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First Ancient Human DNA From Islands Between Asia and Australia Discovered

By: Buzz Staff

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Last Updated: August 26, 2021, 16:40 IST

An ancient human DNA has been discovered in the Wallacea region which represents the vast chain of islands in the ocean between mainland Asia and Australia. (Representative image)

An ancient human DNA has been discovered in the Wallacea region which represents the vast chain of islands in the ocean between mainland Asia and Australia. (Representative image)

Scientists had extracted DNA from the petrous bone, or inner ear, of a young teenage female hunter-gatherer, at the limestone cave of Leang Panninge in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Scientists have made a significant discovery regarding the population history of early modern humans in Southeast Asia after studying the ancient DNA of a woman who died 7,200 years ago in Indonesia. The study published in the Nature journal on Wednesday is the first time an ancient human DNA has been discovered in the Wallacea region which represents the vast chain of islands in the ocean between mainland Asia and Australia.

An international team of researchers which included scientists from Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany, Griffith University, Australia, Seoul National University, South Korea, and the University of Hasanuddin, Indonesia, took part in this study.

Scientists had extracted DNA from the petrous bone, or inner ear, of a young teenage female hunter-gatherer, at the limestone cave of Leang Panninge in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Griffith News report mentions that the University of Hasanuddin archaeologists who discovered the woman dubbed her as Bessé’, following a custom among Bugis royal families of giving this nickname to newly born princesses before they were formally named. The excavation of the skeleton first started in 2015.

In their analysis, researchers found the pre-Neolithic forager, who is associated with the Toalean technocomplex, sharing most genetic drift and morphological similarities with present-day Papuan and Indigenous Australian groups. However, the study also mentions that the woman also represents a previously unknown divergent human lineage that branched off around the time of the split between these populations approximately 37,000 years ago.

Professor Adam Brumm from Griffith University, who co-led the research said in a statement that the Toaleans were early hunter-gatherers who lived a secluded life in the forests of the southern region of Sulawesi from approximately 8,000 years ago to 1,500 years ago. The ancient human population hunted for local animals like wild pigs and collected edible shellfish from rivers while they lived in the region. However, Toalean artefacts have only been restricted to a limited part of Sulawesi, consisting of 6% of the total land area of the island. Brumm said that Besse’s discovery in the region suggests that the past culture had limited contact with other early Sulawesi communities or people in nearby islands, existing for thousands of years in isolation.

Brumm said, “These seafaring hunter-gatherers were the earliest inhabitants of Sahul, the supercontinent that emerged during the Pleistocene (Ice Age) when global sea levels fell, exposing a land bridge between Australia and New Guinea. To reach Sahul, these pioneering humans made ocean crossings through Wallacea, but little about their journeys is known.”

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first published:August 26, 2021, 16:40 IST
last updated:August 26, 2021, 16:40 IST