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16 February 2012
Global migration - who came first?

150,000 years ago the majority of the human race lived in Africa. Then the great migration occurred with populations spreading out across the globe. When looking at a map of the 21st Century globe it would be logical to think that, from Africa, the first area to be populated by this migration would be Europe and Asia Minor (they are the closest and have a land link via the Nile delta and Upper Egypt). So why have recent studies by geneticists revealed that Australia was populated at least 10,000 years before Europe, particularly considering the large expanses of water that need to be crossed?
     The research was carried out by a team from York University (UK) lead by Professor Geoffrey Bailey. What we tend to overlook today is that, at the time of this mass migration, sea levels were up to 50 metres lower than they are now, with substantial amounts of water locked up in the polar ice caps. This dramatic lowering of the sea levels meant that the southern end of the Red Sea was a mere channel and that the Arabian Sea did not exist! So, effectively, there was a land route across the Arabian Peninsula, via the Indian Sub-Continent, to the tip of Malaysia. But the link does not stop there as most of the Indonesian Islands had a land link, leaving just a 65 kilometre gap to the most northern point of Australia. Not an insurmountable distance to navigate.
     This all sounds too simple a solution and, not surprisingly, it is. Further research by a team from the University of Tubingen (Germany) highlights an anomaly in the possible age of the Arabian Peninsula dwellers (from about 125,000 years ago), which cannot yet be explained.

Edited from The Wall Street Journal (4 February 2012)

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