DNA reveals aborigines have lived 50,000 years in Australia

March 11, 2017

In a study published in Nature, hair DNA links 50,000 years of pre-continental drift Australian aboriginal settlement.Aboriginal Heritage Project, which is being pioneered by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA has revealed through in-depth testing of DNA in hair samples from the 1900s that Aboriginal populations have indeed been present in the same regions for up to 50,000 years. The discovery is based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA found in hair samples taken from Aboriginal people during expeditions run between 1928 and the 1970s. The DNA analysis reconfirms modern Aboriginal Australians are descended from one founding population that arrived about 50,000 years ago when the continent was still connected to New Guinea. Lead researcher Professor Alan Cooper of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA said the study shows the first people then moved around the west and east coasts, meeting somewhere in southern Australia around 2,000 years later.The analysis indicated some populations stayed in specific areas during that continental migration and have been continuously present in those same regions ever since.”We can see a very pronounced and distinct pattern of genetic types around Australia that clearly says Aboriginal people haven’t moved from those areas,” Professor Cooper said in the report. “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,” cooper added.Professor Cooper says: “We are very grateful for the enthusiasm and overwhelming support for this project we have received from Aboriginal families, and the Cherbourg, Koonibba, and Point Pearce communities in particular.”

The researchers analysed mitochondrial DNA which allows maternal ancestry to be traced from 111 hair samples that were originally collected, with permission, from Aboriginal families who had been forcibly relocated to the communities of Cherbourg in Queensland and Koonibba and Point Pearce in South Australia. The South Australian Museum’s collection of more than 5,000 hair samples, complete with cultural, linguistic, genealogical and geographical data, came from the expeditions run by the Board of Anthropological Research from the University of Adelaide between 1928 and the 1970s. Co-author Lesley Williams, an Indigenous woman from Cherbourg Queensland, was a key adviser on the project and is also the granddaughter of one of the hair sample donors. She said the picture of settlement provided by the study was an “absolutely important finding”. Ms Williams said it was important Aboriginal people played a major role in developing the right cultural and ethical framework for the study. DNA analysis was only undertaken with consent of the donors or their descendants and results were discussed face to face with the families before publication. “For us to go to talk to community, it was so sensitive, so we had to do it in a very respectful way,” Ms Williams told Australian Museum. “Aboriginal people were able to be involved and, not only engaged, but they had the final say by giving their consent.” Ms Williams said the technology would help those members of the Stolen Generations whose records had been lost or destroyed to trace their families and the cultural lands they were from.A key pillar of the Aboriginal Heritage Project is that Aboriginal families and communities have been closely involved with the project from its inception and that analyses are only conducted with their consent.

Researchers say that results are first discussed with the families to get Aboriginal perspectives before scientific publication. The research model was developed under the guidance of Aboriginal elders, the Genographic Project, and professional ethicists.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.” The South Australian Museum’s collection of hair samples, complete with rich cultural, linguistic, genealogical and geographical data, comes from the expeditions run by the Board of Anthropological Research from the University of Adelaide. “This Aboriginal Heritage Project is able to exist because of the extensive records collected by Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell and others on those expeditions, which are held in trust for all at the South Australian Museum. They include detailed information about the birthplaces, family history and family trees, film, audio and written records, allowing a wide range of approaches to be used by this project to reconstruct history,” says Brian Oldman, Director of the South Australian Museum. “The South Australian Museum’s Aboriginal Family History Unit has also been instrumental to the project and has worked closely with the University team to consult with Aboriginal families and communities to obtain permission for tests to be performed,” he says. Researchers expect research will be extended to investigate paternal lineages and information from the nuclear genome. After reading this report, now i know where my ancestors were 50,000 years ago yet to this day we the descendants don’t still have rights to exist!!!

Contador Harrison