DNA from teenage girl who died 7,200 years ago reveals previously unknown humans
The DNA from the remains of a hunter-gatherer woman who died more than 7,200 years ago on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi has revealed that she belonged to a previously unknown group of the human population, according to a new study. The remains of the woman, nicknamed Bessé, were excavated in 2015 from a limestone cave called Leang Panninge. The researchers estimated that Bessé was about 17-18 years old at the time of her death.
According to the study, the hunter-gather teen is the first known skeleton from an early foraging culture called the Toaleans. The genetic analyses of the skeleton showed that Bessé, a pre-Neolithic forager, was a distant relative of present-day Papuan and Indigenous Australian groups but was unlike any previously known human population.
Bessé represents a rare ‘genetic fossil’ that branched off around the time of the split between Aboriginal Australians and Papuans approximately 37,000 years ago, as per the study published in the journal Nature. This is the first time the ancient human genome has been from ‘Wallacea’, a biogeographical designation between Borneo and New Guinea and the gateway to the continent of Australia.
“The Toaleans were early hunter-gatherers who lived a secluded existence in the forests of South Sulawesi from around 8,000 years ago until 1,500 years ago, hunting wild pigs and collecting edible shellfish from rivers,” Professor Adam Brumm, study co-leader from Griffith’s Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution, said in a statement published on University’s website.
Toalean artefacts have reportedly been found in just 6% of the total land area of Sulawesi, suggesting the past culture had limited contact with other early Sulawesi communities in nearby islands. The study partly confirms the existing assertions Toaleans were related to the first modern humans to enter Wallacea some 65,000 years ago.
“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,” Brumm added.