The Enigma of the Andaman Islanders

Australian aborigines are not the only trace population left from the original migration. All along the route back to Africa, in remote islands or out of the way places where later invaders could be resisted, there are unusual peoples whose genetics suggest an ancestry from the original emigrants. All are tribal, mostly forest-living groups who have managed to resist intermarriage or integration. They include some of the tribal peoples of India, such as the australoid Chenchus and Koyas of Andhra Pradesh, as well as the Negritos, forest dwellers found in the Andaman Islands, Malaysia and the Philippines. Many of these peoples have dark skin, as if retained from their African origins.

The Andaman Islanders are one of the most intriguing of these relict populations. The Andaman Islands lie in the Bay of Bengal, some 120 miles from the coast of Burma, but with the lower sea levels of 50,000 years ago the distance may have been as little as 40 miles. Since the first emigrants from Africa were capable mariners, as proved by their reaching Sahul, the Andaman Islands would also have lain within their reach. The islands were long avoided by contemporary sailors, their occupants having a fearsome reputation for extreme hostility and cannibalism. According to a British survey in 1858, the islands were inhabited by some 13 different tribes, each with its own language and territory, and some in a state of perpetual warfare with each other. Many of the northern tribes, known as the Greater Andamanese, were decimated by contact with western diseases, and within 50 years of British occupation almost all had perished. Only three of the peoples, all from the southern islands, now survive. They are the Onge, the Jarawa and the Sentinelese.

The origin of the Andamanese has long been a puzzle. Their features—short stature, dark skin, peppercorn hair and protruding buttocks, a feature known as steatopygia—are characteristic of African pygmies. "They look like they belong in Africa, yet here they are sitting in this island chain out in the middle of the Indian Ocean," says Peter Underhill, an expert on Y chromosome lineages. "People have been scratching their heads for 200 years asking who

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