DNA may reconnect Aboriginal Australian remains with modern communities

Norman Tindale, pictured here in 1927 with members of a local Aboriginal group, led a mission to gather precise ethnographic and geographic data from many different Aboriginal groups. He also gathered hair from the people he interviewed, which provided DNA samples for earlier studies. The group here is at Rockshelter at Bathurst Head (Thartali) in eastern Cape York Peninsula.

Enlarge / Norman Tindale,
pictured here in 1927 with members of a local Aboriginal group, led
a mission to gather precise ethnographic and geographic data from
many different Aboriginal groups. He also gathered hair from the
people he interviewed, which provided DNA samples for earlier
studies. The group here is at Rockshelter at Bathurst Head
(Thartali) in eastern Cape York Peninsula. (credit: Photo by
Herbert Hale, via South Australian Museum Archives Norman Tindale
Collection)

Since they arrived in Australia in 1788, Europeans have gathered
the remains of Aboriginal Australians for museum and research
collections, digging up graves ranging from relatively recent in
age to 1500 years old. Aboriginal Australian communities have
lobbied long and hard for the return of their ancestors, and many
Australian museums have in recent years made a concerted effort to
repatriate Aboriginal Australian remains.

Before the dead can return home, the living must figure out
where “home” originally was. Most of the remains unearthed earlier
in Australia’s colonial history arrived in museum collections
with no record of where they came from or which group they once
belonged to. A new study suggests that DNA sequencing may be able
to help the bones of the Aboriginal Australian dead speak for
themselves.

Evolutionary biologist Joanne Wright of Griffith University and
her colleagues sequenced DNA from 10 Aboriginal Australians who
lived before European contact, some as long as 1,540 years ago.
While these were among the rare cases where museum curators know
the remains’ origin, the researchers wanted to know whether they
could find the closest living relatives of these ancient people.
Consistently, the ancient genomes most closely matched those of
Aboriginal people now living in the same region where the ancient
remains had once been buried. In other words, DNA linked the
ancient remains to modern communities that still live in the same
place, sometimes over a thousand years later. And that could help
with efforts to repatriate Aboriginal Australian remains that
museums haven’t been able to trace.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
DNA may reconnect Aboriginal Australian remains with modern communities