The people were associated with the Iberomaurusian culture, known to have produced fine stone tools called microliths, which include carefully crafted blades and small bladelets used to make spears and other hafted items.
The retrieved DNA samples were fragmented and contained a lot of modifications. To reconstruct the individuals' genomic ancestry, the scientists had to overcome numerous challenges.
"We managed this using targeted in-solution capture, by which we could selectively fish out the human DNA fragments relative to the non-human environmental DNA from, for example, microbes and plants," van de Loosdrecht said.
Matching the information to known genomes, she, co-senior author Johannes Krause, and their team found two major components to the genetic heritage of the individuals.
About two-thirds of the Iberomaurusians’ DNA was related to contemporaneous populations from the Levant, the region on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea north of the Arabian Peninsula and south of Turkey. It includes Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian Territories, and Syria.
"Our analysis shows that North Africa and the Near East, even at this early time, were part of one region without much of a genetic barrier," co-senior author Choongwon Jeong said.
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Migration routes likely existed over land and sea, co-author Abdeljalil Bouzouggar of the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage in Rabat, told Seeker.
He explained that there is archaeological evidence for land migrations. "Both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastal routes could have been used by the Taforalt ancestors," he said.
The Levantine people who interacted with those from what is now Morocco could have been Natufians, a highly successful culture of the early Middle East.
"In addition to microlithic-backed bladelet technologies, the Natufians intensively used plants for food, made grindstones, kept dogs as pets, and buried their dead with grave goods including shells and canids (dog remains)," Bouzouggar said. "Such practices contributed a lot to the exceptional population growth and spread of the Natufians."
The other third of the Iberomaurusians' heritage comes from a previously unknown ancient population originating from Sub-Saharan Africa. The Sahara Desert is difficult to cross even today much less in ancient times, but somehow Stone Age people managed to make the trip.