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Thread: Mungo Man

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    Post Mungo Man

    Mungo Man shows how Australia was a cradle of culture
    By Roger Highfield,

    GENETIC analysis of Mungo Man, an anatomically modern Australian who lived 60,000 years ago, casts doubt today on the theory that humans originated in Africa.

    The 'out of Africa' theory maintains that our ancestors spread from Africa some 100,000 years ago and displaced archaic humans, such as the Neanderthals. But today's study of the ancient Australian, the oldest DNA from an anatomically modern human to be analysed so far, could support the rival theory of multiregional evolution.

    This theory argues that humans arose in Africa some two million years ago. They evolved as a single species and spread before being linked through interbreeding and cultural exchange. A leading proponent of the 'out of Africa' theory, Professor Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London, said he was sceptical about the analysis of Mungo Man.

    The 60,000-year-old skeleton was discovered in 1974 in Lake Mungo, New South Wales. It was one of 10 indigenous Australians, all ancient yet anatomically modern, to have their DNA analysed by a team led by Professor Alan Thorne of Australian National University, Canberra.

    Today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Professor Thorne and colleagues publish the analysis of DNA from their mitochondria, the cell's "power packs" passed from the mother.

    Earlier studies suggested that our most recent common ancestor lived 200,000 years ago, and traced the root of the gene tree to Africa. But the mitochondrial DNA from Mungo Man does not exist in modern mitochondria. This suggests that the most ancient lineage of the anatomically modern human tree so far found emerged in Australia, then became extinct.

    Dr John Relethford, of SUNY College at Oneonta, New York State, said the study highlights the danger of reading too much into mitochondrial DNA evidence. But it could renew debate about the 'out of Africa' hypothesis. Previous studies of mitochondrial DNA from three Neanderthal specimens were sufficiently different from modern humans to rule out Neanderthals as our ancestors. This suggests that they were displaced by modern humans, supporting the hypothesis.

    Today's study shows that it is possible to be anatomically modern but still have different mitochondrial DNA. Thus the lack of Neanderthal mitochondrial DNA in modern humans does not rule them out as our ancestors, said Dr Relethford.He said: "This weakens the case that the Neanderthals are somehow separate."
    Last edited by Euclides; Friday, March 5th, 2004 at 08:07 PM.

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