Aborigines were the first Australians, new study confirms

An indigenous Australian design is projected onto the Sydney Opera House during the annual Vivid Sydney light festival in Sydney on May 27, 2016.
An indigenous Australian design is projected onto the Sydney Opera House during the annual Vivid Sydney light festival in Sydney on May 27, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - New scientific research confirms that Aborigines were the first inhabitants of Australia, refuting theories that others of possible European origin were the first humans on the continent.

Work published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal on Monday (June 6) puts to rest a controversy over the first Australians that has lingered for more than 150 years.

The research refutes an earlier study claiming DNA sequences were recovered from the remains of the Mungo Man, the oldest human remains on the continent, and allegedly showing that he came from an extinct lineage that lived on the continent before Aboriginal Australians.

However, researchers at Australia's Griffith University in South East Queensland used new DNA sequencing methods to re-analyse the remains.

The earlier test "contained sequences from five different European people suggesting that these all represent contamination," said David Lambert at the university's Research Centre for Human Evolution.

"By going back and reanalysing the samples with more advanced technology, we have found compelling support for the argument that Aboriginal Australians were the first inhabitants of Australia," Lambert said.

Mungo Man was a Pleistocene-era human that lived in the Willandra Lakes region, in far western New South Wales. Archaeological evidence shows that humans lived in the area some 60,000 to 45,000 years ago.

Scientists also re-analysed "more than 20 of the other ancient people from Willandra. We were successful in recovering the genomic sequence of one of the early inhabitants of Lake Mungo, a man buried very close to the location where Mungo Man was originally interred."

There has been debate over the origins of the first Australians since the 1863 publication of "Man's Place in Nature" by British scientist Thomas Henry Huxley.