Aboriginal Australians are Earth's oldest civilization: DNA study

Story highlights

  • Genomic data was collected on 83 Aboriginal Australians and 25 Highland Papuans
  • The study reveals just how ancient Indigenous Australian civilizations are

(CNN)A new genomic study has revealed that Aboriginal Australians are the oldest known civilization on Earth, with ancestries stretching back roughly 75,000 years.

In a study published in the journal Nature Wednesday, a group of international researchers -- including nine Aboriginal leaders -- collected genomic data on 83 Aboriginal Australians and 25 Highland Papuans from Papua New Guinea.
    The findings indicated their ancestors had diverged from Eurasians 57,000 years ago, following a single exodus from Africa around 75,000 years ago.
    The data may show Aboriginal Australians came to the continent as early as 31,000 years ago.
    "The importance of this study for me is to have some proof of how long we [Aboriginals] have been in Australia," Colleen Wall, an Aboriginal elder and Senior Woman of the Dauwa Kau'bvai Nation, told CNN.
    "To have that credibility is really important to us as we know from our point of view that we've been here for thousands of years, but people look at our stories [of being here] as myth," added Wall.

    One founding population

    Willandra Lakes where the oldest Australian "Mungo Man" was found (43,500 years old).
    To date, only three Aboriginal Australian whole genome sequences have been described -- one from a historical tuft of hair from Australia's Western Desert and two other historic sequences whose exact origins were unknown -- making this study the most expansive investigation into indigenous Australian origins yet.
    The findings shed light on the origin of Aboriginal Australians, which has been debated among academic circles for decades, with research originally theorizing Australia was settled multiple times.
    But, according to David Lambert, study co-author and evolutionary biologist at Griffith University, the study's data reveals how one founding population expanded slowly across the Australian continent.
    The researchers found that Aboriginal Australians diverged from Papuans some 37,000 years ago, before the Australian land mass separated from New Guinea roughly 10,000 years ago.
    The groups traveled into Australia from mainland Asia, becoming the ancestors to a large population of modern-day Australians.
    "There is an extraordinary level of difference over time between, for example, Aboriginal people in the northwest and the southwest of Australia," Lambert told CNN.
    Elder Thomas Wales, of the Thanakwith Pine River People, is one of the co-authors of the study.

    Breaking down distinctions

    Lambert said that this study -- which collected genomic data from 83 Aboriginals who spoke Pama-Nyungan -- laid the foundation for understanding how Aboriginal Australian populations changed over time.
    He added, however, that further research needed to be conducted on the 10% of Aboriginals that were from a non Pama-Nyungan linguistic groups, who could have different genomic data.
    Researcher Michael Westaway taking saliva samples with Elder Thomas Wales.
    The affirmation of Aboriginal Australians as the most ancient civilization on Earth is astounding in itself. But the researchers stressed another achievement.
    "In a real sense, the most important thing about the paper is that we have nine Aboriginal elders as co-authors, who were involved with talking to indigenous groups across Australia," said Lambert.
    "We were trying to break down the distinction between scientists and indigenous people," added Lambert, who asserted the importance of indigenous communities playing an active role in research about themselves.