Australian Aborigines have long been cast as a people apart. Although Australia is halfway around the world from our species’s accepted birthplace in Africa, the continent is nevertheless home to some of the earliest undisputed signs of modern humans outside Africa, and Aborigines have unique languages and cultural adaptations. Some researchers have posited that the ancestors of the Aborigines were the first modern humans to surge out of Africa, spreading swiftly eastward along the coasts of southern Asia thousands of years before a second wave of migrants populated Eurasia.
Not so, according to a trio of genomic studies, the first to analyse many full genomes from Australia and New Guinea. They conclude that, like most other living Eurasians, Aborigines descend from a single group of modern humans who swept out of Africa 50,000 to 60,000 years ago and then spread in different directions. The papers “are really important,” says population geneticist Joshua Akey of the University of Washington, Seattle, offering powerful testimony that “the vast majority of non-Africans [alive today] trace their ancestry back to a single out-of-Africa event.”