From Africa to Australia, then thousands of years later, arrival of the Scots

I have put together what, to me, and surely any other curious person, is the fascinating current understanding of the ancient people who made their way to Australia, possible 40 to 70,000 years ago. Those humans knew how to light fires, and in so doing it is thought they may have burned the landscapes they found which eradicated the habitat of many indigenous creatures. In turn species died out due to fires and maybe over hunting. Plants evolved in Australia which could withstand fire.

The genomes of Australian aborigines, New Guineans and some Pacific Islanders are about 6 percent Denisovan genes, according to earlier studies.  

All human beings have two genomes. The first is the genome of the DNA in chromosomes, the genome of the famous year 2000 human genome project. (See The website states “The HGP has revealed that there are probably about 20,500 human genes. The completed human sequence can now identify their locations. This ultimate product of the HGP has given the world a resource of detailed information about the structure, organization and function of the complete set of human genes. This information can be thought of as the basic set of inheritable “instructions” for the development and function of a human being.”

The second and much smaller genome is of the DNA in mitochondria; it was mapped, to little public notice, in 1981. Mitochondria are minute, bean-shaped objects, hundreds of which bob about like so much flotsam in the warm, salty envelope of the cell. The body’s chemical plants, they gulp in oxygen and release the energy-rich molecules that power life. It is the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) which spans about 16,500 DNA building blocks (base pairs), representing a small fraction of the total DNA in cells. Mitochondria are widely believed to descend from bacteria that long ago somehow became incorporated into one of our evolutionary ancestors. They replicate themselves independently of the rest of the cell, without using its DNA. To accomplish this, they have their own genome, a tiny thing with fewer than fifty genes, left over from their former existence as free-floating bacteria. Because sperm cells are basically devoid of mitochondria, almost all of an embryo’s mitochondria come from the egg. Children’s mitochondria are thus in essence identical to their mother’s. More than that, every woman’s mitochondrial DNA is identical not only to her mother’s mitochondrial DNA, but to that of her mother’s mother’s mitochondrial DNA, and her mother’s mother’s mother’s mitochondrial DNA, and so on down the line for many generations. The same is not true for men. Because fathers don’t contribute mitochondrial DNA to the embryo, the succession occurs only through the female line. In the late 1970s several scientists realized that an ethnic group’s mitochondrial DNA could provide clues to its ancestry. Their reasoning was complex in detail, but simple in principle. People with similar mitochondria have, in the jargon, the same “haplogroup.” If two ethnic groups share the same haplogroup, it is molecular proof that the two groups are related; their members belong to the same female line.

The genome project has influenced all other studies of human existence, such that earlier archaeological finds can be reassessed if sufficient DNA can be retrieved. Frozen bodies previously trapped in the now thawing Arctic are in better condition for such analysis, but if there is sufficiently preserved DNA in ancient skeletal remains, astonishing leaps in tracing our ancient ancestors have been made.

Research, conducted by a large group of genetic scientists, shows that Neanderthals and Denisovans (See mapping of links below) are very closely related, and that their common ancestor split off from the ancestors of modern humans about 400,000 years ago.

Our human species is an African one: Africa is where we first evolved, and where we have spent the majority of our time on Earth. The place of our origin should surely be treated with immense respect.

Evidence is now suggesting that present-day Aboriginal Australians are the oldest population of humans living outside of Africa.

The Mungo Man was discovered by ANU archaeologist Dr. Jim Bowler on February 26, 1974 when shifting sand dunes exposed his remains. He was found near Lake Mungo, one of several dry lakes in the World Heritage listed Willandra Lakes Region. The body was sprinkled with red ochre, in what is the earliest incidence of such a sophisticated and artistic burial practice. This aspect of the discovery has been particularly significant to Indigenous Australians, since it indicates that certain cultural traditions have existed on the Australian continent for much longer than previously thought.

In 2003, a group of scientists from several Australian universities, led by the University of Melbourne, reached a new consensus that Mungo Man is about 40,000 years old. This age largely corresponds with stratigraphic evidence, and used four different dating methods, and brought together scientists from several different universities. The age of 40,000 years is currently the most widely accepted age for the Mungo Man and makes it the second oldest anatomically modern human remains found outside of Africa to date. The study also found that Mungo Lady was a similar age to Mungo Man, and not 30,000 years old, as previously thought. This made Mungo Lady the oldest cremated human remains yet discovered.

The pattern of burn marks on the bones of Mungo Lady implies an unusual ritual that after she died, the corpse was burned, smashed, then burned a second time. It was suspected that her descendants had tried to ensure that she did not return to haunt them.

Aborigines are believed to be among the earliest human migrations out of Africa. This happened around 30 to 40,000 years ago. They possibly used the landmass which formed part of the Sahul continent, connected to the island of New Guinea via a land bridge. It is also possible that people came by island hopping via an island chain between Sulawesi and New Guinea and the other reaches North Western Australia via Timor.

It has now been discovered that 42,000 years ago  the earliest evidence of advanced deep sea fishing technology has been located at the Jerimalai cave site in East Timor.  Thisdemonstrates high-level maritime skills and by implication the technology needed to make ocean crossings to reach Australia and other islands, as these ancient humans were catching and consuming large numbers of big deep sea fish such as tuna.

Humans reached Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago by migrating across a land bridge from the mainland that existed during the last ice age. After the seas rose about 12,000 years ago and covered the land bridge, the inhabitants there were isolated from the mainland until the arrival of European settlers.


Once the climate started to improve, after 70,000 years ago, we came back from this near-extinction event. The population expanded, and some intrepid explorers ventured beyond Africa. The earliest people to colonize the Eurasian landmass likely did so across the Bab-al-Mandab Strait separating present-day Yemen from Djibouti. These early beachcombers expanded rapidly along the coast to India, and reached Southeast Asia and Australia by 50,000 years ago. The first great foray of our species beyond Africa had led us all the way across the globe.

In August 2012, scientists reported the discovery of human skull fragments in a limestone cave in northern Laos that date back to between 46,000 and 63,000 years ago. The finding was surprising, because it indicated early humans roamed far and wide across Asia after leaving Africa, venturing north and northeast across rough mountainous terrain into Laos and perhaps even China, Vietnam, and Thailand.

Reaching Australia would have presented significant challenges for ancient humans. An ocean has always separated Asia and Oceania, and travel between the two continents would have required humans to navigate dozens of miles of open water. Whether humans colonized Australia intentionally or by accident—after being blown there by monsoon winds, for example—is unknown, although National Geographic’s Wells thinks the former scenario is more likely.

Spencer Wells, a geneticist and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, has speculated that the first Australians landed in northern Australia and Papua New Guinea—then part of the same landmass—and gradually moved inland by following the river systems of Queensland and southern Australia.

In 2011, using modern gene sequencing techniques, researchers sampled the DNA from a lock of hair that a young Aboriginal man had donated to a British anthropologist in 1923. When DNA in the hair was compared with the genomes of people living in Asia, Europe, and Africa, scientists discovered that Aboriginal Australians are more closely related to Africans than they are to modern Asians and Europeans.

This suggests humans migrated into Eastern Asia in multiple waves and that today’s Aboriginal Australians are descended from an early wave that left Africa about 70,000 years ago, before the ancestors of Asians and Europeans. If confirmed, the finding means that present-day Aboriginal Australians are the oldest population of humans living outside of Africa.

Colonial period

The first Scottish settlers arrived in Australia with the First Fleet in 1788, including three of the first six Governors of New South Wales John Hunter, Lachlan Macquarie (often referred to as the father of Australia) and Thomas Brisbane. … They were not all Scots, but had been tried in Scotland. The First Fleet is the name given to the first group of eleven ships that carried convicts from England to Australia in 1788. Beginning in 1787 the ships departed with about 778 convicts (586 men, 192 women), provisions and agricultural implements. Seventeen convicts died and two were pardoned before departure.

This was just 7 years after the first British expedition of the Endeavour under command of Lieutenant James Cook who was himself the son of a Scottish ploughman. Cook navigated and charted the east coast of Australia, making first landfall at Botany Bay on 29 April 1770. His reports in Cook’s expedition would lead to British settlement of the continent, and during the voyage Cook also named two groups of Pacific islands in honour of Scotland: New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. The first European to die on Australian soil was a Scot; Forbey Sutherland from Orkney, an able seaman died on 30 April 1770 of consumption and was the first to be buried on the colony by Captain Cook, who named Sutherland Point at Botany Bay in his honour.

Now more humans want to migrate to Australia. Many are rejected.

The original peoples of Australia are being seemingly tricked into surrendering their homelands forever with Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) “without understanding they are whitewashing their own history, under the invaders’ law.

This surrendering trick takes effect before the deed of grant of land is issued to the shires of the whole area. In this way compensation is also avoided.”

This opens up their land to corporates who seek to exploit the coal deposits for example, or any other profitable activity which would not be shared with the indigenous people and would sabotage their cherished lands.


About borderslynn

Retired, living in the Scottish Borders after living most of my life in cities in England. I can now indulge my interest in all aspects of living close to nature in a wild landscape. I live on what was once the Iapetus Ocean which took millions of years to travel from the Southern Hemisphere to here in the Northern Hemisphere. That set me thinking and questioning and seeking answers. In 1998 I co-wrote Millennium Countdown (US)/ A Business Guide to the Year 2000 (UK) see
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1 Response to From Africa to Australia, then thousands of years later, arrival of the Scots

  1. Pingback: From Africa to Australia, then thousands of years later, arrival of the Scots — borderslynn | Black History & Culture

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