The first genomic history of Australia’s peopling

Lausanne, 21 September – Australia has one of the longest histories of continuous human occupation outside Africa. But who exactly were the first people to settle there? Such a question has obvious political implications and has been hotly debated for decades. The first comprehensive genomic study of Aboriginal Australians reveals that they are indeed the direct descendants of Australia’s earliest settlers and diverged from their Papuan neighbours about 37’000 years ago (y.a.).

The study also uncovers several other major findings on early human populations. The research is published today in Nature and is the result of a close collaboration between international research teams and representatives of Aboriginal Australian communities. It includes six researchers from the SIB Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics – among whom, lead author Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas and group leader Laurent Excoffier, both from the University of Bern.

Image: Aboriginal art inspired Australian map by Stephen Gowland (Kiaco). The colours are also found in the Aboriginal Australian flag where “black represents the Aboriginal people of Australia, red, the red ochre colour of earth and a spiritual relation to the land and yellow, the sun, the giver of life and protector”. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license.

Full media release