Scientists have found a critical genetic link indicating that tribal Indians might be the ancestors of Australia’s earliest settlers. The route
Their study proves what some anthropologists have long believed — that the first humans to settle Australia descended from African migrants, who travelled via a “southern route” that passed through coastal India. These Africans were the first humans to settle the globe.
The study, led by a team of international researchers and the Anthropological Survey of India (ANSI), analysed more than 966 samples taken from 26 of India’s “relict” tribes, or those believed to be the descendants of this subcontinent’s earliest settlers.
Using a form of genetic research that analyses genes passed down from a mother to her children, they found a unique section of genetic code common to tribal Indians and Australian aborigines. This suggested that some aborigines are descendants of the same African migrants who passed through coastal India between 55,000 and 75,000 years ago.
“These findings will help us understand the broader questions of human evolution,” said Satish Kumar, a member of the research team.
Previous studies failed to discover the genetic tie between Indians and aborigines because researchers did not take a comprehensive set of samples from all of India’s tribes, Kumar said.
“Our comprehensive sampling of tribes was critical to the exercise,” Kumar said of the ANSI-supported study that was published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology last month.
The study, sampled from several tribes, found the genetic link to the aborigines in the Munda people of Jharkhand, the Madia Gond of Maharashtra and the Paudi Bhuiya of Orissa.
Many Indian tribes marry within the community, a practice known as endogamy. As a result, they preserve their unique genetic patterns over generations. Further study into Indian tribal DNA is critical in solving the mystery of human origins, scientists say.
Scientists at ANSI plan to create a national Human Genome Diversity Repository where samples from all of India’s tribes can be collected and analysed. They hope to present this plan in Parliament soon.
“We want to take up large scale studies of all those Indian tribes who are supposed to be the original migrants,” said P.B.S.V. Padmanabham, superintendent anthropologist at ANSI.
“We have not sampled all of them, and it is a big question how these tribes are related.”