DNA Confirms Aboriginal Australians Have Been in the Country a Long Time


Members of the Stolen Generations may finally find a way back to their country, thanks to new research that reveals differences in Aboriginal DNA can be linked to specific geographic areas. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Who were the Stolen Generations?

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers Toolkit.

Don’t you love these maps? This lovely map is a model of the peopling of Australia. It combines genetic and archaeological data, showing approximate, and stylized, coastal movements of haplogroups O and R (west) and P, S, and M (east). The inferred movement of S into the interior is influenced by the path of a recent study on water sources and human movement. Data from other studies where pre-European distributions are unclear are indicated with a dagger (†). Early archaeological sites in Australia and New Guinea (black dots) are given with mean ages for earliest occupation of sites in each region. Insufficient data were available for sites with white dots. 
Map courtesy Alan Cooper et. al, doi:10.1038/nature21416. Nature “Aboriginal mitogenomes reveal 50,000 years of regionalism in Australia”

Discussion Ideas


  • Take a look at the beautiful migration map above. The first Australians took two routes after arriving on the continent—along the west coast and the east coast. Why do you think these ancient populations didn’t venture straight through central Australia?


  • What new information does the study confirm about the migration patterns of ancient Aboriginal peoples?
    • Aboriginal Australians colonized the continent very quickly, navigating Australia’s coastal regions in as little as 1,500 years. But after that, the populations mostly stayed put—they remained independent and isolated, rarely interacting with each other.




  • The ABC article says the new research may allow “members of the Stolen Generations to finally find a way back to their country.” Who were the Stolen Generations? Take a look at our short resource for some help.
    • The Stolen Generations describes Aboriginal Australian children taken from their families and raised under European supervision in group homes. At least 100,000 children were forced from their homes, prevented from speaking indigenous languages, and kept from practicing indigenous customs. This practice continued until 1969.


  • How might the new research help the Stolen Generations “find a way back”?
    • The records of many members of the Stolen Generations (including documents identifying birth families and regional homelands) have been lost or destroyed. By tracing genetic ancestry of such isolated populations, the technology may help these Australians to locate the families and cultures from which they themselves were stolen.


  • Why do some researchers think more research is needed to investigate genetic diversity among Aboriginal Australians?
    • One geneticist brings up the point that Aboriginal Australians had been relocated long before the time the oldest samples were taken, about 91 years ago. Europeans arrived in Australia 229 years ago, and evidence shows the native population being forcibly removed almost immediately.
    • Archaeologists question whether Aboriginal populations could have remained relatively isolated from each other for thousands of years. Many Aboriginal groups belong to the same language family and shared similar Stone Age technology.



ABC: DNA confirms Aboriginal people have a long-lasting connection to country

Nat Geo: Australia Apologizes to the ‘Stolen Generations’ article

Nat Geo: Australians Spent 50,000 Years Isolated From the Rest of Us study guide

(extra credit!) Nature: Aboriginal mitogenomes reveal 50,000 years of regionalism in Australia

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