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Largest DNA study of First Nations People confirms genetic antiquity

Despite being one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world, First Nations People are one of the most poorly studied populations from a human evolution perspective, Ms Nano Nagle, one of the study's authors says.

Sketch by William Blandowski (1822–1878) who was based in Melbourne c1840-60
Sketch by William Blandowski, (1822–1878) who was based in Melbourne after making a fortune on the Victorian Goldfields (Bendigo)> He undertook personal explorations studying Aboriginal people's everyday life, birds and animals, principally in the Murray Darling region, in areas where the First Nations peoples, animals and birds were virtually untouched by colonisation - c1840-60. He took his sketches and notes back to Europe and they were later published.

There is an illustrated book available called 'William Blandowski's Encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia', edited by Harry Allen and available online - (Get your local library to get it in, if can't afford a copy yourself)

NITV 5 January 2017

The study by La Trobe University analysed the mitochondrial DNA of 594 Indigenous people from across Australia, which were classified into genetic groups that share a common ancestor.

The study's findings show there is a high level of genetic variety among First Nations People.

Lesley Williams
Murri woman Lesley Williams grew up in Cherbourg, Queensland and is known for her research and international campaign for the return of Indigenous Queensland workers' wages and savings.

Aboriginal elder Lesley Williams, who was an adviser to the study, says Aboriginal people are increasingly interested in their genetic history.

"I'm not surprised, but still heartened, to discover that this DNA analysis supports what our parents have taught us over many generations - that we have lived here in Australia since the Dreamtime."

Nano Nagle, one of the study's authors, told AAP the results suggest “there's more than a single group, and at least two routes of entry."

Ms Nagle said. "It confirms what Indigenous people have passed on from generation to generation."

Ms Nagle said the findings, which were published in the Journal of Human Genetics, represents between five and six years of research.

Previous mitochondrial DNA studies on First Nations People have involved fewer than 100 participants.

Despite being one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world, First Nations People are one of the most poorly studied populations from a human evolution perspective, Ms Nagle says.

DNA study of Indigenous Australians

 
Latrobe University Media Release 5 January 2016

DNA samples of 594 self-declared Indigenous Australians from around the country were analysed and classified into mitochondrial haplogroups - genetic groups that share a common ancestor and often show a distinct distribution.

The findings have been published in the Journal of Human Genetics.

Dr John Mitchell from La Trobe’s Department of Biochemistry and Genetics, who led the study, said the research revealed there was a high level of genetic diversity among Aboriginal Australians.

“This comprehensive genetic survey of Aboriginal Australian mitochondrial DNA supports long-term settlement of Australia by the ancestors of the Aboriginal Australians,” Dr Mitchell said.

“All indigenous haplogroups were found to be ancient, with estimated ages greater than 40 thousand years, and all were widespread throughout the continent.”

PhD student Nano Nagle, who was first author of the publication, said previous mitochondrial DNA studies on Aboriginal Australians usually involved less than 100 participants who were mostly from the Northern Territory and single locations in Western Australia and New South Wales.

“Therefore we had very little information with regards to the distribution patterns of these indigenous haplogroups,” Ms Nagle said.

“We also had limited data from South Australia and Queensland and none, until now, from Victoria, despite some of these states having large populations of Aboriginal Australians.”

Ms Nagle said Aboriginal Australians were one of the most poorly studied populations from a human evolution perspective, despite being one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world.

“There has been ongoing debate for years among archaeologists, anthropologists and geneticists about when they arrived in Australia and the path they took to get here. “

“Our research found their migration to Australia was both ancient and complex, with at least two routes of entry.

“It supports previous findings that Aboriginal Australians arrived in Australia up to 55,000 years ago via the Indonesian island chain, but we found no evidence of any subsequent significant immigration until 1788.

“Our findings confirm they were isolated in Australia for tens of thousands of years before European colonisation.”

Lesley Williams, an Aboriginal Elder and advisor to the study, said Aboriginal people were increasingly interested in finding out about their genetic history.

“I’m not surprised, but still heartened, to discover that this DNA analysis supports what our parents have taught us over many generations that we have lived here in Australia since the Dreamtime.”

 Mitochondrial DNA diversity of present-day Aboriginal Australians and implications for human evolution in Oceania Journal of Human Genetics