But genetic dates, though always interesting, depend on many assumptions that may not be realistic, and the dates derived by archaeologists are considerably more reliable. Archaeologists can at present see no sign of modern human presence outside Africa before 46,000 years ago, the date of the Lake Mungo site in southeastern Australia, and sites of similar age in the Levant. They have little patience with the geneticists' proposals that sites of earlier occupation along ancient coastlines now lie beneath sea level, since rather than wait to be engulfed by slowly rising sea levels, people would surely have built new settlements farther inland.
It's possible, of course, that the modern humans leaving Africa really were confined to the water's edge by the archaic humans who had settled Eurasia many thousands of years beforehand. The Neanderthals may have been present at times in the Arabian peninsula and Homo erectus occupied East Asia. Though the archaic humans may at first have been able to prevent modern humans from penetrating Eurasia, forcing them to skirt the periphery, the archaics themselves never reached Sahul. That could perhaps account for the odd fact that the oldest modern human remains come from the place at the remotest part of the journey, Australia.
Another reason for Australia being the first recorded landfall, however, is climate. The ancestral population was not adapted to northern climates. As discussed further in chapter 6, people may have needed to evolve special adaptations to colonize the colder regions of Eurasia. The first emigrants may have been confined by climate to the coasts of East Asia and warmer regions like Sunda and Sahul.
Be this as it may, the archaeologists are probably correct in their position that modern humans should not be assumed to have left Africa any earlier than 50,000 years ago, a date that is consistent both with the behavioral changes evident from archaeological sites within Africa, and with the date, 46,000 years ago, at which modern humans were clearly present in Australia. But if archaeologists are right on the date of exit, geneticists may have the better case on the number of migrations: just one. Because Sahul lies so far off the beaten track, away from the subsequent movements and mixings of the human population, Australia's aboriginal tribes may hold in their genes a fascinating portrait of the first emigrants from Africa. But differences in the robusticity of early skeletons, and the arrival of people with a semi-domesticated dog (the dingo), suggest that several extra waves of immigrants reached Australia after the first one. Because of political constraints on taking samples from aboriginal peoples, it's at present impossible to sort out these various waves of early immigrants as fully as geneticists would like.
Before the arrival of Europeans in Australia, the original inhabitants were divided into some 600 tribes, each composed of some 500 to 1,000 people and possessing its own dialect and territory. These tribes seem to have married within themselves, with little gene flow between them, and because of their antiquity each built up a distinctive genetic profile with special variants not seen elsewhere in the world. An analysis of mitochondrial DNA from the Walbiri tribe of the Northern Territory showed they possessed several lineages not found among any other tribe, indicating a considerable
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