In 2001, a study argued that the first inhabitants of Australia were an extinct lineage of modern humans who were displaced by Aboriginal Australians, a revelation that stirred controversy among the scientific community. However, a 2016 study by researchers from the Griffith University in Australia disproves the earlier study and asserts that the continent’s first inhabitants were, in fact, Aboriginals.

As reported by the study published on June 6 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the remains of Mungo Man, unearthed in 1974, represented the extinct humans that were previously believed to be Australia’s first occupants. Now, after conducting a DNA re-analysis of the fossil, the university’s Research Center for Human Evolution (RCHE) scientists claim that earlier DNA sequencing of Mungo Man was actually contaminated, providing inaccurate results.

“The sample from Mungo Man which we retested contained sequences from five different European people suggesting that these all represent contamination,” says RCHE researcher and professor David Lambert. “At the same time, we re-analyzed more than 20 of the other ancient people from Willandra. We were successful in recovering the genomic sequence of one of the early inhabitants of Lake Mungo, a man buried very close to the location where Mungo Man was originally interred.”

Aboriginal Australians

Aboriginal people in the Kuranda, Australia

The research team utilized the latest technology in DNA analysis. The recently discovered genetic information marks the first recovery of an ancient mitochondrial genome sequence from an Aboriginal man that occupied the land before the Europeans came.

The Mungo Man was found in Willandra Lakes region, a World Heritage Site located in the far west region of New South Wales, Australia. In a 2003 Nature issue, scientists claim that the Mungo Man fossil is 40,000 years old. Earlier investigations suggest that Mungo Man was 50 years old when he died and was suffering from arthritis. The latest study was done in collaboration with the Indigenous people of the Ngiyampaa, Barkindjii, and Muthi Muthi groups.