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(CNN)The bones of a teenage hunter-gatherer who died more than 7,000 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi tell the story of a previously unknown group of humans.
This distinct human lineage has never been found anywhere else in the world, according to new research.
The study published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
"We have discovered the first ancient human DNA in the island region between Asia and Australia, known as 'Wallacea', providing new insight into the genetic diversity and population history of early modern humans in this little understood part of the world," said study coauthor Adam Brumm, a professor of archaeology at Griffith University's Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, via email.
The first modern humans used the Wallacea islands, mainly Indonesian islands that include Sulawesi, Lombok and Flores, as they crossed from Eurasia to the Australian continent more than 50,000 years ago, researchers believe. The exact route or how they navigated this crossing, however, is unknown.
"They must have done so using relatively sophisticated watercraft of some kind, as there were no land bridges between the islands, even during the glacial peaks of the last ice age, when global sea levels were up to 140 meters (459 feet) lower than they are today," Brumm said.
Tools and cave paintings have suggested that humans were living on these islands by 47,000 years ago, but the fossil record is sparse and ancient DNA degrades more rapidly in the tropical climate.
However, researchers uncovered the skeleton of a female between the ages of 17 and 18 in a cave on Sulawesi in 2015. Her remains were buried in the cave 7,200 years ago. She was part of the Toalean culture, only found in a pocket of Sulawesi's southwestern peninsula. The cave is part of an archaeological site called Leang Panninge.