"DNA Structure Key Labelled" by Zephyris / CC BY-SA 3.0

Ancient genomes help to pinpoint origins of Aboriginal remains

Dec 20, 2018

By Ewen Callaway

The remains of Indigenous Australians — taken from their resting places after European colonization — could now be returned, with help from ancient-DNA sequencing techniques.

In a 19 December paper1 in Science Advances, researchers showed that they could accurately match DNA from ancient Aboriginal Australian remains to modern inhabitants from the same geographical area. The research could enable the repatriation of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Indigenous Australian remains in museums that lack documentation indicating their origins.

“This paper is really an incredible step forward in the story of repatriation. It’s really, really exciting work and a major advance,” says Emma Kowal, a cultural and medical anthropologist at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. “This sets out a lot of work for museums, but also gives Aboriginal communities hope that they are going to be able to identify more of their ancestors and get them home.”

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