spanish, Basques, French, English, Germans
      you name the European race, and I`ll show you
      a Berber indistinguishable from any European!
      Especially from Kabylia, The Riff in Morroco, even Southern Saharan Berbers have a lot of red haired and blond haired individuals amongst them. You would also see many people with light brown hair, hazel eyed female beauties, blue eyed beauties, brown eyed, etc.
      You would think that you were in Europe, I suggest that you take a holiday and go and see for yourself.

  4. ^Thanks. Purity of blood really is a moot concept, especially in the Mediterranean region. I also find it rather funny when people speak of a “Mediterranean race” considering that there is so much variation depending on the region one is in. Admittedly I’m even guilty of saying someone looks “Mediterranean” based on general perceptions that people have regarding what that suggests (i.e. Caucasian w/dark hair, olive skin, etc.), but the fact is that Southern Europeans, North Africans, and Levantines all have somewhat different genetic compositions on average despite sharing some common recent ancestry.

    Southern Europeans often have Northern/Central European and/or Arab/Levantine admixture (i.e. Celts/Gauls, Germanic invaders, Moors), North Africans often have Saharan and/or sub-Saharan admixture superimposed on a primarily Arab/Berber lineage, Levantines are mainly a blend of Arab, native Levantine (i.e. Phoenician, Assyrian), and European, and Anatolian Turks have a Central Asian component to their mainly Middle Eastern/European background.

  5. Ana : It depands on what North are talking about.

    I agree that Moroccans sometimes show clearly Sub-Saharan admixture…and some Lybians too.

    But All Algerians and Tunisians , I know , have Mediteranean/Semitic features…and sometimes , it’s true that among Kabyles , you can find blonds with blue eyes..and many Algerians or Tunisians are unrecognizable from Levantins or Greeks/Spanish/Italians…..Even the French have noticed this.

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