January 10, 2001
The Japan Times
(AFP-Jiji) Adam and Eve were Aussies, not Africans as most experts on human evolution now believe, recently completed research claims.
The research, which is about to confound conventional wisdom, presents a new genetic tree showing anatomically modern humanity had common ancestors living in Australia 60,000 years ago.
Conducted by a team led by anthropologist Alan Thorne of Canberra's Australian National University, it also shows Australia was once home to a group of Aboriginal people whose genetic line died out.
The discoveries are based on new analysis of the oldest DNA ever recovered from human remains: a 60,000-year-old skeleton found in 1974 near Lake Mungo in the eastern Australian state of New South Wales.
Mungo Man, a relatively sophisticated bloke, had been ceremonially buried with hands crossed over the pelvis and sprinkled with red ocher.
Previously thought to be between 28,000 and 32,000 years old, his remains were subsequently redated at 56,000 to 68,000 years. Up to now, a Croatian Neanderthal who lived about 28,000 years ago had provided the oldest DNA recovered.
Mungo Man's DNA is creating a stir in the scientific community by casting serious doubt on the "Out of Africa" model of human evolution backed by most experts.
Conventional wisdom holds that all living people are descended from a group of homo sapiens that left Africa between 100,000 and 150,000 years ago. They and their descendants spread around the world, replacing existing populations of Neanderthals and homo erectus.
Thorne said most primitive forms of DNA known in living humans until now had been found in sub-Saharan Africa, leading to the Eve theory that mankind originated in Africa and left it as modern homo sapiens before spreading around the world.
"But what we have found is a lineage that is older than any of those, earlier than the putative most recent common ancestor, the so-called Eve point in mitochondrial evolution," he said. "Under a strict out of Africa hypothesis I have to say 'Well, they were wrong. Obviously Eve was an Australian.'"
But his key argument, due to be published by the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is that the Out of Africa model is simplistic and no longer tenable.
"Modern humans didn't just come from one area, they came from all areas," he said. "We assert that when people began to leave Africa 2 million years ago they were the ancestors of all modern people and we don't think modern humanity emerged from one place later on.
"We simply say that here we have a form much older than anything found in Africa and there's no evidence that it or the skeletal anatomy of the fossil that it comes from ever had anything to do with Africa."
The discovery that Mungo Man was a homo sapien and a modern man who came from a now extinct genetic lineage supports Thorne's argument, suggesting that humanity evolved in many parts of the world and in many ways.