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Scientists have found a “incredible” discovery of ancient human DNA, which they believe may help them piece together Southeast Asia’s mystery ancestry.

According to a study published Wednesday in Nature Genetics, little is known about the population history of current people in Southeast Asia since ancient DNA is easily damaged due to the tropical climate.

Scientists discovered a partially preserved human skeleton in a limestone cave at Leang Panninge on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi in 2015, a find that was “exceptionally rare” in the region due to the humid climate’s “exceptionally brutal” impact on material preservation. Adam Brumm, a professor of archaeology at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and one of the study’s authors, told to Australian news broadcaster ABC News that genetics are lost once an organism dies.

Credits: University of Hasanuddin
Fragmentary remains of the human skull.

As per study, DNA analysis revealed that the remains belonged to a young female hunter-gatherer in pre-Neolithic periods, aged around 17 or 18. According to Brumm, it shares half of its DNA with Aboriginal Australians and the other half with individuals from Papua New Guinea.

Around 7,200 years ago, the woman was buried in a fetal-like position in a shallow grave within a Toalean burial site, according to Brum. According to Brumm, she was discovered with enormous pebbles piled over and around her body. Artifacts including “very complex stone tools” like chipped arrowheads were also discovered in the tomb, possibly as a grave offering, according to Brumm.

According to Brumm, it is the first ancient DNA discovered in Wallacea, a “massive” expanse of thousands of marine islands lying between Asia and Australia’s continental landmasses. At least 50,000 years ago, modern people passed through Wallacea on their way to the Australian continent.

Because early human skeletal remains are “exceptionally scarce” in the region, scientists know “very little” about human migration to the “gateway to Australia,” according to Brumm, who added that this “unique culture” has “always been a bit of a mystery.”

“So finding ancient DNA from the region is incredibly important because we can start looking at the genetic ancestry of humans in that area using genomic investigations,” he said. “We can begin by studying population history. It simply gives us a lot more information than we currently have.”

According to the study, the woman’s DNA belonged to a population group that is more closely related to modern-day Near Oceanian populations, which include Australia and Polynesia, than to East Asian ones.

According to the experts, the woman may have a native lineage that predates the arrival of modern people on Sulawesi. However, it is unknown whether this group is responsible for the region’s oldest human evidence, Sulawesi cave art, which dates back at least 45,500 years.

This News article is based on a report of ABC news.

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