The headline in The Proceedings in the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) of the United States is understandably complex. It says, “Genome-wide data substantiate Holocene gene flow from India to Australia.”
In ordinary, conversational English it could be, “Indians arrived in Australia 4000 years before Europeans, Suck on it.”
The findings in a new study by a team of US and other researchers run contrary to the established view that after early human migration to Australia 40,000 years ago, the continent remained isolated from the outside world until Europeans arrived in the 17th century.
A summary of the study published here says it detected, “a signal indicative of substantial gene flow between the Indian populations and Australia well before European contact, contrary to the prevailing view that there was no contact between Australia and the rest of the world. We estimate this gene flow to have occurred during the Holocene, 4,230 y ago.”
It also says, “This is also approximately when changes in tool technology, food processing, and the dingo appear in the Australian archaeological record, suggesting that these may be related to the migration from India.” The dingo, incidentally, is described as a free roaming dog found across Australia.
On reading the summary, my first thought—and I have to be honest here about this even if it underscores how flippant my mind is—was “Next time when the Australian immigration asks me for a visa, I could say ‘We were here 4,230 years ago before you, Suck on it.”
The authors of the study are Irina Pugach, Frederick Delfin, Ellen Gunnarsdóttir and Mark Stoneking. Of course, being serious scientists working in areas such as genetics and forensic molecular biology their perspective had to have been much more fundamental than just the Australian immigration authorities.
Hidden behind my facetiousness was the larger philosophical point about the restrictiveness on the movements of people now so inherent to the modern idea of nation-states compared to the freedoms of the ancient times. I can say it with a fair degree of certainty that neither when early descendants of the people of Africa arrived in Australia 40,000 years ago nor when Indians arrived 4,000 years ago, there were immigration officers at the shores checking on passports and visas.
Separately, it strikes me that the migration to Australia from India was taking place almost around the same time as when the Indus Valley civilization was flourishing along India’s northwest, including in Lothal, a site barely 80 kilometers from my hometown of Ahmedabad. Lothal, one of the most important trading centers of the era, dates back to 2400 BCE. The inhabitants of Lothal were industrious traders engaged in regular commerce with Egypt and Sumer.
There is no immediate relevance to all this except that it may help while taking a long view of who we are. My idea of a long view is somewhat different in that I would regard the discovery of a group of quasars stretching four billion light years across as one. Perhaps more about that discovery tomorrow.