Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
A new study in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) from geneticists at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany could lead to a rewriting of the cultural history of Australia.
The researchers say that a recent genetic analysis shows evidence of a substantial flow of genes running between the Indian and Australian populations about 4,000 years ago.
“Interestingly, this date also coincides with many changes in the archaeological record of Australia, which include a sudden change in plant processing and stone tool technologies … and the first appearance of the dingo in the fossil record,” said lead researcher Irina Pugach, an evolutionary geneticist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The study´s findings run counter to the conventional history of Australia which describes the continent as being largely isolated from the first humans´ arrival about 40,000 years ago, until the European settlers moved in during the 1800s.
“For a long time, it has been commonly assumed that following the initial colonization, Australia was largely isolated as there wasn’t much evidence of further contact with the outside world,” said study co-author Mark Stoneking. “It is one of the first dispersals of modern humans — and it did seem a bit of a conundrum that people who got there this early would have been so isolated.”
To reach their findings, the team sampled genetic material from Aboriginal Australians and compared it to material from people in New Guinea, South East Asia and India. The researchers used genetic markers to track segments of the genetic code and see which groups of people were most closely related. A handful of genetic markers pointed to a strong connection between the populations in India and Australia.
“We have a pretty clear signal from looking at a large number of genetic markers from all across the genome that there was contact between India and Australia somewhere around 4,000 to 5,000 years ago,” Stoneking said.
The researchers also found a genetic connection among New Guineans, Australians, and the Mamanwa — an ethnic Philippine group — dating back to between 35,000 and 45,000 years ago when these now separate islands were a single land mass.
“This finding supports the view that these populations represent the descendants of an early ‘southern route’ migration out of Africa, while other populations in the region arrived later by a separate dispersal,” Stoneking said.
He noted that the genetic analysis couldn´t show the direct route that migrating peoples might have taken. However, the study could have added value in the light of anthropological evidence.
“We don’t have direct evidence of any connection, but it strongly suggestive that microliths, dingo and the movement of people were all connected,” Stoneking said.
Some observers noted the legend of the Australian wild dingo as anecdotal evidence of this migration. The modern dingo roams the Australian outback, hunting alone or in packs, and communicating with wolf-like howls and yelps.
Some experts say the dogs migrated along with South Asian peoples, pointing to the term ℠dingo´ itself, which they say was probably picked up by early settlers from a similar sounding Aboriginal word for a domestic dog.