World-first genome study reveals rich history of Aboriginal Australians
By Dani Cooper, additional reporting by Tom Forbes, Updated 21 September 2016
The most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians to date has revealed modern humans are all descendants of a single wave of migrants who left Africa about 72,000 years ago.
· Aboriginal and Papuan ancestors left Africa around 72,000 years ago
· Arrived on supercontinent ‘Sahul’ around 50,000 years ago
· By 31,000 years ago, most Aboriginal communities were genetically isolated from each other, giving rise to great genetic diversity
An Aboriginal Australian Genome Reveals Separate Human Dispersals into Asia
1. Morten Rasmussen; See all authors and affiliations
Science 07 Oct 2011: Vol. 334, Issue 6052, pp. 94-98 DOI: 10.1126/science.1211177
We present an Aboriginal Australian genomic sequence obtained from a 100-year-old lock of hair donated by an Aboriginal man from southern Western Australia in the early 20th century. We detect no evidence of European admixture and estimate contamination levels to be below 0.5%. We show that Aboriginal Australians are descendants of an early human dispersal into eastern Asia, possibly 62,000 to 75,000 years ago. This dispersal is separate from the one that gave rise to modern Asians 25,000 to 38,000 years ago. We also find evidence of gene flow between populations of the two dispersal waves prior to the divergence of Native Americans from modern Asian ancestors. Our findings support the hypothesis that present-day Aboriginal Australians descend from the earliest humans to occupy Australia, likely representing one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa.
The bottom line, says (Dr. Bruno) David, is that very little rock art anywhere in the world has been dated, including in Australia. But there remain a lot of hints and circumstantial evidence around to support the idea that Australia is in fact home to the world’s oldest art.
Brad Pillans, who studies the Burrup rock engravings, describes the giant bird painting on the Arnhem Land plateau as a “hint of older rock art”. Some researchers say the creature looks like Genyornis which is believed to have gone extinct at least 40,000 years ago.
“The people who drew that animal could only have seen it more than 40,000 years ago,” says Pillans.
David emphasizes it is still uncertain whether the bird is actually a Genyornis and points instead to ochre crayons that date to around 50,000 years ago.
“We don’t have the [dated] art itself, but we’ve found the tools that were used to make the art. For that reason, we rightfully assume that Australia has pigment art going back to when people first came here which is close to 50,000 years ago.”
Professor Brad Pillans and Dr Bruno David were interviewed by Anna Salleh (See Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Monash University, Aus.)