Researcher Irina Pugach and colleagues now analysed genetic variation from across the genome from aboriginal Australians, New Guineans, island Southeast Asians, and Indians. Their findings suggest substantial gene flow from India to Australia 4,230 years ago. i.e. during the Holocene and well before European contact. “Interestingly,” says Pugach, “this date also coincides with many changes in the archaeological record of Australia, which include a sudden change in plant processing and stone tool technologies, with microliths appearing for the first time, and the first appearance of the dingo in the fossil record. Since we detect inflow of genes from India into Australia at around the same time, it is likely that these changes were related to this migration.”
Their analyses also reveal a common origin for populations from Australia, New Guinea and the Mamanwa – a Negrito group from the Philippines – and they estimated that these groups split from each other about 36,000 years ago. Mark Stoneking says: “This finding supports the view that these populations represent the descendants of an early ‘southern route’ migration out of Africa, while other populations in the region arrived later by a separate dispersal.“ This also indicates that Australians and New Guineans diverged early in the history of Sahul, and not when the lands were separated by rising sea waters around 8,000 years ago.A relationship between Indian and Australasian populations has long been suspected on various grounds (e.g., HGDP Papuans often show membership in a "South Asian" ancestral component at low levels of resolution). It will be interesting to see the model proposed in the new paper about the admixture event leading to modern Australasians.
UPDATE: Ed Yong covers the story in Nature News:
Some aboriginal Australians can trace as much as 11% of their genomes to migrants who reached the island around 4,000 years ago from India, a study suggests. Along with their genes, the migrants brought different tool-making techniques and the ancestors of the dingo, researchers say1.From World News Australia:
The study suggests that in addition to an earlier northern route of migration out of Africa, into Asia, and then South East Asia about 60,000 to 70,000 years ago, the second wave occurred much later, arriving during the Holocene period about 4,230 years ago.
“About that point in the archaeological record, there were significant changes in the use of stone tools, in hunting techniques and significantly, the introduction of the dingo,” Professor Cooper said.
There are other theories that may support the evidence of a more recent influx of migrants from India, including that they brought with them a disease of epidemic proportions that wiped out earlier Aboriginal populations.
UPDATE II: I added the abstract.
PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.1211927110
Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia
Irina Pugach et al.
The Australian continent holds some of the earliest archaeological evidence for the expansion of modern humans out of Africa, with initial occupation at least 40,000 y ago. It is commonly assumed that Australia remained largely isolated following initial colonization, but the genetic history of Australians has not been explored in detail to address this issue. Here, we analyze large-scale genotyping data from aboriginal Australians, New Guineans, island Southeast Asians and Indians. We find an ancient association between Australia, New Guinea, and the Mamanwa (a Negrito group from the Philippines), with divergence times for these groups estimated at 36,000 y ago, and supporting the view that these populations represent the descendants of an early “southern route” migration out of Africa, whereas other populations in the region arrived later by a separate dispersal. We also detect a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world. We estimate this gene flow to have occurred during the Holocene, 4,230 y ago. This is also approximately when changes in tool technology, food processing, and the dingo appear in the Australian archaeological record, suggesting that these may be related to the migration from India.