Griffith University researcher David Lambert told NITV News that a new genetic study has rewritten Australia’s history.
“The thing about science is that you must never say never,” he says.
“What was impossible yesterday might be possible tomorrow, and I think in a way we’ve shown that with this particular study.”
Research conducted in 2001 concluded that the lineage of the oldest-known Australian, Mungo Man, was from an extinct group of humans preceding Aboriginal people’s occupation of the continent.
But Professor Lambert says the new study, recently reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, disproves this earlier research.
He and other scientists at the university’s Research Centre for Human Evolution looked for DNA in more than 20 ancient peoples from Willandra, west NSW, where the 43,000-year-old Mungo Man was found.
One of those, located very close to Mungo Man’s place of rest, showed genetic evidence of being Indigenous.
Professor Lambert says his team recovered that person’s genome sequence and used ‘second-generation’ DNA sequencing of their mitochondrial (maternal) line to compare it with other mitochondrial samples in a large online DNA database.
The ancestor’s DNA showed similarities with DNA from other Indigenous Australians, “types that are only found in Aboriginal people and not found anywhere else,” he says.
"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,” he says.
“The whole basis that suggested that Aboriginal people were not the first Australians, the evidence is gone.”
It is the first time researchers have recovered an ancient mitochondrial genome sequence from an Aboriginal person who lived before Europeans arrived.
Professor Lambert says the advanced genomic technology could reveal more stories about Australia's past.
“This newer technology is massively more powerful and gives you an extraordinary amount of data. Never say that we’re never going to be able to recover anything from those particular samples."
The team says its research was conducted with approval by Barkindjii, Ngiyampaa and Muthi Muthi elders in the region.