People from the Indian Ocean coast of eastern Africa have Asian ancestry, according to University of York's new research on ancient DNA.

Archaeologists from the University of York and Rice University, in Texas, believe that Asian merchants and African traders formed relationships between the years 900 and 1100 in the Swahili coastal towns in Kenya and Tanzania, based on findings from excavations.

DNA analysis, conducted by scientists from Harvard University, found that people of African and Persian descent began to have children together around the year 1000.

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The archaeologists recovered the descendants of those children from burial sites, and found that they had dominated the Swahili towns 500 years later.

Professor Stephanie Wynne-Jones, co-author of the study from University of York’s Department of Archaeology, said: "We have long believed that cultural changes were associated with the adoption of Islam and this new research gives us a genetic timeframe that suggests that this is a reasonable assumption to make.

"Merchants from Persia travelled to the African coast for trade, and would have stayed for long periods of time. 

"DNA from the burial sites we have been studying shows African and Persian ancestry. The Persian line came from men, suggesting they were forming relationships with African women.

"This data must be seen as a catalyst for a new, less binary, approach to Swahili society. It shows that people were moving and establishing deep connections and families in the Indian Ocean region, and that Persian migrants would have been part of the cosmopolitan world created by coastal African societies.

"The research that has underpinned this study is part of a long-term commitment to exploring human experience and daily life on the coast."