• Harvard & Adelaide Uni expedition: members at work, Aboriginal Australians drawing art and listening to audio records. 13th May, 1939. (South Australian Museum Archives)Source: South Australian Museum Archives
"50,000 years – that’s around 10 times as long as all of the European history we’re commonly taught.”
Chloe Sargeant

9 Mar 2017 - 6:36 AM  UPDATED 9 Mar 2017 - 1:20 PM

Through in-depth testing of DNA in hair samples from the 1900s, researchers have found that Aboriginal populations have indeed been present in the same regions for up to 50,000 years.

The results from the samples are the first outcome from the Aboriginal Heritage Project, which is being led by the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD).

This is just the first phase of the decade-long project, which hopes to assist Aboriginal Australians with tracing regional ancestry and genealogical history.

The testing began in 2016 and was considered highly sensitive, given that many Aboriginal people were previously unaware that their ancestors' hair samples were being held in a museum.

Testing required the consent of those who gave the samples or the oldest living member of their families, and results were discussed with the families to get Aboriginal perspectives before any details were published.

Kuarna Elder Lewis O’Brien was one of the hair donors and was also on the advisory board for the project.

“Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time, but it is important to have science show that to the rest of the world," he said.

"This is an exciting project and we hope it will help assist those of our people from the Stolen Generation and others to reunite with their families.”

“Aboriginal people have always known that we have been on our land since the start of our time, but it is important to have science show that to the rest of the world."

The group of researchers analysed DNA from 111 different hair samples, which were collected throughout major Australian anthropological expeditions that occurred between 1928 the 1970s.

The samples are currently part of a collection in the South Australian Museum.

The mitochondrial DNA of the samples was tested, which allowed the tracing of maternal ancestry.

The results, which have been published in the journal Nature’, show that modern Aboriginal Australians are descendants from a founding populace who arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago, while the country was still connected to New Guinea.

The findings also show that Aboriginal populations spread swiftly around the country, within 1500 – 2000 years. Groups moved around the east and west coasts of Australia, meeting somewhere in South Australia.

“Amazingly, it seems that from around this time the basic population patterns have persisted for the next 50,000 years  - showing that communities have remained in discrete geographical regions,” says project leader Professor Alan Cooper, Director of ACAD at the University of Adelaide. 

“This is unlike people anywhere else in the world and provides compelling support for the remarkable Aboriginal cultural connection to country."

"We’re hoping this project leads to a rewriting of Australia’s history texts to include detailed Aboriginal history and what it means to have been on their land for 50,000 years – that’s around 10 times as long as all of the European history we’re commonly taught.”

The results will eventually assist in creating more educational texts about Aboriginal history, and full and thorough acknowledgement of Australia's entire past.

The landmark findings from the project's first phase will assist in wholly forming a detailed genetic map of Aboriginal Australia previous to the arrival of Europeans, reinforcing Indigenous Australians' the deep cultural connection to country of community.

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