'At Least 50,000 Years': DNA Study Confirms Indigenous Australian History

The first complete sequences of the Y chromosomes of Aboriginal Australian men have revealed a deep Indigenous genetic history tracing all the way back to the initial settlement of the continent 50,000 years ago, according to Australian research.

The study by researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, collaborators at La Trobe University in Melbourne and several other Australian institutes, challenges a previous theory that suggested an influx of people from India into Australia around four to five thousand years ago.

Image: Shutterstock

This new DNA sequencing study focused on the Y chromosome, which is transmitted only from father to son, and found no support for such a prehistoric migration. The results instead show a long and independent genetic history in Australia.

Modern humans arrived in Australia about 50 thousand years ago, forming the ancestors of present-day Aboriginal Australians. They were amongst the earliest settlers outside Africa. They arrived in an ancient continent made up of today’s Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea, called Sahul, probably thousands of years before modern humans arrived in Europe.

Five thousand years ago, dingos, the native dogs, somehow arrived in Australia, and changes in stone tool use and language around the same time raised the question of whether there were also associated genetic changes in the Australian Aboriginal population. At least two previous genetic studies, one of which was based on the Y chromosome, had proposed that these changes could have coincided with mixing of Aboriginal and Indian populations about 5 thousand years ago.

Anders Bergstrӧm, first author on the paper at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said "We worked closely with Aboriginal Australian communities to sequence the Y chromosome DNA from 13 male volunteers to investigate their ancestry. The data show that Aboriginal Australian Y chromosomes are very distinct from Indian ones. These results refute the previous Y chromosome study, thus excluding this part of the puzzle as providing evidence for a prehistoric migration from India. Instead, the results are in agreement with the archaeological record about when people arrived in this part of the world."

"Clearly there is keen interest in the Aboriginal community to explore their genetic ancestry and without them this study would not be possible -- our first step was to return their results to them, before the scientific article was published," explained Dr John Mitchell, Associate Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne. "This collaboration in genome sequencing, to explore their ancient history, was made possible by years of engagement beforehand with Aboriginal communities."

Further study is needed to answer questions, such as how the dingo did get to Australia and why other people -- such as the seafaring Polynesians -- didn’t settle on the continent. Expanding the genetic analyses beyond the Y chromosome and to the whole genome will also be necessary to completely rule out external genetic influences on the Aboriginal Australian population before the very recent times.

Lesley Williams, who was responsible for the liaison with the Aboriginal community, said "As an Aboriginal Elder and cultural consultant for this project I am delighted, although not surprised, that science has confirmed what our ancestors have taught us over many generations, that we have lived here since the Dreaming."

"By fully sequencing and analysing Y-chromosomal DNA, we have been able to trace ancient human migrations and inform living people about their ancestry," added Dr Chris Tyler Smith, group leader at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. "We are using the latest technology to genetically unearth our ancient history -- something that has only become possible in the last decade. We look forward to further collaborations to understand more of this unique heritage."


WATCH MORE: Science & Health News


    50,000 years and still didn't invent the wheel or agriculture or raising live stock. Just saying and no, I'm not racist. I have more aboriginal friends than most people do.
    Hate mail in 1 2 3, go for it.

    Last edited 29/02/16 12:41 pm

      Purely academically, there's probably good reasons, particularly based in Australia's terrain and conditions. Wheels are no big deal (the South American Empires did fine without them) and useless in most Australian terrain, and agriculture is for fixed settlements, and again, Australia is far from the right place for that either.

      So then, what is the point of your comment?

      Necessity breeds invention. Could have been that the early Aboriginal cultures were more peaceful (relatively speaking) than those on other continents and less opposing groups struggling to control resources due to their isolation cuts off their need to one-up their rivals with technological advances.

        Exactly. Competing cultures and ongoing communication with neighbouring civilisations is what forces technological advances. The lack of technology only points to their isolation, nothing else. They certainly had limited conflicts and wars among themselves (the peaceful stuff is exaggerated), but those were usually over social issues; land and resources weren't scarce enough to force any strong long term competition.

        That we'll. Yeah I did have that they as a society were stagnant. But that's some very sound reasoning as to why there was no major progression. But even in other cultures there were always curious ones that tried to learn new things to grasp new ideas. Take early astronomers. Most of it was out of curiosity and to seek inderstanding not for some military advantage.

        ^ THAT. Possibly an abundance of natural resources and food negating any real need to create things beyond clothes and weapons.

          No. Aborigines were far from peaceful. There are settler records of them watching tribes fight. Secondly they always preferred European food when they came into contact with it. Also many aborigines malnourished were encountered.

      Where does that come into it? Who's to say your way of living is right or wrong?

      And in less then 50,000 years the great inventions, "cars", mining, etc... decimation of natural land and trees from too much agriculture, too much livestock polluting the planet, will have destroyed this planet. Maybe if the colonialists werent so hellbent on destroying a culture that old they could have learnt a thing or two, instead of having a pee sized brain and thinking of making, not a better life for all, just some. Just $$aying!

        You mean the people that will eventually take us off not just into our solar system but beyond into our galaxy. While in future our sun eventually dies taking us with it. Yes our progression might not all be good but doing something is better than nothing.

          At this rate we'll destroy ourselves before settling outside of earth. Nice to have dreams/hallucinations once in a while though.

            With 3 rovers on Mars and more than one manned mission in the works it isn't to much of a hallucination.

              It's taken us sixty years to get from landing on the moon to sending a robot or two to mars. At this rate of progress it's nothing short of a hallucination, especially if you're talking about making the planet a habitable option for a large amount of humans (I'm talking at least 10,000).

                And 10 years from nothing to landing on the moon. We can do things quickly when we really want to.

                  So clearly we really don't want to inhabit mars then!

      Ha Ha - Looking for attention are we? :-)

        Yep and I got it in droves. Job accomplished.

          So you lack attention in other areas so you act like a bigoted prick on articles just for your fix of attention. What a sad person you are.

      The complete lack of animals that could be domesticated was the first problem. There were no cloven hoofed animals, no cows, nor sheep, nor goats, nor camels, nor pigs or any thing of the kind. Not even lama or guinea pigs. Neither was there a wide-spread grain, or any legumes or maize. About the only animal of any significance in terms of agriculture were birds. I can't think of a single agricultural pre-history community based solely on birds.

      And then there was the climate. Even today agriculture is difficult and problematic is a large part of Australia.

      Despite 200 years of European settlement, and despite modern agricultural knowledge, outside of marine species, how many endemic animals and plants have been established as viable, sustainable agricultural pursuits. Yes, there are some successes, but not without much effort and the best of modern science.

      So I content, the main problem with developing agriculture was what they had to work with, and that simply did not lend itself to widespread agriculture. Without agriculture the only other way to have settlements is coastal - based on a marine food supply, or by trading.


    Agriculture doesn't arise by magic: it requires candidate plants in the wild.

    They did in fact have agriculture - just not intensive agriculture. In Victoria there is plenty of evidence of weed suppression and active promotion of particular plants around habitation sites. It most likely happened in many other areas as well.

    And in your 63 years PeePee, what of note have you achieved? I'm proud of my European heritage, but I know that, whenever I had been born in history my contribution would amount to nothing. It's pretty easy to crow about advances that you did not contribute to, nor would have ever developed.

      I'm not 63. That's the only pepee I could rangle for my xbox account. And yes, of course you're correct. I was feeling bored and wrote my comment to illicit more comments for a laugh. But in a way I'm right, aboriginals are a primitive race. I find it odd that the aboriginals were about so long but never progressed further than being nomads. I suppose they never had a reason to settle down.

        They werent nomads,they had boundaries, sacred places etc... u are so wrong its insulting to yourself how uneducated you are on the matter, but "claim" to know aboriginal issues because you have friends that are aboriginal (more than most people). Pull your head in or get it out of the sand, or leave it there and dont speak about things u have no comprehension about. Aboriginal issues are no laughing matter.

          Where have I said that I know their issues? Learn to read before abusing anyone.

    A sample of 13 isn't sufficient to state that there was no second migration. I could easily find 13 people for DNA testing and could conclude all Australians are decendant from the Irish. I could also easily find 13 half casts and through DNA testing conclude all indigenous people partly originated from modern day China. Small sample sizes don't equal science fact, the locals up here in the NT have been actively trading with the Indonesians for thousands of years, so to say a second migration didn't happen would be a fallacy, especially when you compare the features of a desert man to a gulf of carpeteria man you can easily see the Asian influence vs that of the remote and isolated interior with no outside interactions for 1000s of years.

      Exactly. They probably sampled from a small desert area. They also I don't think people from southern india would head into the desert. I wonder if they looked at western australian aborigines for that indian influence. I sometimes see australian accented tamils and could confuse them with aborigines. Queensland Aboriginals look like Papuans. They look a little different from southern aboriginals. It was only 5000 years ago that PNG split off so I would consider papuans and aborigines more of the same group really.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now