Migrants from the Iberian Peninsula brought agriculture to North Africa

In northwest Africa, the lifestyle has changed from hunting and gathering to agriculture Some 7,400 years ago, but why the ancient inhabitants of the Tingitan peninsula (bounded on the north by the Strait of Gibraltar and on the south by the modern city of Tangier) adopted this new Neolithic way of life has remained an enigma. Until now.

Were they the Neolithic farmers of Europe or middle East those responsible for bringing the new way of life to North Africa? This form of life would have arrived via Europe or direct from Levante? Or the local hunter-gatherers adopted autonomously agricultural practices as in other places? These are questions that archaeologists have been asking for a long time.

A archaeogenomic analysis of human remains, aged between 8,000 and 6,000 years old, from Morocco reveals that the beginning of agricultural activity was complex and occurred in multiple phases. First introduced by Neolithic European emigrants and soon after adopted by local groups.

A man inside a mine

One of the archaeologists of the Neolithic Ifri n’Amr o’Moussa cave. /UBU

A millennium later, a second migration, this time of shepherds from middle East, came with their lifestyle. Those thousand years would be marked by an exchange of ideas, genes and a mixed economy that would be immortalized in the archaeological record and in the genomes of the humans involved in this process.

A team of researchers from Sweden, Spain and Morocco unraveled the mystery, published this Wednesday the magazine Naturein an article that brings together the results of this research.

The Spanish team, which brings together specialists in genomics and archaeology, began excavations in 2011 and returned to Morocco in 2016 to carry out the necessary samples for the genetic analysis. These, together with the treatment of genomic sequences, as well as the careful integration of said data with archaeological datacontinued to complete research published now.

the team of ancient DNA responsible is co-directed by Cristina Valdiosera and Mattias Jakobsson and also formed by Luciana Simoes, and Torsten Gunther, from the universities of Burgos and Uppsala (Sweden). The archaeological team in charge is formed by Juan Carlos Vera (University of Huelva) and Rafael Martínez (University of Córdoba).

“We found a remarkable population continuity up to 7,500 years ago in northwest Africa, where a group of local collectors lived in isolation for at least eight millennia, perhaps much earlier,” says Professor Mattias Jakobssonfrom Uppsala University, who led the study along with Dr. Cristina Valdioseraresearcher at the Laboratory of Human Evolution at the University of Burgos.

Entrance to the Neolithic cave of Kaf Taht el-Ghar

Entrance to the Neolithic cave of Kaf Taht el-Ghar. /UBU

But it was then, 7,400 years ago, that something happened that forever changed the life of this society. After being isolated for so long, northwest Africa received two new population waves in a period of about 1,000 years: a migratory wave that followed the northern coast of the Mediterranean and another along the southern coast.

European emigrants introduced the Neolithic economy to North Africa

“A foreign genetic ancestry related to the first european farmers It is found in North Africa in the remains of the oldest Neolithic context that we studied, dating back to around 7,400 years ago in the cave of Kaf Taht el-Ghar (Morocco)“, points Luciana Simões, from Uppsala University (Sweden) and first author of the study. This indicates that immigrants from Europe introduced this new lifestyle.

According to Valdiosera, the genetic makeup observed in the cave, located on the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, is very similar to what they had already seen in Neolithic farmers analyzed in the Iberian Peninsula.

“It is a genetic composition related to the migrants from the Middle East and Anatoliawhich introduced agriculture in Europe around 8,500 to 7,500 years ago and which, on its way to the extreme west of the continent, mixed with the resident populations, the European hunter-gatherers”, adds the co-leader of the study.

this mixture of two different cultures (farmers and hunter-gatherers) and two distinct populations (Middle East and Europe) is the one that crosses Strait of Gibraltartriggering with their arrival a new lifestyle.

“Within a few hundred years and inspired by their new neighbors, local foragers began to change your way of life for agriculture and the two groups coexisted for at least another century”, explains Valdiosera. In other words, we are witnessing a process of acculturation.

Interestingly, and according to the results of this study, in the individuals of this Neolithic cave, in addition to the aforementioned genetic mixture, a significant proportion of the genetic component was detected. local hunter-gathererthe Maghreb.

However, in the population of Ifri n’Amr Ou Moussaanother later Neolithic site, but which coexists with Kaf Taht el-Ghar and which in the study represents the Maghreb composition in the Neolithic, genetic composition of migrant populations.

This result coincides with the interaction dynamics that occurred with their European counterparts: it is the agricultural populations that assimilate local populationsthat is, giving rise to a unidirectional exchange of genes.

Local scavengers have started to change their way of life to agriculture

Cristina Valdiosera, co-leader of the study

This cultural transfer process is extraordinarily new and atypical for researchers. Population geneticist at Uppsala University, Torsten Guntherstates that “this phenomenon has not been observed in any other part of the world”.

Likewise, a new genetic ancestry is detected in the 6,300-year-old human remains analyzed at the site of the skhirat-rouazilikely derived from the arrival of Near Eastern emigrants at the same time as it was first documented grazing in the region. Later, the three lineages, or genetic groups, intermingle during the Late Neolithic.

“I think it’s great that the genomic data generated in this study confirms what the ceramic decoration already pointed out: a unidirectional broadcast from the Iberian coast to the Tingitana Peninsula, around 7,500 years ago,” says Raphael MartinezPhD from the University of Córdoba (Spain).

This work assumes “a before and after in understanding many aspects related to the Neolithic diffusion processes in the region, raising the question of its origin in Andalusia and the Maghreb. The unidirectional direction of the process is quite clear –he adds–, probably from the Iberian Peninsula, and places the printed decoration of Moroccan ceramics found among the first printed ones from the Western Mediterranean”.

“Filling this key time gap in the Maghreb was crucial to better understand how different livelihood strategies were acquired in this region,” he says. Youssef Bokbotof the National Institute of Archeology and Heritage Sciences of Morocco.

“Finally, what this study shows us, confirming what we have studied so far in other times, is that the history of mankind has always been marked by migrations and population mixtures since its creation”, concludes Valdiosera.


Valdiosera, C. “Neolithic Northwest Africa initiated by migrants from the Iberian Peninsula and the Levant”. Nature (2023)

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