‘An extinct branch of human ancestry has been discovered lurking inside the DNA of modern-day West Africans which evolved around 500,000 years ago.
Traces of this so-called ‘ghost population’ were located in modern-day people and did not match the genetic fingerprint of Homo sapiens, Denisovans or Neanderthals.
Exactly what species the hominids belonged to is unknown, but humans mated with them around 50,000 years ago, researchers discovered.
No physical evidence — DNA from ancient bones, for example — was found, but a computer model indicates this mysterious species must exist.Scientists at the University of California in Los Angeles say the unidentified species accounts for up to 19 per cent of the genetic ancestry of four populations in three countries: two from Nigeria, one from Sierra Leone and one from the Gambia.
Writing in the study, the authors say: ‘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 primitive stages.
But early indicators hint that the ghost population shared a common ancestor with Neanderthals, modern humans and Denisovans around a million years ago.
And at some point, up until around 360,000 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, according to the study.’