After careful analysis of DNA evidence, scientists have concluded that Australia has been continuously inhabited by Aboriginal people for 50,000 years. The results have provided our first ever map of Aboriginal genetics across Australia, pre-European colonization. The findings were arrived at through the Aboriginal Heritage Project, working out of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, along with the South Australian Museum.
The research team investigated mitochondrial DNA from hair samples, 111 of them, that were gathered between 1928 and 1970. Mitochondrial DNA can trace maternal ancestry. According to the research, contemporary Aborigines are descended from a single population group from roughly 50,000 years ago. At that time, Australia and New Guinea would still have been one contiguous land mass. Over the ensuing 2,000 years, Aborigines spread across the continent and then met again in South Australia.
Alan Cooper, the project leader and director of ACAD, says, “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. This is unlike peple anywhere else in the world and provides compelling support for the remarkable Aboriginal cultural connection to the 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.”
The study comes at the beginning of a ten-year project meant to help people research their Aboriginal genealogies. The researchers also hope it will help return misplaced or stolen Aboriginal artifacts.
According to Lewis O’Brien, a Kaurna Elder whose hair was studied as part of the project, “Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time. 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 Aboriginal genetics research will be expanded to also study paternal lineges. The studies have received funding from the Australian Research Council Indigenous Discovery Fellowship. It will hopefully show how Aboriginal populations in different Australian habitats formed the genetic diversity currently found in modern Aboriginal populations. The science is sure to show some remarkable historical realities that may or may not corroborate Aboriginal folk histories.