Skip

Out of Africa
September 22, 2011 1:15 PM   Subscribe

Australian Aboriginals were the first explorers, DNA research shows

This is my first post, please be gentle.
Here you will find a video and Here you will find a more popular explanation
This is the link to the actual Science article, which I cannot access from home.
posted by mumimor (33 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting stuff. Thanks, OP.
posted by Capt. Renault at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


So what you're saying is that they are actually aboriginal?
posted by goethean at 1:35 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to know how these original explorers 60,000 years ago reached Australia. Overland, via South Asia? Did they somehow journey across the Indian Ocean from Africa?
posted by KokuRyu at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2011


"I'm not sure there are any significant political implications. The rights of Aboriginal Australians will hopefully not be determined by genetic issues or events that happened 50,000 years ago. However, it might be satisfying for the Aboriginal Australian community to know that they have occupied the land for so long."

Wasn't that already well-understood? I'm glad that there is additional evidence for it, but I thought the dating of human remains and some artefacts had put the date at some time before 40,000 years ago.
posted by vidur at 1:45 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'd love to know how these original explorers 60,000 years ago reached Australia. Overland, via South Asia? Did they somehow journey across the Indian Ocean from Africa?

I've actually been looking for a FPP I saw here once that had an interactive map that would have addressed this; it was a map of human migration, based on genome sequencing data. I do remember seeing it graphically show a really early migration from Africa, and then there was a period when migration got cut off for a while; I think the main migration route was overland, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to know how these original explorers 60,000 years ago reached Australia. Overland, via South Asia? Did they somehow journey across the Indian Ocean from Africa?

UoW says that "the earliest inhabitants of Australia, Aborigines, arrived via the Indonesian islands".
posted by vidur at 1:47 PM on September 22, 2011


So what you're saying is that they are actually aboriginal?

Well, what I always thought the term "aborigine" referred to was the fact that they were inhabiting Australia before English settlers (prisoners?), were the original people in Australia and nothing more. I never considered that they could have finally settled in Australia after backpacking around the Eastern hemisphere. It's an interesting idea, which gives more definition to "Australian Aboriginals" - at least for me.

Good post - thanks.
posted by doyouknowwhoIam? at 1:49 PM on September 22, 2011


It's exciting to see this genetics work being done and, in parallel, historical linguistics work. We're close to really understanding the migration history of humans. As complex as it is, particularly the interbreeding with other humanoids.

What I find fascinating about Australia is how isolated the population was for so long.
posted by Nelson at 1:50 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ooooh, partly descended from Denisovans--the hipper, edgier Neanderthals.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:51 PM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


UoW says that "the earliest inhabitants of Australia, Aborigines, arrived via the Indonesian islands".

Thanks for that. I wonder how long the migration took? And why?

It's kind of cool to imagine humans migrating across terrain that had never been settled before. It's almost like exploring an alien planet.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:00 PM on September 22, 2011


Australian Aboriginals were the first explorers, DNA research shows


It does not show that. It shows that Aboriginals were the first population to leave Africa. This does not make them the first humans to "explore."

This is why popular science writing is so bad.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:00 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I wonder how long the migration took? And why?

The last I heard, the consensus was that people just followed the coastline, a few miles per generation. The coastlines were different back then: sometimes landmasses were visible across bodies of water which are no longer visible.
posted by goethean at 2:06 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Clicking links on Wikipedia one day I found out about the Toba Catastrophe, a time at which human population may have dropped down to 10000 or even just 1000 pairs. Wouldn't it be crazy if the aboriginals survived on Australia, while the rest of humanity (as well as the Denisovans) died out except for the group in africa?

However it looks like the timing would be off.
posted by delmoi at 2:18 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


It does not show that. It shows that Aboriginals were the first population to leave Africa. This does not make them the first humans to "explore."

The first global explorers, as opposed to people no-doubt exploring around Africa.
posted by delmoi at 2:20 PM on September 22, 2011


I have no idea how these people got their ancestors into Australia, or why.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


It shows that Aboriginals were the first population to leave Africa.

Well, not even that. It shows that, of existing human populations, Australian Aboriginals are descended from the oldest known bunch to have left Africa. There could easily have been others whose descendants were wiped out.

The earliest evidence of humans in the Levant (which is not part of Africa) dates back 1.4 million years, orders of magnitude older than Aboriginals in Australia. Unless the Aboriginals are descended from those people in the Levant, they wouldn't be the first known to have left Africa.
posted by UbuRoivas at 2:32 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


UbuRoivas, I didn't know abou this at all. Can you point me to some more information?
posted by mumimor at 3:17 PM on September 22, 2011


... And why?

Following a food source?
posted by the noob at 3:22 PM on September 22, 2011


I have no idea how these people got their ancestors into Australia, or why.

The answer is in the Dreamtime.
posted by Xurando at 3:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dingoes, for instance, were brought to the island continent by humans who arrived in the last 5,000 years. "It's certainly possible that people were trickling in at different times," he says.


Thought they came with the first migration around 50,000 years ago.

Must have been a real shock to have a new and formidable predator show up like that.

5,000 years doesn't quite seem too long for some oral tradition inspired by the event to have survived.
posted by jamjam at 4:12 PM on September 22, 2011


It's kind of cool to imagine humans migrating across terrain that had never been settled before. It's almost like exploring an alien planet.

Heh, I'm teaching a course on this exact topic right now.

Coming across the "Indonesian islands" is a little bit of a misnomer. With lower sea levels during prior glaciation then most of those islands fuse to Southeast Asia in a giant peninsula called Sunda Land. Similarly, Australia fuses to New Guinea in a huge island called Sahul. The gap between these includes some fairly small islands such as Timor and Flores islands, a palaeo-archipelago dubbed Wallacea.

Homo erectus made it onto Flores Island in Wallacea as early as 800,000 years ago. The major leap accomplished by Homo sapiens would have had to have been across Timor strait, which would have been on the order of 75-100 km. Crucially though, there may have been exposed reefs and small islands as stepping stones, and that NW coast of Australia, when you let the water down, forms a very rich, complex archipelago and probably highly productive.

Some archaeologists think the crossing was done via the "birds head" route into NW PNG from Sulawesi, but that seems like a more challenging route to me.

Ubu- you're probably thinking of Homo erectus at 1.4 million years. Homo erectus had gotten to very many places in the world in the first big Out of Africa wave, including Sunda Land, the Caucasus, NE China, etc. Homo sapiens, whether archaic H.s. or fully modern Homo sapiens sapiens is not likely to be more than about 100,000 years old, with the latter more like 60,000 (top of my head)
posted by Rumple at 4:17 PM on September 22, 2011 [13 favorites]


mumimor: I was reading about it just the other week in The Incredible Human Journey - talking about the archaeological evidence of early humans in the Levant, in the context of when & how people migrated out of Africa. There's a bit in this Wikipedia entry that could lead on to further reading.

The rest was merely my interpretation: if aboriginals were in Australia 60,000 years ago, but people reached Asia Minor at least 1,400,000 years ago, then that's a huge time gap & it's reasonably safe to assume that waves of early humans were branching out all over the place for a long, long time before anybody reached Australia.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:18 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: "I'd love to know how these original explorers 60,000 years ago reached Australia. Overland, via South Asia? Did they somehow journey across the Indian Ocean from Africa?

I've actually been looking for a FPP I saw here once that had an interactive map that would have addressed this; it was a map of human migration, based on genome sequencing data. I do remember seeing it graphically show a really early migration from Africa, and then there was a period when migration got cut off for a while; I think the main migration route was overland, though.
"

You're probably thinking of the genetic map at the Bradshaw Foundation. Which is great, but the genetic story is not the only story - it needs to be set against fossil and archaeological evidence with which it is not always in agreement.
posted by Rumple at 4:24 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hm, maybe I shouldn't be confusing Homo Erectus with Homo Sapiens...the book is actually talking about the earliest 'modern' human remains outside Africa dating back to the warm interglacial period around 120K-130K years ago - found in the caves of Skhul & Qafzeh in modern-day Israel.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:25 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's reasonably safe to assume that waves of early humans were branching out all over the place for a long, long time before anybody reached Australia.

That's very true. They stalled out in Sunda Land, or at least at Flores island so far is known, before the second wave came along and were able to make the move into Australia. But crucially, this study seems to suggest that of the various waves "Out of Africa", the people who made it into Australia were one of the first. Earlier waves were of different species (erectus) or archaic humans such as the taxonomic soup of Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neandertalensis (or is it Homo sapiens neandertalensis) and just plain old archaic pretty smart but maybe limited in key cognitive factors, simple Homo sapiens.

But Sunda to Sahul is not the only hiatus in the big picture. For example, modern humans were on the Solomon Islands by 30,000 years ago but not onto SW Polynesia until about 3,500 years. Homo erectus were in China "(Peking Man") and Homo sapiens into NE Asia fairly early, but a hiatus until probably 15,000 years ago or a little more until they made it into the Americas. Each of these waves and hiatuses is a cool case study in the topic of how do we model long term behaviour, how do we meld fossil, archaeological, linguistic, genetic evidence, and how do archaeological biases put blinkers on what we find by limiting what we look for. E.g., with recent finds in the Americas of early stuff, suddenly there is a flood of early sites as archaeologists reframe their expectations.
posted by Rumple at 4:33 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Great thread. Rumple, have a link to that course you're teaching? Will it be offered in the spring?
posted by KokuRyu at 5:19 PM on September 22, 2011


KokuRyu: no, not next semester I'm afraid. I'll post up a syllabus later when I'm not on my phone for you to peruse. (The course web site is locked behind uni passwords).
posted by Rumple at 5:37 PM on September 22, 2011


John Hawks, who is a great Anthropology (paleo and genetics, mostly, semi technical but clear) blogger had earlier drawn out an intriguing pattern relating to the fate of the enigmatic Denisovans. I'm looking forward to him examining this finding in the light of the older one about the Denisovan echo found in Australia and PNG.

KokuRyu, you can see the syllabus here if you like (pdf).
posted by Rumple at 7:42 PM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's a Ted talk with Svante Pääbo about the mix of extinct homo species in our genomes. He mentions near the end that some pacific islanders are about 5% denisovan.
posted by camdan at 7:52 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Australian Aboriginals were the first explorers, DNA research shows

That's the OP's faulty research. The actual article states:

"Aboriginal Australians are descendents of the first human explorers. These are the guys who expanded to unknown territory into an unknown world, eventually reaching Australia,"

So yeah...
posted by hal_c_on at 8:13 PM on September 22, 2011


I wonder if the Australian aborigines look more like Africans of 50k years ago than do Africans of today?
posted by tarvuz at 1:37 AM on September 23, 2011


jamjam: "Thought they [dingos] came with the first migration around 50,000 years ago. Must have been a real shock to have a new and formidable predator show up like that."

I thought current research put it at more like 9~12,000 years ago, with them getting down to southern Australia about 5~7,000 years ago (though the earlier date is possibly a bit of a guesstimate based on the fact dingos aren't native to Tasmania, which was isolated from the mainland about that time). Doesn't quite fit in with the megafauna extinction (45~55,000 ya, which coincides with both the spread of Aborigines across the continent and a change in vegetation - Flannery will argue cause & effect there ;-), which also happened on dingo-free Tasmania.

The arrival & spread of the dingo on mainland Australia does seem to tie in with a smaller extinction event which included the extinction of, amongst others, the Thylacine on mainland Australia. I think the current idea is that most of these late extinctions were stragglers already rare due to hunting &/or the change in climate & vegetation, and tipped into extinction by the dingo.

"5,000 years doesn't quite seem too long for some oral tradition inspired by the event to have survived."

There's at least one theory that some Aboriginal legends are oral traditions referring to the last of the megafauna (e.g. bunyip = Diprotodon), or at least their skeletons.
posted by Pinback at 1:53 AM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I wouldn't claim that an argument from facial features is conclusive, but after meeting a couple of people from Tamil Nadu (the Indian state at the southern tip) I started to realized that they looked very similar to Australian Aborigines. (A very cute example here.)

I could swear I saw some PBS documentary where they were comparing blood genetics that also find a close relationship between the two.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:12 AM on September 23, 2011


« Older These images you have been exposed to involved...   |   Dark Young Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post