Lock of Hair Pins Down Early Migration of Aborigines

Leila Battison, BBC, September 22, 2011

A lock of hair has helped scientists to piece together the genome of Australian Aborigines and rewrite the history of human dispersal around the world.

DNA from the hair demonstrates that indigenous Aboriginal Australians were the first to separate from other modern humans, around 70,000 years ago.

This challenges current theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa.

An international team of researchers published their findings in the journal Science.

While the Aboriginal populations were trailblazing across Asia and into Australia, the remaining humans stayed around North Africa and the Middle East until 24,000 years ago.

Only then did they spread out and colonise Europe and Asia, but the indigenous Aborigines had been established in Australia for 25,000 years.

Australian Aborigines therefore have a longer claim to the land in which they now live than any other population known.

The research also highlights the exciting future possibilities of comparing the genomes of multiple individuals to track migration of small indigenous groups.

Tiny genetic differences

Archaeological remains are known from Australia from around 50,000 years ago, putting a maximum age of the Aborigines’ settlement there.

But the history of their journey and their relationship with the indigenous people of Asia and Europe had not been solved.

It was previously thought that modern humans dispersed in one pulse out of Africa and the Middle East, and because of the distances involved, the modern Europeans would have separated from the Asians and Australians first.

Genetic information from a lock of Aboriginal hair has been used to show that the Australians set off a lot earlier.

By looking at the tiny (fraction of one percent) differences between the DNA of Aborigines and other ancient humans, the scientists show that the indigenous Australians were first isolated 70,000 years ago.

Dr Francois Balloux, of Imperial College London described how a “population expanded along the coastline because of the rich resources available there. They could walk almost the entire way because the sea level was much lower”. Just one small sea crossing would be required to reach Australia.

Any potential archaeological remains of this journey, which lasted 25,000 years, would be lost to the deep sea under rising sea levels.

The remaining populations in the Middle East moved out to colonise Europe and Asia 24,000 years ago, and the aboriginal genome records some interbreeding between Asian populations and aboriginal ancestors at this time.

Discovering the history of human migration with DNA has been made possible by improvements in the techniques used to study the genome.

Traditionally, genetic divergence dates were arrived at by combining the number of unique mutations in the DNA with an assumed rate of acquiring those mutations.

Now, computationally powerful models can simulate lots of different scenarios for migration timings and directions, and researchers can compare and choose the situation that most closely matches what is seen in the genome.

By comparing the Aboriginal genome with the DNA of African, European and Han Chinese individuals it was possible to highlight the later interbreeding after initial colonisation.

Comparison with Eurasian populations show that the Australian Aborigines have a similar percentage of Neanderthal genes within their DNA as their Eurasian counterparts, suggesting that any interbreeding occurred before the Aborigines embarked on their colonising journey.

The findings of these researchers are supported by an independent study, published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics, which looks at the characteristic DNA from an extinct, archaic form of human, the Denisovans.

Denisovans lived over 30,000 years ago, and contributed genes mostly to present-day New Guineans.

This independent study identifies a pattern of Denisovan DNA in Asian individuals that can only be explained by two separate waves of human migration: the first of Aboriginals colonising Australia, and the second involving the occupation of Asia itself.

‘Jurassic Park science’

The Aboriginal research was carried out on a single lock of hair, which was donated by a young Aboriginal man to the British anthropologist Dr A C Haddon in 1923.

“At this time, it was fashionable to take human samples,” said Dr Balloux. The collection of hair was one of the more innocuous efforts of anthropologists at the time.

The researchers chose to examine the hair, as opposed to any other type of remains, for legal reasons. Hair is not classified as a human tissue.

“More important to us was that the research would be acceptable from a social and moral point of view” said Dr Balloux. To the surprise of the scientists, the people they consulted were very supportive of the study and its results. Dr Balloux explained that in the past, indigenous people have been “extremely sensitive of the motivations of western scientists”.

The research has been published with “strong endorsement” from the Goldfields Land and Sea Council, the organisation that represents the Aboriginal traditional owners of parts of Western Australia, he said.

Genomics techniques like those used in this study have the potential to be used more extensively in the study of human migrations and the evolution of health and disease.

The international team next plans to look in more detail at the dispersal of modern humans out of Africa, as well as solving how and when the Americas were colonised.

Dr Balloux said he was excited about the unexpected potential of the techniques, describing it as “borderline Jurassic Park science”.

[Editor’s Note: The original study is available here.]


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28 Responses to “Lock of Hair Pins Down Early Migration of Aborigines” Subscribe

  1. Anonymous September 23, 2011 at 6:26 pm #

    “More important to us was that the research would be acceptable from a social and moral point of view” said Dr Balloux.

    So if this research had perhaps shown that Aboriginal Australians had only arrived within say the last 20,000 years and not established them as the earliest non-African indigenous group the research would not have been important? Is the only reason for the research or a story on it merely to politically establish native rights for Aboriginals? I don’t really understand the reason for this statement, other than Dr. Balloux covering himself as a PC scientist, “just in case.” But it interferes with the perception of objective science, when any researcher makes a comment like that.

  2. Anonymous September 23, 2011 at 7:41 pm #

    “Australian Aborigines therefore have a longer claim to the land in which they now live than any other population known.”

    Okay, this article is very fasinating but what exacly is the BBC implying with the above quote. That all non-Aboriginal Australians (about 97+ %) should abandon the contitnent and move back to europe or where ever?

  3. ice September 23, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

    I’ve only read bits and pieces of the emerging theory in opposition to the “out of Africa” concept, wherein races originated outside Africa, but I have a strong hunch that it’s going to be proven correct in the near future.

    In fact, I’m fairly certain that we’re going to be seeing strong evidence that all the races originated in different parts of the world at roughly the same time, in spite of any DNA evidence they might now have in support of the out of Africa theory.

    The so-called mainstream scientific community, especially those in academia, seem to have slipped so badly in their objectivity in favor of tainting everything with a touch of outright radical liberalism they can’t be believed anymore.

    I trust those outside the main groups if they give enough evidence they’re objective.

  4. Blaak Obongo September 23, 2011 at 11:14 pm #

    “More important to us was that the research would be acceptable from a social and moral point of view.”

    Then it’s not “research” at all, and should not be presented as such. It’s open, flagrant propaganda to promote a pre-established conclusion.

  5. Anonymous September 24, 2011 at 12:45 am #

    I live in Australia and was watching SBS -(Anti white channel). Some bright spark thinks they had undisclosed advanced technologies and traveled from Africa to Australia on a speed boat. This country would be still be living 75,000 years ago if it was not for Aryan arrival.

  6. Anonymous September 24, 2011 at 1:05 am #

    To Poster number 1. . . “More important to us was that the research would be acceptable from a social and moral point of view”

    I think he was saying using a lock of hair was morally or socially acceptable, as opposed to using some other kind of human or subject cells. Because if scientists had, aboriginals or those who support these noble people might put an unremoveable curse on him by calling the scientist ‘insensitive’. That would lead to some very bad mojo. Who says these ‘scientists’ are merely witch-doctors?

  7. SoCal LoCal September 24, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Length of tenure lends moral strength to land claims by indigenous peoples? So white ethnic groups have the best claims to their respective European homelands? Nah, that would be RACIST!

  8. Pat September 24, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    No. 2 – Anonymous – ‘is the BBC implying…..that all non Aboriginal Australians abandon the continent’ – yes, that would be them. Our wonderful multi culti, PC State broadcaster. If you are British you will know this already and be forced to pay for it!

  9. Stick September 24, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    The Australian aboriginal is best known these days for sniffing petrol, drunkenness, domestic violence, paedophilia, being welfare dependents and criminality. In my 51 years here in Australia I’ve only met 4 aboriginals who had jobs. They love to cry ‘We can’t get jobs because of racism’, but I’ve met – and worked with – many blacks from other countries, notably Indians, various Pacific Islanders and Maoris, who don’t have ANY problems getting jobs.

  10. Anonymous September 24, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    From the New York Times article:

    Based on the rate of mutation in DNA, the geneticists estimate that the Aborigines split from the ancestors of all Eurasians some 70,000 years ago, and that the ancestors of Europeans and East Asians split from each other about 30,000 years ago.

    But the genetic data offers no information as to where these populations splits may have occurred, whether in India or even earlier, before the migratory group had left Africa. “We can’t really put the geography in there,” said Morten Rasmussen, a member of the team at the Danish Natural History Museum.


    The Aborigine occupation of Australia presents a series of puzzles, starting with the nature of their stone tools. The early stone tools found in Australia are much simpler than the Upper Paleolithic tools that appear in Europe at the same era. “I don’t understand why they looked so primitive,” said Richard Klein, a paleoanthropologist at Stanford University.

  11. Realistic Aussie September 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm #

    Some of the stuff they say… science, and in particular that which studies humans and history, is going down the drain becuase of all this PC nonsense.

    By the way, if anyone can give me the names of the other new theories apart from the ‘Out of Africa’ one, I would be grateful. I would like to have a read up on them.

  12. John Engelman September 24, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    This does not refute the out of Africa theory of human origins. DNA and archaeological evidence indicates that humans left Africa at least twice. In both cases a small number of humans seem to have left, perhaps one hundred to several hundred.

    The first migration from Africa happened less than a million years ago. The species of human that left is called homo erectus. Homo erectus had a body that was very similar to that of modern humans, although he was much stronger. His brain was much smaller, and his face was ape like. In the Near East and Europe homo erectus evolved into Neanderthals. Further east less evolution seems to have taken place. Neanderthals had larger brains than modern humans, but remains of their camp sites indicate that they were less intelligent.

    While this was happening, evolution was moving faster in Africa. This is because humans in Africa had more genetic diversity, and because there were many more of them. A large gene pool evolves faster than a small gene pool because there is more scope for beneficial mutations, and because there is more inter species competition.

    The first skeletons that resemble those of modern humans have been found in Africa. They are of people who lived there 100,000 to 200,000 years ago. It was in Africa that homo sapiens evolved. 50,000 to 70,000 years ago another small number of them migrated from Africa. Genetic communication between these and Neanderthals happened, but on a very limited scale. Those of us of all existing races get all or nearly all of our uniquely human genes from ancestors who lived in Africa over 70,000 years ago.

    The alternative to the out of Africa theory is the theory that non blacks evolved entirely from the earlier exodus of homo erectus. DNA and archaeological evidence indicates that this did not happen.

  13. Anonymous September 24, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    Does anyone know if the Aborigines had any kind of boats before the Whites arrived? How did they get there from Africa?

    Out of Africa is just another version of the theory cooked up by Mr. Fard who founded the old black Muslims in the 1930’s.

    His idea was that the evil wizard Yacub searched for brown skinned blacks in the olden days when all blacks were actually black. He found a few and bred them lighter and lighter until he created the evil race of blue eyed devils.

    Those 2 marxist lesbians at Berkley did the same thing. Their methodology was totally bogus. Their tissue samples did not include 1 African, just American blacks.

  14. Len September 24, 2011 at 4:43 pm #

    And still they do not mention the rather oftimes clumsy statistical nature of genome studies. There are a lot of “ifs” to the genetic sciences . At which point will we be told that the aboriginal people arrived on a spaceship from heaven but were put down by the mean white folks.

  15. John Engelman September 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    “More important to us was that the research would be acceptable from a social and moral point of view” said Dr Balloux. To the surprise of the scientists, the people they consulted were very supportive of the study and its results.

    – Leila Battison, BBC, September 22, 2011


    This attitude stands in the way of objective research into human beings and the human predicament. In the long run this attitude does no one any good. Presumably, research into Aboriginal IQs, crime rates, alcoholism, and so on would not be considered morally acceptable unless the findings would be distorted.


    specific policies based on premises that conflict with scientific truths about human beings tend not to work. Often they do harm.

    – Charles Murray, from “The Inequality Taboo”


  16. white advocate - Canada September 24, 2011 at 8:58 pm #

    #11 – In the AR archives look up January 2009 and February 2011 for some writing about race and evolution.

  17. Standard Bearer September 24, 2011 at 9:36 pm #

    Amazingly, during 70,000 years of isolation from the rest of humanity Aboriginals evolved at the same pace and in the same direction as all other human groups, resulting in today’s perfect equality among all humans.

    Sure, the might look primitive to us, and they might have remained in the stone age until the arrival of Europeans, and today they might live in poverty and squalor, but I assure you that’s all caused by White Racism.

    Seriously, anyone with eyes can tell how incredibly primitive Aboriginals are, this news is completely unsurprising. And the idea that despite 70 thousand years of separation and independent evolution Aboriginals ended up the intellectual equals of Europeans flies in face of all available evidence and our understanding of evolution.

    It’s an idea that ranks right up there with Noah’s Ark. Maybe Anti-Racists should be considered just another kind of Creationists. Both ideas involve the same amount of reality denial and are firmly based on dogma that is held to infallible and above science.

  18. Standard Bearer September 24, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    To clarify, just because I think Aboriginals are primitive doesn’t mean I don’t respect them or wish them any ill. They will never be able to function in a European society and it’s cruel to tell them otherwise. I believe they should be allowed to resume their way of life unmolested, Australia is certainly large enough for Aboriginals and Europeans to life their own separate lives in.

  19. Jeddermann. September 24, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    70,000 years ago the eruption of Toba on the island of Sumatra. Almost wiped out the human species. From an estimated 1 million humans alive at the time of Toba, 1,000 years later only about 10,000 remained. Toba almost did humanity in and probably resulted in the Australian being isolated as they were until whitey arrived on the scene. That aborigine was also NOT so totally isolated as one might think. Even before the coming of whitey, the various sea faring and trading societies of what is now Indonesia traveled with the monsoon winds to trade with the natives of northern Australia.

  20. Pavel September 25, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    It is becoming well established that the earliest Homo Erectus finds are from Dmanisi about 1.85 MYA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_erectus

    This is strong evidence for the out of Asia theory. Clearly there were migrations into and out of Africa, the Australian Aborigines being one of the more recent ones. However, basic evoutionary theory tells us that evolution happens fastest during times of rapid changes in the environment. So Africa is more like a giant Jurassic park were evolution almost stops, and very primitive animals can survive long after they are extinct elsewhere. Additionally evolution doesn’t always lead to the most modern man. A cold climate leads to high intelligence, closer family bonding and ability to delay gratification, whereas a stable warm climate with large year-round food supplies leads to the opposite. These difference are clearly evident in today’s racial groupings.

  21. olewhitelady September 25, 2011 at 6:46 am #

    Australia is a land of unusual humans and animals. I assume there was a land bridge in the distant past, and when the sea rose and isolated the continent, many of these species survived that would have otherwise died off in competition with more advanced ones.

    Australoids, with their average IQ of 60, make up only 2% of the nation’s population. As #9 Stick points out, the behavior of most of them is self-defeating, to put it mildly. As a group, they’re unable to adapt to white man’s culture or to successfully compete. Huge numbers have turned to meth, an unfortunate invention of Western technology. They are doomed to eventual extinction, and their demise will not be the fault of whites, but of natural evolution.

  22. interesting times September 25, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    I’ve read that Australian Aborigines have a racial I.Q. which is similar to the South African Hottentots, poor.

    It’s been a while since I read Coon’s “Origin of The Races”, but I think he implied that in Australia, Homo erectus still has a strong showing.

    Jared Diamond explained away the Aborigines gradual disinterest in the bow and arrow as similar to the Japanese Samurai’s initial rejection of of gunpowder and firearms. I’d love to hear how that was received in Japan.

  23. Anonymous September 26, 2011 at 12:36 am #

    The Urantia Book (online) will shed some light on the evolution of man from primates, some 1 million years ago in Central Asia. From there, early man migrated out but not to Africa. Early man appeared during the ice age which stimulated man to invent in order to survive. Early man instinctively avoided the topics. The Eskimos are today’s representatives of early man. About 500,000 years ago, the colored races appeared in the highlands of India from one couple. This couple had 19 offsprings bearing the 6 skin colors. The colored races were red, yellow, and blue (primary) and green, orange, indigo (black) (secondary). The primary colors races were more intelligent than the secondary. In comment to this article, the aborigines could be a mixture of yellow and red giving rise to the brown race. The blue race primarily migrated to Europe later absorbing most of the Adam and Eve descendants’ superior genes giving rise to the white race. Adam and Eve appeared on this planet some 35,000 years ago. This explains why most of the inventions, innovations, advanced philosophies come from the white race. The yellow race occupied Asia after driving out the red man to Northern America about 85,000 years ago. The secondary races gravitated toward the topics going into Africa. The green and orange races have been absorbed primarily into the black race. The findings of the Old Stone Age in Europe are tools, bones, and artcraft belonging to the blue man. The evolution of man and the races took many complex turns and twists and man will never be able to put all the pieces together.

  24. John Engelman September 26, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    21 — olewhitelady wrote at 6:46 AM on September 25:

    Australia is a land of unusual humans and animals. I assume there was a land bridge in the distant past, and when the sea rose and isolated the continent, many of these species survived that would have otherwise died off in competition with more advanced ones.

    Australoids, with their average IQ of 60, make up only 2% of the nation’s population. As #9 Stick points out, the behavior of most of them is self-defeating, to put it mildly. As a group, they’re unable to adapt to white man’s culture or to successfully compete. Huge numbers have turned to meth, an unfortunate invention of Western technology. They are doomed to eventual extinction, and their demise will not be the fault of whites, but of natural evolution.


    They should be preserved, like endangered animal species should be preserved. There are not enough of them to do very much harm. By studying them we can learn about our ancestors. Also, it is simple humanity.

  25. Rita September 26, 2011 at 1:47 pm #

    I am very confused.

    Was it an actual lock of hair or was it a strand of LaKeesha’s new weave?

  26. OBSERVER September 26, 2011 at 4:56 pm #

    I am SOOO upset. This is so racist.

    We are all equal. God made us 4,751 years ago and God made all of us the same. I know. The Bible says so.

  27. ATBOTL September 27, 2011 at 8:14 pm #

    The newest data seems to show that other archaic linages besides Neanderthals are present in the genomes both Africans and non-Africans. Human history is about to get a lot more interesting.

  28. respectforthosethatearnit September 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

    Google Australian Aborigne skulls. Try to find a webpage that compares their skulls to European,African or Asian skulls. It takes a knowledge of Anthropology to distinguish between European,African or Asian skulls. A retarded child can pick out the Australian Aborigne skull. Their skulls in years past were often mislabeled as chimpanzee skulls.

    They are by far the oldest living form of homo sapien on this planet. Poster #24 is right. They should be protected and preserved because they are our ancestors/uncles/whatever. Protecting them means – No alcohol ever. No welfare ever. No integration ever. No money or land or food ever. For God’s sake no more admixture ever.

    They can do amazing things in the outback that other humans cannot do. They are PERFECTLY adapted for their natural environment. Give them some form of autonomy in the Outback. Study them and learn more about ourselves. Let the scientists study them. The laymen have already done quite enough – often with the best of intentions.