The Sydney Morning Herald | 1 October 2010
By Aaron Cook
HOW did a skull with features similar to those of an Aboriginal Australian wind up at the bottom of a limestone cave in Brazil, covered with 11,000 years’ worth of mud, rocks and gravel?
The solution may rewrite early human history.
The owner of the skull, a female whom Professor Walter Neves, an anthropologist, named Luzia, had eyes and a nose that sat low in the skull.
Her brain case was long and narrow, and a facial reconstruction reveals a projected profile, the chin sitting out further than the forehead.
These are not the features of a South American. Instead they are consistent with the anatomy of sub-Saharan Africans, Aboriginal Australians and some early Pacific Islanders.
For years many scientists have accepted the theory that North America was colonised by a single wave of early humans who travelled from north-east Asia about 11,000 years ago and resembled Native Americans.
They were called the Clovis people after a town in Mexico where a large number of their hunting tools were discovered.
The theory was supported by a weight of archaeological evidence and the similar appearance of skulls recovered in North America and east Asia.
But another explanation, put forward by Professor Neves, of the University of Sao Paulo, and his colleagues in the journal PLoS ONE, suggests there were two waves of migration.
The full story was published in the latest issue of the magazine Cosmos. Professor Neves told the writer Jacqui Hayes that Luzia was related to Australian Aborigines through an ancestor from south-east Asia. He believes one group of early humans made their way to Australia about 50,000 years ago, and another travelled through Asia to arrive in Alaska about 15,000 years ago – thousands of years before the Clovis people.
Professor Neves hopes genetic analysis will help settle the question of where Luzia’s ancestors came from, Hayes wrote.
However, an anthropologist at the University of Adelaide, Maciej Henneberg, believes the two waves of migration theory might be too simplistic. ‘‘I’d rather accept two waves than one wave, but models that assume people can migrate once, or twice, and then never repeat it are denigrating human intelligence.’’
Professor Henneberg said it was more likely there was a constant flow of people migrating back and forth exchanging genetic material.