Africa-to-Levant hypothesis

Map of Semitic languages and statistically inferred dispersals. One hyptothesized location of the divergence of ancestral Semitic from Afroasiatic between the African coast of the Red Sea and the Near East is also indicated.
Christopher Ehret has hypothesized that genetic analyses (specifically those of Y chromosome phylogeography and TaqI 49a,f haplotypes) shows populations of proto-Semitic speakers may have moved from the Horn of Africa or southeastern Sahara northwards to the Nile Valley, Northwest Africa, the Levant, and Aegean.[4]

Edward Lipiński supports a Northwest African origin due to the relationship between a Pre-Semitic Afroasiatic language and the Niger–Congo languages, whose urheimat probably lies in Nigeria–Cameroon.[5] In support of this hypothesis, Lipiński points out that Proto-Semitic:

– did not originate in Arabia, as previously hypothesized, since the region could not have supported massive waves of emigration before the domestication of camels in the second millennium BC.[3]

– did not originate in Mesopotamia (and adjoining areas of modern Syria), since there is evidence the original inhabitants were a non-Semitic population.

– shares more isoglosses and lexicostatistical convergences with the Berber languages than any other family, thereby;

– showing signs of a link with Berber long after other Afro-Asiatic language families, such as Egyptic and Chadic, and;

– was still spoken during the mid-Neolithic Subpluvial (i.e. 5th millennium BCE, when the Sahara was more humid).

A Neolithic culture in the Sahara possibly related to Proto-Semitic collapsed due to desertification and climate change around 3500 BC, according to Lipiński – a fact attested by evidence such as rock art.

This may have forced Proto-Semitic speakers to emigrate en masse through the Nile Delta to Western Asia. They were probably responsible for the collapse of the Ghassulian culture in Palestine around 3300 BC.[6] Another indication of the arrival of the proto-Semitic culture is the appearance of tumuli in 4th and 3rd millennium BC Palestine, which were typical characteristic of Neolithic North Africa.[6]

It is possible that at this point, the ancestors of the speakers of Elamite moved towards Iran, although the inclusion of Elamite in Afroasiatic is only contemplated by a tiny minority.[7]

The earliest wave of Semitic speakers entered the Fertile Crescent via Palestine and Syria and eventually founded the Akkadian Empire.

Their relatives, the Amorites, followed them and settled Syria before 2500 BC.[6] The collapse of the Bronze Age in Palestine led the southern Semites southwards, where they reached the highlands of Yemen after 20th century BC. Those crossed back to the Horn of Africa between 1500–500 BC.[6]

Recent Bayesian analysis suggests an origin for all known Semitic languages in the Levant around 3750 BCE, with a later single introduction from South Arabia into the Horn of Africa around 800 BCE.

This statistical analysis could not, however, estimate when or where the ancestor of all Semitic languages diverged from Afroasiatic.[1] It thus neither conflicts nor confirms the hypothesis that the divergence of ancestral Semitic from Afroasiatic occurred in Africa.