DNA links `Stone Age' tribe to first humans linked by DNA to

SCIENTISTS MAY have found the direct descendants of one of the first tribes of early humans to emerge out of Africa about 100,000 years ago.

The discovery promises to shed light on one of the most enigmatic periods in early human history, when the first people colonised the world, eventually leading to Homo sapiens becoming the only species to dominate every corner of the globe.

Locks of hair stored at Cambridge University for the past 90 years have revealed DNA evidence to link the inhabitants of the remote Andaman Islands with the first anatomically modern humans to migrate across Asia.

The Andamanese were living a stone-age existence whenWestern explorers in the 19th century made contact. An analysis of their genetic makeup indicates they could be a lost tribe that has remained isolated from other humans for many thousands of years.

DNA analysis has shown that in spite of the wide variation in the physical features of ethnic groups today, we are more closely related to each other than most other species of mammals.

Scientists believe only a small number of our ancestors - perhaps no more than a few thousand - crossed the Sinai peninsula to populate Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas.

The genetic "bottleneck" caused by having so few ancestors resulted in humans today being relatively inbred. Studies into the sequence of "letters" in the genetic code of different ethnic groups - analysed from blood samples - have nevertheless been able to guide scientists to the most ancient lineages of DNA that date back to this early period of human history.

Dr Erika Hagelberg, a geneticist at Cambridge University, and Dr Carlos Lalueza Fox, from the University of Barcelona, have extracted enough DNA from the hair of 42 people to compare the genetic relationship of the Andamanese with other ethnic groups around the world.

One particular mutation, where a tiny stretch of DNA is deleted, shows that the Andamanese, who live in the Bay of Bengal south of Burma, do not share their pattern of inheritance with other Asians.

"The significance of this mutation is that it seems to be associated with the more recent population explosions linked with the development and spread of agriculture about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago," said Dr Hagelberg.

"It looks like the Andamanese are the descendants of a much earlier hunter-gathering group of humans who did not have any later contact with the agricultural people and who were therefore not part of the subsequent population explosion out of Africa and across the Asian continent."

Agriculture is a recent innovation in human history, with the earliest indications of it appearing in the fertile crescent of the Middle East about 10,000 years ago. It is widely assumed that the agricultural revolution spread across the rest of Europe and Asia either by hunter-gathering communities dying out, or by their conversion to farming.

The Andamanese may prove to be one of the few people alive today with a truly ancient genetic lineage dating directly to the earliest human migrations across Asia.

The Andaman islanders may owe their unique genetic makeup to their fierce reputation and to geographical isolation. They live in densely forested mountains and have a history of killing any foreigners who stray into their territory.

The Andamanese traditionally live by hunting wild pigs, fishing and collecting fruit, berries and nuts. One of their most unique cultural features is that they had no method of making fire. Their language is also unique, having no relationship with the tongues of neighbouring populations.

Their only indigenous weapon is the bow, which the Andamanese use for both hunting and fishing from dug-out canoes. They have no traps and have never discovered how to make fishhooks.

Anthropologists have long been unable to classify the Andamanese - their physical appearance is neither caucasian nor mongoloid - and gave them the name "negrito" because of their dark skin and pygmy stature.

The Andamanese hair samples at Cambridge are part of the Duckworth collection made by the great explorer and early anthropologist, AR Radcliffe-Brown, one of the first Western scholars to study the islanders.

Dr Hagelberg said the hair samples represented a unique genetic resource because they date to a period just after the islanders were contacted and therefore had not suffered any "genetic dilution" resulting from intermarriage with outsiders.

"Our results indicate that the Andamanese are the descendants of one of the earliest expansions of anatomically modern humans. They appear more closely related to southern African pygmies than to other Asian groups. They are, in effect, the descendants of the earliest migrations of Homo sapiens out of Africa," she said.

The present-day Andamanese are in decline, being highly susceptible to illnesses to which they have no immunity, and from pressure on their native forests from logging companies.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower