The Oldest Humans, Aboriginal Australians

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A genetic and cultural analysis, published in Nature, of 83 Aboriginal Australians and 25 Papuans from New Guinea suggests there was just one wave of humans out of Africa, 72,000 years ago. These these early migrants gave rise to all contemporary non-Africans, including indigenous Australians and Papuans. This group descended directly from the first people to inhabit the continent some 50,000 years ago. That makes them world’s longest running civilization.

Lockhart River dance troupe at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. Laura, Queensland, Australia. COPYRIGHT:© Andrew Watson

Lockhart River dance troupe at the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival. Laura, Queensland, Australia. COPYRIGHT:© Andrew Watson

Manjinder Sandhu, a senior author from the Sanger Institute and University of Cambridge, stated,

“Our results suggest that, rather than having left in a separate wave, most of the genomes of Papuans and Aboriginal Australians can be traced back to a single ‘Out of Africa’ event which led to modern worldwide populations. There may have been other migrations, but the evidence so far points to one exit event.”

The ancestoral split from this pioneering group around 58,000 years ago as these prehistoric Australians and Papuans continued to make their eastward journey. “Sahul”—a prehistoric supercontinent that connected Australia, New Guinea, and Tasmania was occupied around 8,000 years later, and the rising sea levels isolated them off from the rest of the world about 10,000 years ago. They’ve been there ever since.

There are several other intriguing findings of this study. For starters, the authors uncovered genetic evidence that points to the existence of an unknown human species, possibly Denisovans, that interbred with anatomically modern humans as they migrated through Africa. The researchers also presented new perspectives on how Aboriginal culture itself developed. An internal migration happened some 4,000 years ago, explaining the presence of younger languages and the emergence of new stone technologies in the archaeological record.