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Pre-History: Europe & Africa

2004:
Human Route Out of Africa Suggested

By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA .c The Associated Press

Scientists examining hereditary material in cells suggest that modern humans followed a migration wave from Africa to Asia more than 50,000 years ago after an earlier exodus to the Mediterranean and Greece.

Blood samples of people from east Africa and India showed close genetic similarities that indicate a common African ancestor, according to a research team from the University of Padua in Italy.

The Italian study is reported in the December issue of the journal Nature Genetics.

The researchers examined mitochondria, units outside of the cell's nucleus that act as a cell's energy source. They have their own genetic material - passed only by the mother from generation to generation - which lets scientists trace ancestry between geographically distant human populations.

In the Italian study, researchers reported that closely related genetic sequences were found in high frequency in blood samples from people in Ethiopia, the Arabian Peninsula and India. The same genetic makers were not found in blood samples from Middle East populations.

The first, and older, human migration route out of Africa is believed to have extended northward around the eastern Mediterranean and Greece more than 100,000 years ago.

Mitochondrial DNA clues were reported in the mid-1980s as scientists speculated on the existence of an African ``Eve'', from whom modern humans descended. Since then, the older, northern migration route has been bolstered by fossil discoveries of modern humans bones from the same time period in the Middle East.

These mitochondrial studies of modern humans are separate from anthropological digs establishing that extinct ancestors of humans inhabited Africa 4 million years ago. Larger-brained tool-making human ancestors are believed to have left Africa and spread to Asia and Europe 1.8 million years ago.

AP-NY-11-30-99 1704EDT

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