Australia: The Land Where Time Began

A biography of the Australian continent 

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

According to Neves, it is known that people of this type were in China 20,000 years ago, where they predate the present Mongoloid population. Neves suggests the Australian Aboriginal People and the American Aboriginal People, Luzia's people, shared a common ancestor in southeast Asia, one branch heading for Australia, the other travelling to Siberia through Asia, from where they crossed the Bering Strait into the Americas. This crossing to Alaska would have occurred thousands of years before the Clovis people.

In a book written by a French ethnologist, Paul Rivet, The Origins of the American Man, he suggests an Australian and Melanesian origin for the populations of the Americas by an ocean crossing based on linguistic and anthropological evidence.

There is widespread doubt that a crossing of the Pacific Ocean would have been technologically possible at the time the Australoids migrated to the Americas, about 12,000 years ago, at a time of repeated glacial episodes during the Pleistocene. No remains of boats from this time period have been found in archaeological sites, so researchers need to look for evidence of colonisation of islands or evidence indicating fishing in deep water that would require some form of craft capable of travelling far enough from land to reach deep enough water. 

According to Jon Erlandson, a professor at Oregon University, and director of Oregon's Museum of Natural and Cultural History, it is widely believed that the colonisation of Australia was by boat, that of the Americas was across the Bering land bridge at a time of low sea level, though he believes the sophistication of ancient peoples has been underestimated, as was the importance of the sea in human history, including their marine capabilities in the Late Pleistocene. He said evidence should have been found on intervening islands between Melanesia and South America of any migration that took place, but none has been found.

It has been suggested that at times of low sea level in the Pleistocene it might have been possible to island hop to Antarctica from Tasmania, then travel by land to a point within reach of the southern tip of South America, but this is believed to be unlikely. Erlandson believes the first colonisation of South America was by boat, though he believes a direct ocean crossing is unlikely. He suggested in the Journal of Island and Coastal Archaeology, in June 2007, the colonisation along a "kelp highway".

The kelp highway proposal is based on the presence of kelp forests that grow in cool water near rocky shores. These forests, that are very productive, are found in a continuous belt from the coast of Japan north, then follow the coast across the North Pacific, down the west coast of North America to the Baja California. Past this point there is a break where the kelp forests are replaced by coral reefs and mangroves. Past this break the kelp continues on south along the west coast of South America. It is thought probably that a similar belt of kelp grew along the same coasts in the past. According to this suggestion, the continuous band of kelp would have allowed migrating groups of Australoids that headed north, while other groups of the same people headed for Australia, to move north along the coast of Asia, along the coast of Siberia to Alaska, then south along the coast of the Americas, following an abundant food source all the way without needing to adapt to new terrestrial environments they would pass through if they travelled along a terrestrial route.

Genetic studies

Genetic studies of Native Americans have worked with either Y chromosome DNA for the paternal line or the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), 37 genes that occur in the mitochondria, and not in the nucleus, the DNA that is inherited in the maternal line. Nearly all these studies suggest the migration of a single population in a single migration from Siberia. Antonio Arnaiz-Villena of the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, has suggested that concentrating on the Y-chromosome DNA and mtDNA may bias the results of the tests. The tests using the mtDNA or the Y-chromosome may "only give a maternal or paternal view of the markers in genealogy, which may have been divergent in small primitive colonising populations (Arnaiz-Villena et al., 2010, April).

Another problem with the genetic studies carried out on the Native American populations is that not all populations have been included in the research, representing a small fraction of the genetic diversity present among the native peoples of the Americas. This lack of total coverage of the native populations is being redressed by a study launched in 2005, the Human Genographic Project, that aims to include DNA from 100,000 people that is planned to include all the most remote and little known indigenous tribes around the world (See link 5) in which the entire genome will be studied, that will hopefully document the migrations of humans around the world. Arnaiz-Valenna's group are studying HLA genes that he says gives an even genealogy of both sexes. The results of these tests usually correlate with geography, so are believed to be a good marker for studying population relatedness.

Their study has found signatures that are unique to Australian Aboriginal People, Pacific islanders, and people in both Asia and Europe. They conclude that the Bering Strait was probably not the only route taken by people entering the Americas. The results suggest a Pacific Ocean crossing as a contributing factor in the colonising of the Americas. The study does not indicate the direction of the proposed flow of the HLA marker. They suggest the direction of flow could possibly have been in different directions at different times. They claim South America may not necessarily have been a passive receiver of colonising people, suggesting that at various times groups of people could have colonised the Americas only to migrate away again.

Based on further studies of a series of other genes associated with immunity it has been suggested that there probably was a crossing of the Pacific Ocean from Japan because the presence of identical sequences unique to Japan and the northern coast of South America. In the journal Science in 1996 they suggest the crossings could have been via the ocean currents across the  Pacific that connect Japan to South America. It now seems possible, at least to some, that South America may have been involved in a complex array of migrations of various human populations.

With regards to the lack of a perfect match between molecular studies and those of morphology can be explained by loss of DNA lineages over time, according to Neves. He originally believed that the earlier inhabitants had been completely replaced by the Clovis people, but now believes they were probably absorbed into the new populations of colonising groups. Based on human behaviour in historic times it seems highly unlikely a new population didn't interbreed with the earlier people.


  1. Cranial morphology of early Americans from Lagoa Santa, Brazil: Implications for the settlement of the New World
  2. Did Australian Aboriginal People reach America first?
  3. Australoid Race
  4. The Origin of the Amerindians and the Peopling of the Americas according to HLA genes: Admixture with Asian and Pacific People
  5. Origin of our Species

Sources & Further reading

  1. Hayes, Jacqui, Oct/Nov 2010, Ancient Odyssey, Cosmos Magazine. p 39
  2. Neves, Walter A. & Hubbe, Mark, Cranial morphology of early Americans from Lagoa Santa, Brazil: Implications for the settlement of the New World, PNAS, PNAS, 102 (51) 18309-18314; published ahead of print December 12, 2005, doi:10.1073/pnas.0507185102
  3. Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio, The Origin of the Amerindians and the Peopling of the Americas according to HLA genes: Admixture with Asian and Pacific People, Current Genomics, April 2010.



Author: M. H. Monroe
Last updated: 20/12/2011

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