AsianScientist (Oct. 19, 2021) – In Wallacea, a group of mainly Indonesian islands, researchers have discovered a previously unknown human lineage, analyzing the DNA of a fossilized female. The findings, published in Nature, help shed light on the history of Southeast Asian populations.
More than 50,000 years ago, humans already had a very mobile way of life. Instead of settling in a permanent location, archeological evidence point to mass migrations from Eurasia through Southeast Asia toward the Australian continent. Cave art found in Sulawesi, for example, show that ancestral humans traveled through Wallacea.
However, very little is actually known about the evolutionary history of humans in Wallacea, with few fossils retrieved from the area. Ancient DNA is also easily degraded in tropical climates, presenting another hurdle in building up a database of ancestral human genomes found in Southeast Asia.
But in an exciting discovery, an international team of researchers—hailing from Indonesia, Malaysia, South Korea, Germany and Australia—uncovered a female skeleton in the Leang Panninge limestone cave in Sulawesi. This hunter-gatherer likely lived before the dawn of the Neolithic period, the last stage of the Stone Age, and was buried over 7,000 years ago.
By retrieving and analyzing DNA from a part of the skull, the researchers then found that the forager belonged to a group more closely related to modern-day Near Oceanians than East Asian populations. Strikingly, the Leang Panninge genome did not quite match known lineages, whether ancient or present-day groups.
This newly discovered human lineage may have mixed with archaic locals in Sulawesi, diverging from the Near Oceanian populations. For the team, the finding adds a piece to the puzzle of several Asian-related mixing events, which may have unfolded before other human groups expanded into and moved through the Southeast Asian region.
“Higher coverage genetic data from present-day populations in Sulawesi are needed to further investigate this unique ancestry profile and the genetic diversity of hunter-gatherers from Wallacea more generally,” the authors concluded.
The article can be found at: Carlhoff et al. (2021) Genome of a Middle Holocene Hunter-gatherer from Wallacea.
Source: Hasanuddin University; Photo: Hasanuddin University.
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