New evidence proves Aboriginal Australians are one of oldest cultures in the world

Boban Docevski
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Specifying which culture and civilization is the oldest on Earth is a rather complex matter. It is no wonder that, over the centuries, trying to find the answer has produced such fundamental debate among historians. Until recently, almost everything was based on speculation and giving a single answer to this question seemed an impossible thing to do. 

It has been widely believed since the 1980s that humans started spreading across the globe from Africa over 150,000 years ago and reached Australia some 60,000 years ago. Some accounts state that the descendants of these people have the longest continuous culture in the world, and for a long time it has been speculated that Australia’s Aboriginal population is one of the oldest known cultures and civilizations in the world.

New evidence presented last year shows this theory to be true. A relatively new study called A genomic history of Aboriginal Australia has managed to trace the migration of contemporary Aboriginals from Africa to Australia 58,000 years ago.

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The Sahul continent. Author: Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa)  CC BY-SA 3.0

The study, which was published in Nature in October 2016, was led by Professor Eske Willerlsev from the University of Cambridge. The research team were able to sequence the genome of 83 Aboriginal people and 25 Papuans from the New Guinea highlands, and it is the most comprehensive genomic study of Indigenous Australians done in Australia so far. Prior to this, only three Aboriginal Australian genomes had been sequenced.

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Aboriginal pictographs known as “Wandjina” in the Wunnumurra Gorge, Kimberley, Western Australia. Author: Graeme Churchard CC BY 2.0

Whether Aboriginal Australians are descendants of ancient human tribes or not has long been an issue among scientists. This research finally proves that contemporary Aboriginal Australians are the descendants of the people who first landed in Australia (most likely on a primitive boat or raft) about 60,000 years ago. This claim also goes in favor of the well-accepted theory that all humans spread across the globe from mutual ancestors during a huge migration out of Africa.

According to the researchers, a large group of people migrated from Africa 72,000 years ago. Papuan and Aboriginal ancestors were also part of this group. 58,000 years ago, they split from that group and probably became the first people to cross the ocean. Up until the last Ice Age, Tasmania, Australia, and New Guinea were part of one supercontinent called Sahul. Gradually, raising sea levels started to separate pieces of the huge landmass. In 10,000 BC, Tasmania became separated from the mainland. Later, between 8000 and 6500 BC, New Guinea, the Aru Islands, and the Australian mainland also separated.

Aboriginal Namadgi National Park featuring a Kangaroo, Dingoes, Echidna or Turtles, totems and stories are created using dots. Author: Martyman CC BY-SA 3.0

At one point, Sahul was very close to the Eurasian landmass, so it was a very possible for people to cross over. The researchers also considered the biological adaptations that the Aboriginals have made to their environment. It takes a long time for a species to evolve and adapt to its surroundings and this, again, proves that Aboriginal Australians have been there for thousands of years. Because of the vastness of the continent and the huge differences in weather, different groups of Aboriginals (from different parts of the continent), have evolved slightly differently. This is why there is a big genetic variety among the Aboriginal tribes.

Read another story from us: Luzia Woman: a skeleton of a woman that is one of the oldest human remains in the Americas

In their mythology, Aboriginal Australians speak about the Dreamtime (Alchera). They believe that their ancestors created the entire world and that all knowledge is received through the ancestors. Australian Aboriginals consider the Dreamtime to be a time of creation. According to some of their legends, cultural heroes traveled across a formless land and created the land we know today, with all its landmarks, including mountains, rivers, plants, animals, etc. Probably, at the heart of these “dreams” is the story of the actual migration that took place 58,000 years ago, carried through the ages by the songs of Aboriginal folklore.