The Japan Times
January 11, 2001

Early Aussies may have come from China: experts

SYDNEY (AFP-Jiji) Mungo Man, the 60,000-year-old Australian Aborigine challenging conventional wisdom with new evidence about the origin of modern humanity, probably had Chinese ancestors, experts say.

He is also providing evidence that the Chinese may be right to scoff at the Out of Africa theory of human evolution — that all living people were descendants of homo sapiens who left Africa 100,000 to 150,000 years ago.

Research by a team led by Australian National University anthropologist Alan Thorne suggests Australia's first Chinese immigrants arrived 70,000 years ago, after traveling via the Philippines and Timor.

They belonged to a tall, thin race of homo sapiens (modern humans) known as Graciles, whom Thorne says had a specific gene that no longer exists in modern people.

The research included new analysis of DNA from a skeleton known as "Mungo Man," discovered near Lake Mungo in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales in 1974.

New dating techniques recently showed it to be around 60,000 years old, double the age first thought and providing the oldest human DNA yet found.

Researchers found evidence he was a smart fellow who used stone tools to make and sharpen his spears to hunt and fish, and when he died he was ritualistically buried.

Thorne and his associates believe Mungo Man was an Aboriginal descended from the Graciles.

They also claim that some 40,000 years later, another group of settlers called the "Robusts," arrived from Java and began interbreeding with the Graciles to create Australia's modern Aborigines.

The research supports the views of prominent Chinese scientists, including Wu Xinzhe of Beijing's Institute of Paleontology.

China has never accepted the Out of Africa theory which is backed by most international experts - arguing evolution happened simultaneously in China.

The Australian research, due to be published by the U.S. scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, argues the Out of Africa model is no longer tenable.

Rather, the Australians assert modern humanity evolved as a single species simultaneously in many places from the time ancient man, homo erectus, began migrating from Africa more than 1.5 million years ago.

Thorne said Mungo Man confirms occupation by modern people of Australia for at least 70,000 years.

Mungo Man lived in the southeast corner of the continent at a time New Guinea was part of Australia.

"The northwest corner of Australia where people would have come into Australia whether through Indonesia or the Philippines is 4,500 km from Mungo," he said. "Just in terms of the time it would have taken new settlers to adapt to inland environments in the semiarid part of Australia or wander around the coast and then settle in would have taken at least 10,000 years. So that gives a minimum age of 70,000 for the occupation of Australia.

"Almost certainly humans invented sea travel somewhere in southeast Asia in the South China Sea with all its thousands of islands."

One theory is that they made the crossing from Timor, then only about 100 km away, to Australia, perhaps in search of new hunting grounds, possibly using rafts made from bamboo. They knew Australia existed because they had spotted smoke from bush fires.

"What has been happening in our part of the world in East Asia and the Western Pacific is perfectly clearly a sign that the Out of Africa theory is wrong."

Thorne said he had discussed the theories with senior Chinese experts, including Wu Xinzhe, adding: "We are in agreement. The senior Chinese people have always had much the same view as I've had."

Mungo Man