I don't know why it has been so difficult to study AAs so far; my guess is that some type of politics has prevented it, similar to those that have hindered population genetics research in some Amerindian groups. Unfortunately, the current publication does not seem to represent the beginning of a new era in AA research, as the genome does not belong to a living AA, but rather to a 100-year old hair sample.
On one hand this makes sense: old DNA is preferable to fresh one when one deals with populations that have undergone admixture in recent times. I don't know how many AA have European admixture, but my guess is that, surely, pure-blooded living AA still exist, so, one could in principle obtain DNA from them.
Nonetheless, we should be thankful for the new data which provide a much needed new data point of mankind's diversity. Also, given recent developments, even a single genome may prove to be invaluable.
The supplementary material (pdf) has, as usual, most of the interesting details of the paper.
Coverage in the Australian.
(to be continued)
UPDATE: I will take the age estimates in the paper with a grain of salt, because they are not independent estimates, but rely on a calibration of the European-East Asian split (fixed at 2,000 generations), and the Out-of-Africa event (fixed at 3,500 generations). Hence, from the supplement:
Based on how our model was set up, the European-Aboriginal Australian and African-Aboriginal Australian split times that we presented above could be no less than 2,000 and 3,500 generations ago, respectively.
So, at most the data shows that Europeans are closer related to East Asians than either of them is to Australian aboriginals. The actual ages in years are conditioned on the timing of the aforementioned events, which, in turn, have been estimated in the past using various assumptions (see my recent post on Gronau et al. 2011).
Science DOI: 10.1126/science.1211177
An Aboriginal Australian Genome Reveals Separate Human Dispersals into Asia
Morten Rasmussen et al.
We present an Aboriginal Australian genomic sequence obtained from a 100-year-old lock of hair donated by an Aboriginal man from southern Western Australia in the early 20th century. We detect no evidence of European admixture and estimate contamination levels to be below 0.5%. We show that Aboriginal Australians are descendants of an early human dispersal into eastern Asia, possibly 62,000 to 75,000 years ago. This dispersal is separate from the one that gave rise to modern Asians 25,000 to 38,000 years ago. We also find evidence of gene flow between populations of the two dispersal waves prior to the divergence of Native Americans from modern Asian ancestors. Our findings support the hypothesis that present-day Aboriginal Australians descend from the earliest humans to occupy Australia, likely representing one of the oldest continuous populations outside Africa.