In August 2015, EUROTAST research network members Tanja Heinz and Antonio Salas published research on the genetic ancestry of relatively isolated Afro-Bolivian communities in the Yungas Valley. Their analysis revealed genetic links to Southeastern Africa, which was more active in late period of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. This reflects the long duration of slavery in Bolivia, only fully abolished in 1952. Surprisingly, there was also genetic ancestry from Near Eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Oman, but any connections to the Trans-Saharan slave trade are unclear.
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During the period of the Transatlantic Slave Trade (TAST) some enslaved Africans were forced to move to Upper Peru (nowadays Bolivia). At first they were sent to Potosí, but later to the tropical Yungas valley where the Spanish colonizers established a so-called “hacienda system” that was based on slave labor, including African-descendants. Due to their isolation, very little attention has been paid so far to ‘Afro-Bolivian’ communities either within the research field of TAST or in genetic population studies. In this study, a total of 105 individuals from the Yungas were sequenced for their mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region, and mitogenomes were obtained for a selected subset of these samples. We also genotyped 46 Ancestry Informative Markers (AIM) in order to investigate continental ancestry at the autosomal level. In addition, Y-chromosome STR and SNP data for a subset of the same individuals was also available from the literature. The data indicate that the partitioning of mtDNA ancestry in the Yungas differs significantly from that in the rest of the country: 81% Native American, 18% African, and 1% European. Interestingly, the great majority of ‘Afro-descendant’ mtDNA haplotypes in the Yungas (84%) concentrates in the locality of Tocaña. This high proportion of African ancestry in the Tocaña is also manifested in the Y-chromosome (44%) and in the autosomes (56%). In sharp contrast with previous studies on the TAST, the ancestry of about 1/3 of the ‘Afro-Bolivian’ mtDNA haplotypes can be traced back to East and South East Africa, which may be at least partially explained by the Arab slave trade connected to the TAST.