New DNA Analysis Shows Aboriginal Australians Are the World’s Oldest Society | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine

Nailing down the approximate times that one’s ancestors left Africa is tricky business. Previous research has shown that humans began splitting into different genetic groups about 200,000 years ago, long before they first began exploring other continents. By analyzing DNA from 787 people from 270 modern cultures spread across the world, a group of scientists identified and tracked ancient genetic mutations that they believe mark when different ethnicities diverged as their ancestors settled across the world, Benson reports.

Using this genetic tracing, the researchers suggest that the first Homo sapiens began leaving Africa between 51,000 and 72,000 years ago. And the ancestors of Indigenous Australians were the first group to split off from that migration. While the ancestors of European and Asian people diverged about 42,000 years ago, the precursors to today’s Indigenous Australians and Papuans diverged 58,000 years ago to head east, George Dvorsky reports for Gizmodo.

While the study appears to seal the deal on the world’s oldest society, it raises new questions. The genetic analysis also showed that the ancestors of Indigenous Australians and Papuans may have mated with a previously-unknown human species, just like ancient Europeans interbred with Neanderthals. Though scientists are just now getting hints at who these mysterious human species were, further genetic analysis could shed light on another ancient relative.

New DNA Analysis Shows Aboriginal Australians Are the World’s Oldest Society | Smart News | Smithsonian Magazine