08:55pm Wednesday 18 October 2017

Aboriginal genome reinterprets pre-history

The results of the study, conducted by an international research team from Griffith University and the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, were published yesterday in the international journal Science.

Professor David Lambert from Griffith’s Environmental Futures Centre, PERAHU and the Australian Rivers Institute says the results imply that modern day Aboriginal Australians are in fact the direct descendents of the first people who arrived in Australia as early as 50,000 years ago.

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“This is the first time that mapping of an Aboriginal genome has been achieved and the outcome is very important as it sheds light on the
history of Australian Aboriginal people,” he said.

“By sequencing the genome, we can now demonstrate that Aboriginal Australians descend directly from an early human expansion into Asia that took place some 70,000 years ago.

“This is at least 24,000 years before the population movements that gave rise to present-day Europeans and Asians.

“Archaeological evidence establishes a modern human presence in Australia by about 50,000 years ago, but this study re-writes the story of their journey there.”

The research results were derived from a lock of hair donated to a British anthropologist by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia in the early 20th century.

Now 100 years later, the researchers have isolated DNA from this same hair, using it to explore the genetics of the first Australians and to provide insights into how humans first spread out across the globe.

“The history of Aboriginal Australians plays a key role in understanding the dispersal of the first humans to leave Africa.

“One widely accepted theory is that all modern humans derive from a single out-of-Africa migration wave giving rise to a series of populations that settled Europe, Asia, and Australia – the’Single-dispersal model’.

“However, this study provides evidence that when ancestral Aboriginal Australians begun their private journey, the ancestors of Asians and
Europeans had not yet differentiated from each other,” he said.

Hence the study provides evidence for a ‘Multiple-dispersal model’.

Professor Eske Willerslev from the Centre for GeoGenetics in Denmark, who headed the study, said the research points to Aboriginal Australians descending from the first human explorers.

“While the ancestors of Europeans and Asians were sitting somewhere in Africa or the Middle East, yet to explore their world further, the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians spread rapidly as the first modern humans traversing unknown territory in Asia and finally crossing the sea into Australia,” he said.

“It was a truly amazing journey that must have demanded exceptional survival skills and bravery.

“The study has wide implications for our understanding of how our human ancestors moved across the globe.”

Through analysis of museum collections and in collaboration with descendent groups, researchers can now study the genetic history of many Indigenous populations worldwide, even where groups have recently moved about or intermingled.

The Science paper was published with the full endorsement of the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, the organisation that represents the
Aboriginal traditional owners for the region.

Media: Deborah Marshall 0408 727 734.


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