Research Press Release

Genetics: Ancient human DNA from Wallacea recovered


August 26, 2021

Genome-wide data from a pre-Neolithic hunter gatherer from Wallacea are described in this week’s Nature. The research, which represents the first ancient human genomic data from this region, sheds light on the peopling of Southeast Asia.

Wallacea is the group of mainly Indonesian islands that includes Sulawesi, Lombok and Flores. With fossils sparse and ancient DNA easily degraded because of the tropical climate, little is known about the population history of modern humans in this area. Modern humans crossed through Wallacea on their way to the Australian continent at least 50,000 years ago, but the earliest archaeological evidence of the presence of our species in Wallacea is more recent and includes Sulawesi cave art, which is at least 45,500 years old.

Adam Brumm, Selina Carlhoff and colleagues report the discovery of a skeleton in the limestone cave of Leang Panninge in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. The young female was interred around 7,200 years ago in a Toalean burial complex. Analysis of DNA retrieved from the petrous bone reveals that the female was part of a population group that is more closely related to modern day Near Oceanian populations than East Asian groups. However, the genome represents a previously unknown divergent human lineage, which is not found anywhere else in the world today.

The authors suggest that this young female may have a local ancestry that had been present in Sulawesi from the arrival of modern humans, although whether this population produced the rock art in the south of the island is unknown.


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