The Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan language families come into contact in Western Ethiopia. Ethnic diversity is particularly high in the South, where the Nilo-Saharan Nyangatom and the Afro-Asiatic Daasanach dwell. Despite their linguistic differentiation, both populations rely on a similar agripastoralist mode of subsistence. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA extracted from Nyangatom and Daasanach archival sera revealed high levels of diversity, with most sequences belonging to the L haplogroups, the basal branches of the mitochondrial phylogeny. However, in sharp contrast with other Ethiopian populations, only 5% of the Nyangatom and Daasanach sequences belong to haplogroups M and N. The Nyangatom and Daasanach were found to be significantly differentiated, while each of them displays close affinities with some Tanzanian populations. The strong genetic structure found over East Africa was neither associated with geography nor with language, a result confirmed by the analysis of 6711 HVS-I sequences of 136 populations mainly from Africa. Processes of migration, language shift and group absorption are documented by linguists and ethnographers for the Nyangatom and Daasanach, thus pointing to the probably transient and plastic nature of these ethnic groups. These processes, associated with periods of isolation, could explain the high diversity and strong genetic structure found in East Africa.
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