Aborigines were first explorers
Washington - An international team of scientists has sequenced the genome of an Australian Aboriginal man and reported on Thursday that his ancestors likely explored the Earth earlier than those of modern Asians.
The findings in the US journal Science shed new light on the waves of migration by humans out of Africa, and suggest that Aboriginals were descended from rare and brave adventurers that moved on 24 000 years earlier than the rest.
"Aboriginal Australians descend from the first human explorers," said lead author Eske Willerslev from the University of Copenhagen.
"While the ancestors of Europeans and Asians were sitting somewhere in Africa or the Middle East, yet to explore their world further, the ancestors of Aboriginal Australians spread rapidly; the first modern humans traversing unknown territory in Asia and finally crossing the sea into Australia.
"It was a truly amazing journey that must have demanded exceptional survival skills and bravery."
The findings were based on the analysis of a 100-year-old lock of hair donated to a British anthropologist by an Aboriginal man from the Goldfields region of Western Australia.
Researchers sequenced the DNA and found "no genetic input from modern European Australians", which they believe shows that Aborigines moved through Asia and into Australia in a first and separate wave.
The evidence suggests "the ancestors of the Aboriginal man separated from the ancestors of other human populations some 64-75,000 years ago... before finally reaching Australia about 50,000 years ago," said the study.
The genetic history of Australians has been difficult to pin down because scientists have lacked access to DNA from fossilised bones such as those found from Neanderthals and Denisovans in cold caves in Europe and Russia, where DNA can be preserved.
The latest study establishes Aboriginals as "one of the oldest continuous populations outside of Africa" as well as the "population with the longest association with the land on which they live today", it said.