Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

Did Australian Aborigines discover the New World?

Hundreds of skulls, dating from at least 11,000 years ago, presumably arriving an unknown length of time before that date, have been discovered in Central America and South America, that have a number of features of the skull distinctive of Australian Aborigines. The oldest skeleton so far found in the Americas is that of a female, dubbed Luzia,  found in Lapa Vermelha cave system in Central Brazil, that was originally found in the 1970s. The skeleton was not properly studied until the late 1990s. Skeletons have now been found in 7 sites, extending from Florida in the north to Palli Aike in southern Chile.

According to Walter Neves, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Sao Paulo, the cranial morphology of the skeletons is similar to that of Australian Aborigines. Neves and his colleagues argue that the earlier people are not related to the later, Mongoloid, migrants from Asia, via Siberia, that gave rise to the present native population of the Americas.

81 skulls, the largest sample of American skulls, from the Lagoa Santa region of Brazil were studied, comparing them with worldwide data sets representing global morphological variation among humans. Multivariate analysis of the data indicate close morphological affinity between the skeletal material from South America and living Australo-Melanesian groups, suggesting that in the Pleistocene/Holocene transition the New World may have been colonised by 2 biologically distinct populations.

The skeletal remains of Luzia could not be dated accurately because there was no collagen preserved, a requirement for carbon dating of skeletal material. The researchers determined that Luzia was in her early 20s when she died. Indirect dating was used, the layers of the limestone being used to arrive at an approximate date of about 11,000-11,500 years ago, which would make her the oldest known skeleton in the Americas (Neve). According to Neve, Luzia, as well as a number of other skeletal remains excavated at 7 sites between Florida and southern Chile, have a similar appearance to skulls from sub-Saharan Africa, Australian Aborigines and people that were the original inhabitants of some Pacific islands, but are not similar to Native Americans or East Asians. There was a single population in North America, the Pericu, who lived at the tip of the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, with a skull morphology that differed from other known living inhabitants of the Americas. They are known to have lived in that location from about 3,000 BP until the end of the 18 th century. As it is believed there are still a number of tribes, put at 67 in 2007, in Brazil who haven't been contacted, it cannot be said for certain that there are none with affinities to Luzia's people surviving in the rainforests. The Pericu appear to have maintained their isolation from the populations around them, eventually succumbing to the European diseases and cultural loss.

In 1989 Neves had proposed in a paper the migration to the Americas of a non-Mongoloid people with a skull morphology that differed from that of the present native inhabitants, and predated their arrival by thousands of years. He based this suggestion on his study of 38 skeletons from 3 sites in Brazil and Colombia that have been dated to between 12,000 and 6,000 years ago. He concluded "The results suggest a clear biological affinity between the early South Americans and the South Pacific population. This association allowed for the conclusion that the Americas were occupied before the spreading of the classical Mongoloid morphology to Asia,". (1)

The lack of skulls from North America has led to the assumption that the makers of the Clovis Points were the first people to arrive in the Americas, and that they were of Mongoloid type, as are the present Native Americans. The small number of isolated skulls that have been found precludes the possibility of population studies. One region, Lagoa Santa in Brazil has produced at least 250 skeletons. All skulls present were closest the Australian Aboriginal skull morphology, as was Luzia.

The difference between North and South America, with regard to the number of skulls found, can be explained, at least partially, by differences in burial practices, Luzia's people practicing ritualised burial, at least sometimes including reburial after the bones were painted wit red ochre, as were the bones of Mungo 3. Another reason is that the remains found in Brazil were found in limestone caves, which enhanced their preservation.

Neves published a paper in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2005 in which he discussed the results of his analysis of another 81 skeletons from Lagoa Santa in Brazil, supporting his proposal that there were migrations of 2 major populations to the Americas. He published another paper in the journal PLoS ONE in 2010 in which he presented evidence that the earlier population in the Americas could not have given rise to the present native population. The archaeological evidence shows that in Brazil there was a sudden shift from the Australia Aborigine-like morphology of Luzia's people to the Mongoloid-like appearance of the present native American populations, not the gradual change that would be seen if one population had evolved into the other. He also claimed it was not possible for the 2 populations to share an immediate common ancestor at the time of arrival in the Americas.

A further 26 skeletons have been unearthed at the Lapa do Santo site, about 600 km northeast of Rio de Janeiro, all of which are of the same morphological type as Luzia.

In a site at Monte Verde in southern Chile artefacts of stone, wood and bone were found, a well as the remnants of fur-covered huts, and a single footprint of a child that stood in sandy mud near a fire. At 12,500 years ago the site is more than 1,000 years earlier than the first known indications of the Clovis people in the New World. At the site were found cooked and chewed seaweed, indicating a maritime people. The Pericu people were also known to get most of their food from the sea, using wooden rafts and double-bladed paddles to collect fish,  shellfish and marine mammals from the southern section of the Gulf of California with spears, harpoons and nets. The Aborigines on the coast of Southwest Tasmania also had a marine orientation, preferring to gain most of their needs from the sea, rarely entering the nearby rainforest, remaining on the coast as they apparently did for thousands of year up until the time of first European contact.

The Clovis people had a very different lifestyle, concentrating their food gathering on big game hunting, so much so that they are believed by some to be at least partly responsible for the demise of the megafauna. Examination of the teeth of Luzia's people showed that their diet differed from that of both the Clovis people and the coastal groups of Luzia's people. All the skulls from Brazil that were examined had teeth with a high level of cavities, they reported in Physical Anthropology in 2004, indicating a diet with high consumption of vegetables. There is evidence they hunted animals from the size of rodents up deer, but there is no evidence of hunting megafauna. According to Neves, there no evidence that they ever used the bones of megafauna.

There is also a cultural similarity between the Pericu and Australian Aborigines. They lived among the megafauna for some time but there is no known evidence that they hunted them, as is the case in Australia, where there is little if any evidence of megafauna hunting. Where there is, such at Cuddie Springs, the stone artefacts found in association with the bones of megafauna, in some cases with traces of blood and hair still attached, the artefacts are of the type usually used for butchering, not for hunting. It has been suggested that this could be a site where the aborigines were butchering animals trapped in the mud around the edges of the lake that were already dead or possibly dying. The only known instance, that some see as definite evidence of megafauna hunting, is at the Devil's Lair site.

Burial practices

At a site in limestone caves at Lagoa Santa from about 8,500 years ago, excavated by Neves and colleagues, they found the remains of an adolescent boy in which long bones of the arms and legs had been painted with red ochre and placed in the cranial vault as part of a secondary burial.

How could Australian Aborigine-type people get to South America by at least 12,000 years ago?


  1. Cranial morphology of early Americans from Lagoa Santa, Brazil: Implications for the settlement of the New World
  2. Did Australian Aborigines reach America first?
  3. Australoid Race 
  4. People were chipping stone tools in Texas more than 15,000 years ago
  5. The buttermilk Creek complex and the origins of Clovis at the debra L. Friedkin site, Texas

Sources & Further reading

  1. Hayes, Jacqui, Oct/Nov 2010, Ancient Odyssey, Cosmos Magazine. p 39


Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 28/09/2013
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