Rebutting the myth that Malays have the second oldest genes in the world

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Malaysia has a complex history of ethnonationalism, in which people who are identified as Malay (but more accurately native Malaysians) are given special privileges over other ethnic groups in the country. This has led to a number of social, economic and political problems but the one that I want to highlight here is the misuse of science and archaeological research to advance this agenda. Last week, a historian speaking at the ominously named “The Origins of the Malay” forum “quoted” the work of the Human Genome Organisation and said that after the Africans, the Malays have the second oldest genetic lineages in the world, even going so far as to imply that the Malays were ultimately responsible for establishing the Chinese and Greek civilizations.

DNA strand. Image by Caroline Davis2010

Image by Caroline Davis2010

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[Paper] Ancient genomes document multiple waves of migration in Southeast Asian prehistory

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A paper published in Science analyses the genomes of ancient Southeast Asian DNA and detected three distinct waves of migration into Southeast Asia beginning with hunter-gatherers around 45,000 years ago, followed by the Neolithic and the introduction of agricultural practices some 4,500 years ago, and a migration associated with the Bronze age, which reached Myanmar 3,000 years ago, Vietnam 2,000 years ago and Thailand in the last 1,000 years.

Ancient genomes document multiple waves of migration in Southeast Asian prehistory
Science 17 May 2018:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3188

Southeast Asia is home to rich human genetic and linguistic diversity, but the details of past population movements in the region are not well known. Here, we report genome-wide ancient DNA data from eighteen Southeast Asian individuals spanning from the Neolithic period through the Iron Age (4100–1700 years ago). Early farmers from Man Bac in Vietnam exhibit a mixture of East Asian (southern Chinese agriculturalist) and deeply diverged eastern Eurasian (hunter-gatherer) ancestry characteristic of Austroasiatic speakers, with similar ancestry as far south as Indonesia providing evidence for an expansive initial spread of Austroasiatic languages. By the Bronze Age, in a parallel pattern to Europe, sites in Vietnam and Myanmar show close connections to present-day majority groups, reflecting substantial additional influxes of migrants.

Source: Ancient genomes document multiple waves of migration in Southeast Asian prehistory | Science

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Tracing the origin of Indonesian people through genetics

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via The Conversation, 17 October 2017:

Using mitocondrial DNA, we found haplogroups M, F, Y2 and B in the western part of Indonesia. The people of these haplogroups are mostly speakers of Austronesia languages, spoken in Southeast Asia, Madagascar and Pacific Islands.

Meanwhile in the eastern part of Indonesia we found haplogroups Q and P. These two haplogroups are unique to people of Papua and Nusa Tenggara. People of haplogroup Q and P are non-Austronesian speakers.

What’s more interesting is Mentawai and Nias, the haplogroup of the people in those islands are grouped with the native people of Formosa, Austronesian speakers who travelled to the south around 5,000 years ago.

Source: Tracing the origin of Indonesian people through genetics

Archaeogenetics paints a more complex picture of the Austronesian expansion

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A detailed study of DNA of Pacific Islanders finds that their mitochondrial DNA were present in Island Southeast Asia from an earlier period than the so-called Austronesian expansion, and suggests a more complex picture of how humans migrated into the Pacific.

Resolving the ancestry of Austronesian-speaking populations
Soares et al.
Human Genetics, DOI 10.1007/s00439-015-1620-z

New research into the origins of the Austronesian languages
Eureka Alert, 28 January 2016

There are two very different interpretations of the prehistory of Island Southeast Asia (ISEA), with genetic evidence invoked in support of both. The “out-of-Taiwan” model proposes a major Late Holocene expansion of Neolithic Austronesian speakers from Taiwan. An alternative, proposing that Late Glacial/postglacial sea-level rises triggered largely autochthonous dispersals, accounts for some otherwise enigmatic genetic patterns, but fails to explain the Austronesian language dispersal. Combining mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), Y-chromosome and genome-wide data, we performed the most comprehensive analysis of the region to date, obtaining highly consistent results across all three systems and allowing us to reconcile the models. We infer a primarily common ancestry for Taiwan/ISEA populations established before the Neolithic, but also detected clear signals of two minor Late Holocene migrations, probably representing Neolithic input from both Mainland Southeast Asia and South China, via Taiwan. This latter may therefore have mediated the Austronesian language dispersal, implying small-scale migration and language shift rather than large-scale expansion.

Paper is open access, downloadable here.

The human race from proto-Malays? Prove it.

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Sometimes a story appears that is so stupid, so inane, that you just have to rant about it. The Malaysian Insider, an online newspaper, today published a story about how some archaeologists have claimed through their “scientific” studies that they have traced the lineage of humankind to the proto-Malay race. This is total bull.

Study claims human race came from Proto-Malays
The Malaysian Insider, 20 January 2012
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East Asians come from Southeast Asia?

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The genetic origins of Asians – I missed out this interesting paper on account of being in Hanoi at the time, and it wasn’t until I read this news from the Philippines that I was alerted to it. The paper presents a large-scale survey of genetic diversity in Asia, and posits that there was one migration out of Africa into Asia, the East Asian populations originated from Southeast Asian ones, and there is strong relationship between language, geography and ancestry.

Who’s your daddy? Study traces genetic origin of Asian people
PIA News, 29 March 2010

Mapping Human Genetic Diversity in Asia
Science, 11 December 2009
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Pacific Islanders’ Ancestry Emerges in Genetic Study

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New light is shed of how the pacific islands were populated in a study published in the journal of the Public Library of Science – Genetics. The new study shows that the pacific islanders share very little genetic traits with those from Melanesia (the region encompassing Maluku to the east and Fiji to the west) and have much more in common with the aboriginies in Taiwan and East Asia. This in turn infers that a human migration from Taiwan eastwards had little interaction with Melanesia, and that the colonization of the pacific islands were not a result of Melanesians moving east.

Pacific Islanders’ Ancestry Emerges in Genetic Study
New York Times, 18 January 2008
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