A Three-Hour Tour

New genetic analysis indicates that Australian Aboriginals, at least those in the northern part of Australia, picked up about 11% of their ancestry from India, relatively recently – about 140 generations ago. 4000-5000 years, depending on generation length.

Lots of interesting things happened in Australia around that time. Previously Australia had a Middle Stone Age technology, no better than the Neanderthal toolkit. But around that time, microlithic stone tools showed up, along with new food processing techniques and the dingo. Very few dingos – they’re genetically similar, very much so. There might have been a single pregnant bitch. Population density went up by something like a factor of five. Altogether, the transition is similar to what happened when anatomically modern humans replaced Neanderthals in Europe.

Let assume that this new analysis is correct. How could this have happened? There was never any significant colony -archeologically, it would stand out like a sore thumb. India had all kinds of useful technology that never made it to Australia, above all agriculture.

So the problem is this: what historical process ends up contributing some key technology and 11% of the genome, while failing to transmit the vast majority of available culture and technology?

Here’s a scenario. A ship from some Indian civilization about 4000 years ago [maybe Indus] loses its way and ends up crashing on the shore of Arnhem Land. Like most ships, its crew is all male. They survive the landing, and end up warring with a local tribe. Eventually, they kill off most of the men and annex the sobbing women. The new tribe has 5x higher carrying capacity, essentially due to better technology, and they’re militarily superior as well – better weapons and tactics. They expand and expand, picking up more and more old Australian genes as they do so. Not as an empire – they’re too simple for that – but the tribes that descend from them keep winning. They speak the ancestor of the Macro-Pama-Nyungan languages, which originates as a mix between their old-Dravidian language (from the men) and some local Australian tongue (from the women).

In the post-Columbian world, there have been events that could have gone this way, but the players always ran into Europeans again before anything really interesting had time to happen.

One funny thing about this scenario: the sailors lose almost all of their civilization, and probably thought they were descending into savagery. On the other hand, the locals probably thought of the castaways as incredibly advanced, magicians or gods. They were both right.

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58 Responses to A Three-Hour Tour

  1. Robert E. Howard should have been reading your blog, Greg.

  2. My point isn’t that Howard was uninformed, but rather that this would be a premise for a terrifying piece of conquest-horror literature, in a yet unexplored nice of the Hyperborian.

  3. gcochran says:

    They had no pottery, no agriculture, no metals. Not a single luxury. So sub-Neolithic. Paleolithic, I guess.

    • ironrailsironweights says:

      I thought that the aborigines had some low-level agriculture, things like clearing weeds away from useful plants and watering them, though they did not do any actual planting.


    • Bert Derpski says:

      They been spendin most their life living in a noonga paradise

  4. dianabuja says:

    Perhaps on (or more) of the ship/s heading to East Africa… No. Wait. Those ships were from S.E Asia – or perhaps not? Introduced various types of banana to e. Africa…

  5. Dan says:

    Do Aborigine Y chromosomes support this hypothesis?

    • genetiker says:

      No. The Dravidian-speaking Caucasoids of the Indus Valley Civilization were Y haplogroup L. The Veddoid Carpentarians were Y haplogroup C.

    • gcochran says:

      Possibly. A single Y-chromosome type, (C-DYS390.1del/M347), accounts for a very high percentage of Australians and shows low diversity. There has been an analysis claiming that its closest relatives are in south India (and that it arrived recently in Australia), but I would like to see this done again with current sequencing techniques.

      On the other hand, I don’t think you see a similar pattern with Australian mtDNA. It look old, varied, not bottlenecked.

  6. j says:

    It may be that Tasmanians were “primitive” not because of isolation and regression, but because they did not enjoy the injection of Indian genes. Another anthropological theory down the sink?

    • Matt says:

      Although note, the data do indicate that the New Guinea populations also did not enjoy such an “injection”, or any kind of injection (although assuming this holds up, perhaps there may be more in the pipeline).

    • genetiker says:

      Yes, the Tasmanians had no Carpentarian ancestry. Birdsell wrote of them:

      “The Tasmanians represent a dihybrid race whose predominant genetic element is not Negrito, but on the contrary represents the Murrayian Australian type from the south-eastern portion of that continent. The Oceanic Negritic element is clearly present but … a comparison with the Andamanese indicates that the Negritic element in the Tasmanians must have been the minority contribution.”

      • gcochran says:

        Birdsell was not an idiot – and if he were around to day, he’d make use of the enormously greater genetic knowledge we now have.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      It would be most interesting to find out what percentage Denisovan the last pure Tasmanian aborigines were. Isolation of a small population could cause regression in intelligence but the faces in the 100 year old photographs of the last pure Tasmanians screams archaic. Anybody can see it. I don’t see how isolation on the large island of Tasmania for 13000 years could cause that. The only rational explanation is they missed out on one or more scenarios of what Cochran has described.

  7. Cloudswrest says:

    I wonder how many readers are old enough to catch the Gilligan’s Island reference?

    • erica says:

      Here’s one.
      Not having a background in any of the substance of this post, I take solace in recognizing one reference to anything.

    • Cloudswrest says:

      Well now that you point it out. But the spelling makes it especially subtle.

      • gcochran9 says:

        It’s a reference to a song in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” – the song is of course referring to the Sabine women. Which probably goes back to a Proto-Indo-European ‘war of the functions’ – take look at the Aesir-Vanir war in Norse mythology.

      • Cloudswrest says:

        Another reference, from a previous essay, recently tweeted by Heartiste.
        “when I was conferring, conversing and otherwise hobnobbing with my fellow physicists” Or should that be “wizards”. 🙂

  8. dearieme says:

    When were the comeback boomerang and the woomera developed in Oz: before or after these new chaps arrived?

  9. genetiker says:

    This scenario is not correct. There are four genetic layers in India. From oldest to newest:

    1. Negritoid
    2. Veddoid
    3. Dravidian-speaking Caucasoid
    4. Indo-Aryan-speaking Caucasoid

    The Holocene immigrants from India to Australia, the Carpentarians of Joseph Birdsell’s trihybrid theory, were Veddoid, so they would have spoken a language related to the parent Vedda language, not Dravidian. They might have been driven from India toward Australia by the Dravidian-speaking Caucasoids of the Indus Valley Civilization pushing further south into the Indian peninsula.

    Cavalli-Sforza observes in History And Geography Of Human Genes that “There is an approximate geographic correspondence between the Carpentarian immigration wave postulated by Birdsell (1977; sec. 7.3) and the non-Pama-Nyungan languages, and between the Murrayian wave and the Pama-Nyungan languages.”

    The Veddoid Carpentarians didn’t bring civilization to Australia because they never had it to begin with.

    • Matt says:

      The ADMIXTURE in the Supplementary Information to the paper seem to show the Australian samples as having consistent and more or less equal affinities with the Onge and the East Asian like components which are present in the Indian population (under this analysis).

      Whereas the samples have highly variable presence of the West Eurasian like components, which would seem to indicate low and variable recent admixture with some West Eurasians.

      So on that basis, although I am not sure about the precise taxonomy here, it does seem to cast doubt on the idea of Indus or Dravidian like population being involved in any capacity, assuming that Indus had West Eurasian like elements, to any extent (let alone the degree the modern Dravidian samples), which seems at least rather likely..

      Their admixture tree may be slightly kludging the presence of a variable level of recent West Eurasian admixture with a consistent ancestral Indian admix in these samples to produce a Dravidian-like admixture signal (although this would not of course bode well for their time scale).

    • gcochran says:

      You should consider recent genetic analyses more than old guesses by physical anthropologist. Note than I say more, rather than only. Quite a few of those old physical anthropologists got some important things right, like Weidenreich.

      • genetiker says:

        The recent genetic analyses aren’t contradicting those “old guesses”; they’re confirming them.

      • genetiker says:

        This the kind of excessive reductionism one would expect from a physicist. It’s like saying

        “It’s quite crazy to talk about cells when we can instead talk about subatomic particles.”


        “It’s quite crazy to speak of American blacks as being Negroid-Caucasoid dihybrids.”


        “It’s quite crazy to speak of Brazilians as being Negroid-Caucasoid-Mongoloid trihybrids.”

        You’re not seeing the forest for the trees.

      • Rob King says:

        Are you a polycentrist Greg? Or are you just trying to tweak folks tails?

  10. PhilipNeal says:

    Australian aboriginal languages have similar phonological systems to the Dravidian languages (my authority is RMW Dixon but I have not got the reference). Dixon dismisses this as a coincidence, but perhaps it is not coincidental after all.

    • gcochran says:

      Various people have suspected some kind of connection for a long time.

    • genetiker says:

      Similarities between present-day Dravidian languages and Australian languages, which are genetic and not coincidental, are likely due to a Vedda-like substrate in the former.

  11. bruce says:

    What about the ‘Eden in the East’ people from areas of Southeast Asia submerged when the last Ice Age melted? Or do the pros call that horse poo?

  12. a very knowing American says:

    Australian aborigines are famously gerontocratic. Elders have great troves of sacred, top secret knowledge that they pass on to boys and young men in harrowing initiations. They seem to go in for this more than most any other hunter-gatherers.

    Just suppose: the Indian mariners who were shipwrecked in Arnhemland, fearful of descending into savagery, decided that it was vitally important to pass on their wisdom to the next generation. They had no writing but set up a whole ritual system to make sure this would happen. After 4000 years of Chinese whispers, little of the original information survives. But, just maybe, an Australianist who really knew the material and was asking the right questions could discover something unexpected in the tales of the Dreaming, and the songlines, and the Rainbow Snake.

    • dearieme says:

      Italian winemakers used to do that too. Allegedly their most treasured secret was “You can also make it from grapes”.

      • a very knowing American says:

        Lots of folks have elders claiming a monopoly on all-important top-secret lore, and dragging youngsters through initiations to get the lore — Mormons for example. But aborigines are pretty extreme, especially among hunter-gatherers, about this. I’m fairly sure neither Italian winemakers nor Mormons do subincision, for example. (Don’t google “subincision” if you’re squeamish.)

        The rainbow = snake motif found in Australia is also found some places in India, but lots of other places too, so it isn’t evidence for much on its own.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      So, what would be the secrets a crew of bronze age sailors would want to pass on in a stone age environment?

      • bruce says:

        Early Abos were Early Stone Age. Late Stone Age merges with Early Copper, like the Mex archer’s city-state that provided Cortez with 40,000 copper crossbow bolts and a division of archers at a month’s notice. What did bronze age do better? Beats me (but I bet they knew, like those dang hippy long-hair girls knowing who the dang hippy long-hair boys are). What did Late Stone Age do better than Old Stone Age? Everything. Even Egyptian UFOs are cooler.

  13. baloocartoons says:

    Always something thought-provoking at this blog. Linked and quoted here:

  14. amkim says:

    Is there something wonky going on with the K = 7 and K = 7 ADMIXTURE analyses in supplementary fig. 5? As they acknowledge, we have a 9% “Mamanwa” component (compare to the 11% “Indian”) present in AUA but not highland New Guineans… Well, okay, there’s also that interesting PC 2 separation of AUA + Mamanwa from New Guineans. (And didn’t Reich find the Mamanwa to be nearly 3/4 East Asian?)

    I find it hard to put much stock in a number of the ADMIXTURE figures they’re waving around, really… I mean, having Tibeto-Burman Aonaga (somewhere in the region of 80-90% East Asian last I saw over at Zack’s blog) come out looking not all that different from south Indians would seem to be a good indication of insufficient K.

    • Matt says:

      The AoNaga do come out interestingly on Zack Ajmal’s ADMIXTURE analyses –


      with a higher level of the main North East Asian associated components (i.e. scarcer in South East than North / Central East Asia) 84% than any population but the Japanese (including more than Beijing Chinese, 76%), and a higher level of the Siberian associated components than the North Chinese (7% vs 3%), but also with a higher South Indian component (5% vs Chinese 0% and Thais and Cambodians 10-14%).

      The Nysha are likewise in Zack’s ADMIXTURE plots.

      So the behavior of these populations in the ADMIXTURE and frappe here seems unusual.

  15. Greying Wanderer says:

    That would be a pretty extreme example of the ways older males use cultural warfare when competing with younger males over access to females but on the face of it it sounds possible.

  16. a very knowing American says:

    Don’t know about that (I doubt it), but maybe worth noting is that the guy who’s subincising you is often your future father-in-law. How a lot of dads feel, I guess: “8 simple rules for marrying my daughter: Aboriginal version.”

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  18. h_prime says:

    I like the portrayal of the story presented here much more than in the article I read in the Economist about the same subject.

    “About 4,000 years before Captain Phillip and his merry men arrived to turn the aboriginals’ world upside down, it seems that a group of Indian adventurers chose to call the place home. Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals.”

    • gcochran9 says:

      It isn’t easy to explain how Indian colonists could account for a fairly big fraction of Australian Aboriginal ancestry while at the same time leaving no archeological record and transmitting only a small fraction of their technology. Info is incomplete, but it sure looks as if the gene flow was all male as well.
      Next, the dingo gene pool is extremely bottlenecked: a single mtDNA type. Sure suggests a single visit.
      Extreme backwardness (MSA tech) of the Old Australians helps make the scenario feasible.
      Lastly, there are those tantalizing similarities between Pama-Nygunhan and Dravidian.

      The scenario I describe is the only feasible one that occurs to me, but who knows? it is possible though: foragers can expand in ways that limit gene flow from the earlier inhabitants, like the Thule vs the Dorset, or anatomically modern humans versus Neanderthals. If people mated randomly, you would have had to have thousands of Indian immigrants to end up with the ancestry numbers we’ve got today.

  19. nameless37 says:

    By “microlithic stone tools” you are presumably referring to Bondi points, which do, in fact, appear around that time in the vicinity of Arnhem Land. But those are best described as extremely primitive. I don’t disagree with the general thrust of the narrative, but I’d reformulate this away from the idea of “a ship from an Indus civilization about 4000 years ago” and perhaps towards “a raft with some lost fishermen about 6000 years ago” .
    4K BP in India, particularly, in the Indus valley, is a fairly advanced stage of the Bronze Age and I don’t believe that there’s anything of a kind seen in Australian archeology. Even accepting that newcomers rapidly lose most of their knowledge and technology, there should be more evidence left from such a contact. (And I’d think that Bronze Age Indians would do a much better job wiping out Australian Aboriginal tribes.) 6K BP, on the other hand, is late Stone Age / early Copper Age in the Indus valley and solid Stone Age further east.

  20. Steve Sailer says:

    A few years ago, two Indian fisherman got drunk and washed up on North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, home to one of the last out-of-contact Stone Age cultures on earth. The Sentinelese stabbed them to death with spears.

    • nameless37 says:

      I wonder if those fishermen were armed. Also, I wonder if it was common practice for Indian fishermen on long fishing trips to be armed 4-6k years ago. (Evidently, the team that crash-landed in Australia was so well prepared that they even had at least one dog with them.)

  21. anonymous says:

    Here’s a scenario. A ship from some Indian civilization about 4000 years ago [maybe Indus] loses its way and ends up crashing on the shore of Arnhem Land. Like most ships, its crew is all male. They survive the landing, and end up warring with a local tribe. Eventually, they kill off most of the men and annex the sobbing women.

    New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania were once a single land mass. The infusion of Indic DNA to Australia occurred long AFTER the sea separated.the three, so New Guinea and Tasmania missed it…

    And most Australian natives, except in one corner of the continent, have wavy Caucasiod type hair, in stark contrast to the ancestral African-type spiral hair of New Guinea and, per historical records, the Tasmanians. So it would seem to post-date the separation of the land masses. So… it’s likely that it came with the Indic settlers.

    Question… how on earth did that wavy-hair trait, selectively sweep the whole continent in just a few thousand years? What was its advantage?

  22. anonymous says:

    The older men keep harems and monopolize the women. The young men have to wait for a geezer to die, in order to marry.

  23. scroll1ock says:

    This article I found somewhat degrading, I have always understood that advancement does not equal to honour and decency. DNA these days says that the Neanderthal came from Europe and those people with African ancestry do not have it. So if The DNA of Australia’s Indigenous people has Neanderthal blood it most certainly came from the Europeans. ” Neanderthal DNA in All Non-Africans” youtube and many other sites you can read from there, also Aboriginal Australians have what is called the eve gene mtdna. Europeans posses r1 dna Y Dna. If you are a truth seeker than it is important to get information that is not from Government research or the Smithsonian institute. Have a look at forbidden archeolgy it will blow your mind. The Indian blood came later and not all tribes in Australia have that bloodline, Tamil. If you research the languages different groups have similar languages and customs as do different parts of Africa. From Egypt, to Iran, parts of Indian Tamil, and Watusi Africa to name a few. There are people from ancient times who kept the knowledge from the beginning times and in order to this, so called advancement = loss of spiritualty and knowledge of the soul. If you learn to write you use a certain dna strand to enable that action at the same time another dna strand will not be used, one that is important to enable spiritualism. It is similar to a child that has autism who may not be able to speak as that part of the dna strand is not fired up. Instead another strand will be lit up one that enables the child to be a master mathematician or musician that can play orchestra music better than the professionals, or code cracker etc. There is so much more new information now concerning humans and timelines one should keep an open mind.

  24. You’re probably aware of this site – http://forgottenorigin.com/three-strikes-and-we-are-all-out-of-africa-and-into-australia-article but I’m curious if what they say about the Dingo DNA is correct and if so how does it square with you?

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  26. Sid says:

    Macro-Pama-Nyungan languages are rich in retroflex consonants, much the way South Asian languages are. Intriguing.

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