Aboriginal mitogenome analysis shows 50,000 years of connection to country

16 March 2017

Genomic analysis of hair samples collected from Australian Aboriginals across the nation have indicated that cultural connection to country has existed for as many as 50,000 years. 

The Aboriginal Heritage Project, led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA recently published their findings in the journal Nature (online 8th March 2017).  AGRF is proud to be associated with the work as part of an ARC linkage grant, with the AGRF’s Operations Manager Dr John Stephen as a Partner Investigator.

In the study, genetic analysis of mitochondrial DNA in hair samples collected from Aboriginal people across Australia in the early to mid-1900s has revealed the first detailed genetic map of Aboriginal Australia prior to the arrival of Europeans.  Its shows that modern Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of a single founding population that arrived in Australia 50,000 years ago, while Australia was still connected to New Guinea. Populations then spread rapidly – within 1500-2000 years – around the east and west coasts of Australia, meeting somewhere in South Australia.

“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,” says project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD, University of Adelaide.

“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.”

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.

Research partners include La Trobe University, Deakin University, and the National Centre for Indigenous Genomics. The project is funded by the ARC Linkage Projects scheme with financial or additional research support from the Australian Genome Research Facility, Bioplatforms Australia, the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers, and the National Geographic Society.

More information can be found on the project, including a short video at https://www.adelaide.edu.au/acad/ahp/

Link to Nature paper - Aboriginal mitogenomes reveal 50,000 years of regionalism in Australia <link - http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nature21416.html>