Hair Analysis Shows Aboriginal People Have Been Living In The Same Places For 50,000 Years

Aboriginal people

Aboriginal Australians have a deep and ancient connection with the land in which they live. ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Analysis of hair samples taken last century show how the founding Aboriginal people of Australia moved around the country. They found that many populations settled and stayed put for 50,000 years. The study, published in Nature, highlights the incredible connection and history Aboriginal families and communities have with the land in which they live.

Impressively, the DNA preserved in the hair samples has allowed the researchers to trace the route taken by the original founding population as they spread across Australia. When the country was still connected to Papua New Guinea some 50,000 years ago, it seems the people who first arrived took two paths. One group went east, while the other went west, skirting the coast and avoiding the interior.


Then, over an incredibly short 1,500 to 2,000 years, the two separate groups finally met up somewhere in South Australia. But what is more, during that initial migration, it appears that groups of people branched off and settled. “Amazingly, it seems that from around this time the basic population patterns have persisted for the next 50,000 years – showing that communities have remained in discrete geographical regions,” says project leader Professor Alan Cooper in a statement.

Ray Tobler, Alan Cooper, et al.

This, says Cooper, is unlike any other population of people anywhere else in the world, and underscores the remarkable connection that Aboriginal people have to the land. “We're hoping this project leads to a rewriting of Australia's history texts to include detailed Aboriginal history and what it means to have been on their land for 50,000 years – that's around 10 times as long as all of the European history we're commonly taught,” explains Cooper.

Population studies of Aboriginal people have traditionally been difficult to undertake, mainly due to the government policies once in place that saw Aboriginal children removed from their families and homelands and relocated to other parts of the country, severing the physical connections between the people and the land. However, by using hair samples collected with permission during anthropological expeditions between 1928 and the 1970s, they've been able to analyze the Aboriginals' genetics in detail.


The Aboriginal Heritage Project is intimately involved with Aboriginal families and communities, who are involved with the research and the results. “Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time,” says Kaurna Elder Mr Lewis O'Brien, who is one of the original hair donors for the study. “But it is important to have science show that to the rest of the world. This is an exciting project and we hope it will help assist those of our people from the Stolen Generation and others to reunite with their families.”


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