Wednesday, September 28, 2016

DNA Study Finds Aboriginal Australians are Oldest Civilization in the World

Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation outside Africa. But who exactly were the first people to settle there? Such a question has obvious political implications and has been hotly debated for decades.

 The first comprehensive genomic study of Aboriginal Australians reveals that they are indeed the direct descendants of Australia's earliest settlers and diverged from their Papuan neighbors about 37,000 years ago. The study also uncovers several other major findings on early human populations.

The research is published today in Nature and is the result of a close collaboration between international research teams and representatives of Aboriginal Australian communities. It includes six researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics -- among whom, lead author Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas and group leader Laurent Excoffier, both from the University of Bern.

The early peopling of Australia and the continent's subsequent population history has been a matter of scientific debate for decades. Until the present study, demographic inference was based on only three Aboriginal Australian genomes; one was derived from a tuft of hair (taken from a deceased individual), and the other two from cell lines whose provenance is somewhat hazy. Recently, with the assistance of Aboriginal Australian co-authors, an international team of scientists sequenced 83 modern Aboriginal Australian and 25 modern Papuan genomes. The research teams used this genomic data and combined it with linguistic data to characterize the peopling of Australia. The work reveals -- among other things -- three key dates.
  •     Australian Aboriginals knew of variable star Betelgeuse before European astronomers
  •     Written in Stone: Neolithic Weapons and Tools of the Australian Aboriginals
  •     Australian Aboriginals - Creation Myth

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