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Indians Made It to Australia More Than 4,000 Years Before the British

Evidence of substantial gene flow between Australian and Indian populations around 4,000 years ago refutes beliefs that Australia was an isolated continent before Europeans arrived

Did ancient Australians witness a similar scene? Photo: Gunter Senft/MPI for Psycholinguistics

Outside of Africa, Australia holds some of modern humans’ earliest archeological evidence, with relics dating back to about 45,000 years ago. In other words, Australian aboriginals are the oldest continuous population of humans on the planet, besides those found in Africa. But these populations did not remain quite as isolated as researchers originally thought.

Anthropologists and historians always assumed that from the time the first human settlers stumbled upon Australia to the moment European sailors arrived in the late 1800s, Australia remained unknown to the rest of the world. But new research refutes this commonly held belief with evidence of substantial gene flow between Australian and Indian populations millennia ago.

Genetic variation across aboriginal Australians’ genomes point to influence from India around 4,230 years ago, well before Europeans could even dream of exploring the far-off continent. Around the same time, the researchers noticed, archeological changes occur in the Australian record, including shifts in the way ancient humans processed plants and created stone tools. At this time, spears and dingos also first appeared in the fossil record. People from the Indian subcontinent may have arrived, bringing with them new species, technologies and cultures.

How they managed to make that approximately 5,000 mile journey, however, remains a mystery, at least for the time being.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Reviving the Aboriginal Possum Skin Cloak 
Contemporary Aboriginal Art 

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