DNA map shows ancient moves
An advanced DNA project has mapped the connection to country of Indigenous Australians.
DNA in hair samples collected from Aboriginal people across Australia in the early to mid-1900s have revealed that populations have been continuously present in the same regions for up to 50,000 years.
The findings reinforce Aboriginal communities’ strong connection to country and represent the first detailed genetic map of Aboriginal Australia prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA from 111 hair samples that were collected during a series of remarkable anthropological expeditions across Australia from 1928 to the 1970s and are now held in the South Australian Museum’s unparalleled collection of hair samples.
Mitochondrial DNA is used to trace maternal ancestry, showing that modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of a single founding population that arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago, when Australia was still connected to New Guinea.
Populations then spread rapidly – over about 2000 years – around the east and west coasts of Australia, meeting somewhere in South Australia.
“Amazingly, it seems that from around this time the basic population patterns have persisted for the next 50,000 years -showing that communities have remained in discrete geographical regions,” says project leader Professor Alan Cooper.
“This is unlike people anywhere else in the world and provides compelling support for the remarkable Aboriginal cultural connection to country.
“We’re hoping this project leads to a rewriting of Australia’s history texts to include detailed Aboriginal history and what it means to have been on their land for 50,000 years – that’s around 10 times as long as all of the European history we’re commonly taught.”
This is the first phase of a decade-long project that will allow people with Aboriginal heritage to trace their regional ancestry and reconstruct family genealogical history, and will also assist with the repatriation of Aboriginal artefacts.
“Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time,” says Kaurna Elder Mr Lewis O’Brien, who is one of the original hair donors and has been on the advisory group for the study.
“But it is important to have science show that to the rest of the world. This is an exciting project and we hope it will help assist those of our people from the Stolen Generation and others to reunite with their families.”